Southern Poverty Law Center

Southern Poverty Law Center: Not Murderers, Just Hypocrites

The case of Floyd Corkins


Last August, a Virginia man named Floyd Corkins set out for the offices of the Family Research Council, a conservative group with a history of opposing gay causes, where he intended to shoot the people who work there and smear Chick-fil-A sandwiches in their corpses' faces. He wounded a guard who then disarmed and subdued him, stopping the massacre before it could begin. After Corkins' arrest, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins declared that the would-be killer had been "given a license" to conduct his crime by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had labeled his organization a hate group.

This week Corkins pled guilty to a series of charges stemming from the attack. As The Washington Examiner reported, Corkins told the FBI "that he identified the FRC as an anti-gay organization on the website for the Southern Poverty Law Center." Specifically, he saw the council on the SPLC's "hate map."

Does that mean the SPLC gave Corkins a license to kill? Not by any standard I'd accept: Speakers should not be held responsible for the ways a deranged listener might choose to use their speech. By the SPLC's standards, on the other hand, Perkins had a point. As I wrote after Corkins' arrest last year,

When [Byron] Williams targeted [the] Tides [Foundation], the [SPLC] proclaimed that the "rhetoric that helped inspire Williams to pack his car with guns and ammo and head toward San Francisco finds echo throughout the rightwing media world." After an assassin attempted to kill Rep. Gabrielle Giffords—and did kill six others—the SPLC ran an editorial headlined "Expert: Political Rhetoric Likely a Factor in Arizona Shooting," complete with an echo of those inane attempts to link the crime to Sarah Palin's target map.

Needless to say, there are differences between these three cases. I'd say the attempt to tar Palin with the Giffords shooting is the worst of the trio, since the killer there wasn't even a Palinite. But the things they have in common are more important than the ways they differ. The SPLC says it's "outrageous" to blame it for Corkins' attempted murders. And I agree. But it would be nice if the group would attempt to explain why its reactions to the Tides plot and the Giffords shooting deserve any less outrage.