Family Research Council doesn’t want your sympathy

“We have been the victims of violence long enough to know that violence is not the way to resolve political disagreements.” – Washington Blade editorial

Within hours of Wednesday’s reported shooting inside the DC headquarters of the Family Research Council, the leaders of forty LGBT civil rights organizations had issued a joint statement expressing unequivocal condemnation of the shooter’s actions and support for the heroic security guard who prevented further bloodshed, his family, and his co-workers.

Multiple similar statements and heartfelt prayers for all who were affected followed from others in the LGBT and allied community. There was near universal agreement that violence is never an appropriate response to disagreement, and there seemed to be a collective moment of recognition that we all share a common humanity however passionately we may disagree with or feel harmed by one another. Focus on the Family president Jim Daly struck a tone that some LGBT leaders found surprising, saying in part “No person or group of any ideological stripe – left, right or center — should have to fear physical violence for passionately articulating and acting on their deeply help convictions in the realm of public policy. That is the very definition of terrorism.”

Yes, it is. So it’s especially disappointing that the anti-gay activist community, by and large, chose not to receive this outpouring of sympathy in the spirit in which it was given. Instead, almost immediately there were multiple attempts to exploit the shooting for propagandistic gain, in particular escalating the sustained smear campaign against the venerable civil rights and watchdog organization Southern Poverty Law Center (co-founder Morris Dees was just recognized by the ABA with its highest award, for “exceptional and distinguished service to the law”). The SPLC classified the FRC as an anti-gay hate group in 2010.

“Today’s attack is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end,” said Brian Brown, President of National Organization for Marriage (NOM is currently on SPLC’s watch list of anti-gay groups that are being reviewed for possible hate group classification.)

Matt Barber of Liberty Council, a legal aid organization also on SPLC’s watch list, had this to say via Twitter: “I call on @SPLCcenter to immediately retract its “hate group” smear of #FRC & other Christian groups & issue an apology.” “Efforts by @splcenter & @glaad to dehumanize Christians & equate biblical truth to “hate” are working. You have blood on your hands.”

And Bryan Fischer of another SPLC classified hate group, American Family Association (known mostly for their hilariously ineffective boycotts of pro-equality companies like General Mills, Starbucks and JCPenny) railed “If SPLC is right, that using irresponsible language re: homosexuality causes violence, then they to blame [sic] for FRC shooting.”

This all culminated yesterday with the ultimate in drama queen statements from the FRC itself, with president Tony Perkins claiming that SPLC’s exposure of his group’s activities had given the shooter “a license to shoot an unarmed man.” You can easily see what’s happening here: All of these activists are asserting that the behaviors that resulted in the classification of FRC as a hate group are the equivalent of classifying FRC as a hate group because of those behaviors. The obvious problem with this is that correctly describing and classifying the behavior of FRC is not at all the same thing as the behavior itself, the reason for the classification: “[FRC] has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people,” known falsehoods such as their repeated association of gay men with pedophilia. One could hardly come up with a better textbook example of the logical fallacy of false equivalency.

It’s important to understand here different uses of the word “hate,” also. In the context of the rigorous SPLC process of classifying hate groups it is defined by specific behaviors, and that meaning should not be confused with the casual use of the word, nor should any group be referred to as a “hate group” casually – but the above speakers seem to go out of their way to confuse these meanings. Speaking of that rigorous process, consider how many religious ministries and random organizations there must be that oppose civil equality for LGBT people, and then consider how very few of those organizations are on SPLC’s list. How did they get there? None of the organizations classified as hate groups will tell you this (they prefer to act as if being named a hate group came without warning out of the clear, blue sky), but in fact the SPLC engages in a two year review process during which they repeatedly notify the organization under review of the criteria they use for classification as a hate group, and of the specific behavior by the organization that meets those criteria. FRC was given every opportunity to cease propagating known falsehoods and avoid classification as a hate group, but its leaders chose to ignore those communications.

There is nothing casual or capricious about any of this. The SPLC’s research is meticulous and its reputation in the civil rights and law enforcement communities is excellent. The only people attempting to smear the SPLC are those groups and individuals whose harmful activities have been exposed by them. The fact that hate groups like FRC and Public Advocate are pushing back so hard against their hate group classifications is a measure of just how significant those classifications are.

Further, the fact that these groups consistently characterize the reason for their hate group classification as being “a Christian group,” or “pro-marriage,” or opposed to “same-sex marriage” betrays their awareness that the actual reasons are incriminating. SPLC explicitly states that mere opposition to marriage equality or “viewing homosexuality as unbiblical” does not merit hate group listing. FRC could at any point in this process have chosen to establish themselves as a legitimate public policy organization opposed to marriage equality or with a particular theological view of human sexuality, and ceased relying on provably false and defamatory arguments. If the behavior cited by the SPLC does not in fact constitute propagating known falsehoods, or demonizing propaganda, or repeated, groundless name-calling, then why would the FRC and others choose to pretend those charges don’t exist rather than refuting them? Obviously, they realize that the actual behaviors they engage in are exactly as described and would be widely recognized as hate.

Anti-gay activist Michael Brown actually said yesterday that critics of organizations such as FRC “need to consider the effect of the rhetoric on unstable people.” That’s exactly what I’ve been saying for years, and I’m glad that someone finally gets it. With regard to Public Advocate charlatan Eugene Delgaudio’s defamation targeting our community for profit, how many times has an angry, unstable person taken his words (calling transgender women “it,” for example, or claiming that gay men look for little boys to molest) as justification for violence against us? We’ll never know the answer to that, but we know all too well that angry, unstable people often violently act out their rage on our bodies. I have not seen a better articulation of how this is all playing out than this one.

Needless to say, behaviors such as calling members of the human family “it” or falsely claiming that they molest little boys, and defining those behaviors as expressions of hate within a careful review process are not remotely comparable things. The choice made by FRC to engage in shameful duplicity in the face of this tragic event is an unfortunate squandering of the sympathy that was universally extended to them on Wednesday. No one – no one – deserves to be on the receiving end of hate violence, but FRC seems oddly determined to make it hard to feel they deserve our sympathy, either. Very oddly determined. Maybe we should have sympathy for that instead.

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