BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In 1995, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing President Bill Clinton charged that there are "purveyors of hate and division" on U.S. airwaves who "leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable." Clinton was immediately denounced by right-wing talk radio hosts and their allies for "politicizing" the bombing.
Fifteen years later, Clinton spoke at an event marking the anniversary of the bombing organized by the Center for American Progress, and his “message was clear: Debate and free speech are essential, but leaders must be ‘responsible’ with their words because they fall on the ‘serious and the delirious alike,’ and it only takes one deranged person like Timothy McVeigh to cause massive harm,” Alex Seitz-Wald reported at the web site of Think Progress.
Once again, conservative reaction to Clinton’s words was immediate and caustic: In an editorial, The New York Post called his remarks “shameless”; a Washington Examiner editorial said that “if Clinton and other liberal Democrats who agree with him truly believe that the words of Tea Partiers and other critics of the Obama presidency will inspire acts of terrorism, it only seems logical to conclude that they would also endorse official suppression of such speech”; and, on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, Mary Katherine Ham maintained that Clinton “is part of a process where they’re trying to freeze speech in some ways to chill free speech.”
Now, a day after the shooting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called out the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a watchdog group that monitors hate groups, for inciting the shooting of security guard Leo Johnson. In 2010, the SPLC listed the Family Research Council as a hate group declaring that it knowingly and systematically spreads disinformation and misinformation about the LGBT community.
The attacker, Floyd Lee Corkins II, a 28-year-old man who had volunteered for a center that serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, "was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center," Perkins said at a press conference at FRC headquarters in Washington, DC. "I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology."
Perkins later repeated his claim against the SPLC in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly: "Now, Bill, let me say: the gunman, Floyd Corkins, pulled the trigger yesterday. He is responsible for shooting my colleague and my friend. But, let me say, I believe that the Southern Poverty Law Center is responsible for creating the environment that led to this."
Perkins added: "Because they disagree with our positions on marriage and certain religious issues, [they] have labeled us a ‘hate group’, and that gives license to lunatics like this to come in with a gun and shoot innocent people.”
To my knowledge, Perkins has never called for anyone on the right -- whether they be anti-abortion groups, or right wing radio or television talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, or Pat Robertson -- to be held accountable for their hate-charged rhetoric after attacks on abortion clinics, hate crimes against gays, or right-wing acts of domestic terrorism.
As CNN’s Tom Watkins reported, “One legal expert said Perkins seems to be inconsistent in deciding which battles to pick. After Dr. George R. Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider, was shot dead in May 2009, Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly came under criticism for having called him ‘Tiller the baby killer.’
“Referring to O'Reilly, Perkins announced in August that year that ‘We're going to give him an award for his courage in exposing the truth behind the late-term abortion industry.’"
"I wish Perkins would not use a double standard," New York University Law School Professor Burt Neuborne told CNN in a telephone interview. "When opponents of abortion engage in astonishingly bellicose speech where they call people 'murderers' and they virtually encourage people to take their lives and some nut acts on it, Perkins keeps his mouth shut. I don't see him criticizing that speech. The truth is, you can't pick and choose what kind of rhetoric to condemn."
“Perkins’ accusation is outrageous,” the SPLC’s Mark Potok said in a statement. Potok explained that “The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage. The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.”
Potok added: “As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem” — an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated. An FRC official has said he wanted to “export homosexuals from the United States.” The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”
The American Family Association, an organization that has made a boatload of money demonizing gays on its web site, in its publications, and on its radio programs, issued a statement describing the FRC incident describing it as "an alarming turn in our cultural battle over values." The statement pointed out the SPLC “by their own hateful and malicious rhetoric against FRC and AFA, has essentially claimed responsibility for this shooting, and they too should be held to account in the court of public opinion."
Frank Schubert, spokesman for the National Organization for Organization (NOM), an organization that continuously puts forward vicious rhetoric in its ongoing campaigns against same-sex marriage, told the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow news service that the shooting at FRC headquarters “is the natural consequence of this evil rhetoric that is out there from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and increasingly from the Human Rights Campaign."
“We cannot as a civil society engage in an important debate when one side adopts tactics of calling the other 'hate groups' simply for honestly and sincerely expressing a point of view that was created thousands of years ago," the NOM spokesman contended.
Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel Action said that it’s time for groups like the SPLC, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to "remind like-minded left-wingers" not to engage in this kind of violence.
To my knowledge, the American Family Association, NOM’s Frank Shubert, or the Liberty Counsel Action’s Matt Barber have ever condemned the hate speech that comes from right-wing talk-show hosts on a daily basis.