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The SPLC’s Intolerant Campaign
The aim is not to take aim at “hate,” but to remove all dissent on gay marriage.


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Rich Lowry

The Southern Poverty Law Center is the nation’s self-appointed monitor of “hate groups.”

Too bad it can’t tell the difference between people who hate blacks and people who support the traditional definition of marriage. The SPLC’s promiscuous labeling of organizations it disagrees with as “hate groups” came to the fore last week when someone tried to shoot up one of its targets.

You may not have heard that an armed assailant stormed the offices of the Family Research Council. That’s because the assailant was a gay-rights activist and the assailed was an organization devoted to social-conservative causes. If circumstances had been reversed, you’d know. If a gun-toting Family Research Council volunteer had burst into the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, 60 Minutes would already have done its hard-hitting feature on right-wing terrorism.

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The SPLC calls the Family Research Council a “hate group.” This puts it in the same league as the True Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Supreme White Alliance, the Old Glory Skinheads and, of course, the American Nazi Party.

As they ask in kindergarten, which of these things isn’t like all the others? The home page of the Aryan Nation features an appeal to “white Americans” to fight anti-white genocide in South Africa, along with a photo of Nelson Mandela standing next to “the Jew Joe Slovo.” The home page of the Family Research Council has a tab to learn more about “Marriage, Family, & Sexuality.”

A man named Floyd Corkins allegedly showed up at the Family Research Council carrying a bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and a 9 mm and said “I don’t like your politics” before shooting an unarmed guard who managed to subdue him (the guard is recovering). Corkins volunteers at a gay community center. According to an FBI affidavit, his parents “informed the FBI Special Agents that Corkins has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.” Obviously.

The head of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, said the SPLC had given Corkins “a license to shoot.” This goes too far. Nothing the SPLC does sanctions violence, and Corkins’s alleged crime is his responsibility and his alone. But the SPLC’s designation of the Family Research Council is intolerant all the same, a bullying attempt to short-circuit free debate.

It’s not as if the SPLC considers the Family Research Council mildly offensive, or barely hateful. Asked if someone addressing a Family Research Council meeting was as guilty as someone addressing an Aryan Nation rally, the SPLC’s research director said “yes.” If Floyd Corkins took the SPLC’s attitude toward the Family Research Council seriously, he would have been shocked to be confronted by an African-American security guard instead of some guy in a white hood about to run out to burn a cross in a gay person’s front yard.

What the SPLC is doing is profoundly illiberal. The whole idea of a “hate group” is an organization that is so irrational and beyond the pale that it has no legitimacy. The SPLC brags about shutting down such groups, and rightly so. You presumably don’t have an argument with the White Patriot Party militia, unless you bring along a lead pipe. Putting the Family Research Council in the same category is a statement that it isn’t worthy of a democratic society — that its views shouldn’t be debated so much as shunned and marginalized. 

This is the trend in the gay-marriage debate. The attempt to punish Chick-fil-A for the opinions of its founder and CEO, although an abject failure for now, will probably be the template of the future. “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views,” William F. Buckley Jr. once said, “but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” The SPLC and its allies on the left won’t be satisfied until there are no other views on gay marriage.

 Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected]



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