Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called for an end to the “reckless rhetoric” that may have motivated a gunman to open fire on a security guard at the organization’s headquarters.
At an Aug. 16 press conference, Perkins said that alleged shooter Floyd Lee Corkins II may have felt justified in his actions because several gay advocacy groups – including the Southern Poverty Law Center – have designated Family Research Council as a “hate group.”
He warned of a dangerous increase in the use of the term over the last two years against anyone who disagrees with “gay marriage.”
Perkins has rejected the label, arguing that his organization should be free to express its beliefs in favor of marriage without being accused of hatred.
On the morning of Aug. 15, Corkins allegedly entered the lobby of the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
An FBI affidavit indicated that the suspect made comments about the organization’s political views before firing the gun.
Security guard Leo Johnson was shot by the gunman before disarming him and wrestling him to the ground.
Perkins said that Johnson is doing well and that he had been with him when he came out of surgery shortly after midnight.
He explained that Johnson is actually an unarmed building operations manager who doubles as a security guard, making his actions particularly heroic.
Perkins also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of concern and prayers from around the world, including from gay advocacy groups that have condemned the violence.
Family Research Council has attracted publicity in recent weeks in a debate surrounding the Atlanta-based food chain, Chick-fil-A, whose president made headlines by saying that he supported a traditional, Biblical view of marriage.
In the days that followed, attention was drawn to the fact that Chick-fil-A had once donated money to the Family Research Council, which has been targeted as a “hate group” by gay advocates for its views on marriage.
According to reports, the gunman was carrying 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, along with a 9mm handgun and 50 rounds of ammunition, when he entered the building.
In addition, the director of a D.C. gay and lesbian community center acknowledged that Corkins has been volunteering there for several months.
Corkins has been charged with assault with intent to kill, as well as federal firearms charges. At an Aug. 16 court hearing, a judge ordered that he be mentally evaluated and held without bond. He will appear again in court on Aug. 24.
In an interview on Fox News shortly before the press conference, Perkins said that the suspect may have felt that the “hate group” designation was a “license” to kill.
“I’m not saying that the Southern Poverty Law Center is responsible for the shooting,” he emphasized. “Mr. Corkins is responsible for the shooting.”
However, he said, the repeated “hate group” accusations contribute to an “environment” in which people who are “imbalanced” feel justified in attempting to kill those who disagree with them.
In a democratic society, which requires a robust debate about important issues, there is “no room” for the “reckless labeling of organizations that they disagree with,” he said.
Perkins explained that he had rejected the term “hate group” when it was originally used against his organization two years ago and had asked the Southern Poverty Law Center to engage in a debate over the use of the label. However, he said, the law center did not respond.
Perkins emphasized the need for open discussion about important issues in society rather than violence intended to intimidate and silence those who disagree.
He added that the Family Research Council will not allow the incident to frighten them into backing away from their beliefs.
“We are more committed today than we were yesterday,” he said.