Exploiting Tragedy: FRC’s Tony Perkins Seeks To Politicize Office Shooting

Perkins’ tawdry determination to milk this tragedy for all he can get is more proof of the simple lack of ethics that plagues many Religious Right organizations.

Last week, a young man named Floyd Lee Corkins walked into the offices of the Family Research Council (FRC) here in Washington carrying a 9 mm pistol in his backpack. He was disarmed by building manager Leo Johnson, who was shot in the arm during the scuffle. Corkins reportedly expressed opposition to the FRC’s anti-gay views.

We at Americans United were appalled by this act of senseless violence. The next day, we issued a statement condemning the attack and saying that our thoughts were with the FRC staff as well as with Johnson and his family.

Americans United has had deep differences with the FRC over the years, but we thought it was important to make it clear that while spirited debate is perfectly acceptable, violence never is. Dozens of other groups said the same thing.

Unfortunately, FRC President Tony Perkins is determined to squander that goodwill. The day after the shooting, he held a press conference and denounced the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has designated the FRC a “hate group” for its baseless anti-gay rhetoric.

It sounded as if Perkins were trying to shift the blame from the shooter to an outside organization that had nothing to do with Corkins – a group that had, in fact, condemned the violence.

That was bad enough. A day later, Perkins went even further. During a radio interview, he decided that President Barack Obama shared some blame for the incident as well. Obama’s “attack on religious freedom,” you see, must have inspired Corkins.

Perkins added, “[What] we witnessed this past week at the Family Research Council” is “clearly linked to that same atmosphere of hostility that’s created by the public policies of an administration that’s indifferent or hostile to religious freedom.”

Nope. What we witnessed was an unhinged young man with easy access to firearms going on a violent spree. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common story in America these days.

It’s odd to see the FRC, a group that in most contexts claims to champion personal responsibility, being so eager to shift the blame from Corkins in this case. Why is that? Probably because Perkins knows his group can’t score cheap political points unless he finds some way to drag Obama and the FRC’s perceived enemies on “the left” into this. (I’m surprised the FRC hasn’t found a way to link the shooting to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the lack of official prayer in public schools. Maybe tomorrow.)

Perkins’ tawdry determination to milk this tragedy for all he can get is more proof of the simple lack of ethics that plagues many Religious Right organizations. (And these are the groups that feel entitled to lecture the rest of us on morality?) The man simply has no sense of decency. He ought to be ashamed of himself, but I’ve long since concluded that Perkins can’t experience that emotion.

If there’s one bright spot in all of this, it’s Leo Johnson. Johnson, who was not armed, stopped Corkins from getting into the work areas of the building. One can only shudder to think what might have happened if Johnson had not acted so courageously.

Johnson, who is expected to make a full recovery from his injury, is a real hero. It’s a shame he can’t find a better place to work.