When Scott Roeder assassinated Wichita, Kansas based physician and abortion provider George Tiller on Sunday, May 31, 2009, I was understandably upset. Violence of this type is nothing new, and Tiller himself was the target of a previous assassination attempt in 1993. This kind of thing happens from time to time in the abortion debate, with outraged zealots choosing to solve through mind bending acts of violence what they feel they are unable to accomplish through considered and thoughtful debate.
When things like that happen, when the business of political discourse derails in such a mindless and tragic fashion, the aftermath always proves instructive. Within the first few hours, anti-abortion activists from the major pro-life organizations, fearing a backlash, moved in quickly with full throated denunciations of the attack. Here is one from World-Class-Asshole Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.
We are stunned at today’s news. As Christians we pray and look toward the end of all violence and for the saving of souls, not the taking of human life. George Tiller was a man who we publicly sought to stop through legal and peaceful means. We strongly condemn the actions taken today by this vigilante killer and we pray for the Tiller family and for the nation that we might once again be a nation that values all human life, both born and unborn.
See that? He denounces the attack, while affirming the basic premise of their argument. From a PR perspective, it’s a pretty nicely constructed public statement.
It is also one that enraged me. “Screw you,” I thought to myself. “You played a part in this. You spend all of your time riling up the base hatred and self-righteous indignation of your supporters, and then run for the hills when things escalate beyond your control.” While it probably unfair to blame the FRC entirely for the part they played in Dr. George Tiller’s assassination, on some level, that is true. In politics, some amount of your strategy must be an attempt to clarify the sins of your opponent. These sins are then used to motivate your organization. The more awful your enemy behaves, the more useful that behavior is a recruiting tool for your movement. It’s depressing, but times are what they are.
The problem is that angry, hostile rhetoric can produce a wide range of results, and when you start painting targets on people some of the more misguided sociopaths among us will elect to shoot at them. Some of us don’t handle passion well, and for those people, a passionate debate like abortion becomes an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria of hate. The FRC had long been part of the effort to demonize abortion providers, and the attack was at least in some small way an outgrowth of that. I wanted them to take responsibility for their role in stoking that public fervor, however minor a factor it may have been in that specific assassination attempt.
I thought about Dr. Tiller upon learning of Floyd Lee Corkins, and his attack on the D.C. offices of the Family Research Council. According to news reports, which for our purposes today we will assume are accurate, Floyd walked into the FRC lobby with a loaded pistol, ludicrous amounts of ammunition, some Chick-Fil-A sundry, and began running his mouth about how awful the FRC is. They are, by they way, awful. Upon questioning by a member of the security staff, Corkins started firing, shooting the security guard in the arm. The tables, it seems, had been reversed. This time, it was one of our people doing something violently stupid.
I want to make clear, I am not taking responsibility for this yahoo’s poor judgment or unstable psyche. Something exists in the mind of a potential mass shooter that is unique to their classification. These are people capable of packing up lethal weaponry, leaving the house, driving across town, parking, getting out of the car, putting change in the meter, walking into a public place in the middle of the day, taking a pistol out, and shooting someone. A shooting isn’t ever just one bad decision. It’s a deliberate series of bad decisions, each one being a necessary step in a process. At every stage of that bad decision, the assailant in question must renew their resolve to murder. To make it through each step, and to complete the devastating final act, takes determination of a sort that chills the blood. Ultimate responsibility belongs to the shooter. They’ve worked hard to accomplish their horrific goals, and have earned the appropriate recognition for their efforts. Hopefully involving orange outfits and lots of concrete.
What makes this personally conflicting is that I completely understand where his anger comes from. The Family Research Council, along with other like minded organizations like the American Family Association, and the National Organization for Marriage, deal in bigotry. The sole reason for their existence, the very premise upon which they have rented office space and obtained corporate letterhead, is to work to make the lives of LGBT people in this country worse. A good day for the FRC will almost always be a bad day for gay people. They cloak themselves in Christ, and then work as hard as they can to make sure that gay people can’t marry, have no federal protection of any kind, and are as despised and alienated as possible by the general public. If the FRC had its way, the United States would return to the days before Lawrence v. Texas, when homosexuality was illegal. They want me to be able to be fired from my job, or kicked out of my home for being gay. They would have gay teachers disgraced and removed from contact with their students. They would have us return to the days before Stonewall when we were hunted by our peers, lobotomized by our loved ones, terrified to leave our closets. There is no law supporting any aspect of LGBT equality that people like the FRC wouldn’t find time to oppose. What’s worse, mainstream media outlets frequently have FRC head Tony Perkins on their programs so that he can tell the American people all of this in person. The reality is that if not for hate, organizations like the FRC would have very little to do all day. Perhaps you can engineer a way that their behavior doesn’t positively define bigotry, but if so, I have yet to see a compelling case made for such a prospect.
When the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the Family Research Council a hate group, it does so for a reason. Essentially, we have two groups. Gay people and enlightened supporters, and the Family Research Council and their hate filled cabal. Gay people are simply minding their own business, falling in love, starting families, having jobs, trying to find their place in society. We wish only to participate in society with the same protections and responsibilities everyone else enjoys. The ideal situation is one of agnostic disinterest on the part of the American people. We want equality, and to be left alone. The FRC, entirely uninvited to the equation, exists to interfere in that process. They work to deny us the basic pleasures of life. In a world with no FRC in it, we exist unmolested, content to engage in the standard issue Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness. Without us, the FRC has no meaning. They do nothing. They have no point. Their goals are ones of destruction. They instigate and perpetuate this battle, leaving us little choice but to set about fighting it.
I understand why Floyd Corkins felt like he was under attack. He was. We all are. He has a right to be angry. What he doesn’t have is a right to run around shooting people. I want to win this debate on the merits of our argument, not by inflicting damage on our opponent sufficient to run them out of the debate entirely. I want them to realize why they are wrong. I want our victory to be clean, and based on well considered fact. Floyd Corkins, by choosing a solution of violence, has undercut the righteousness of our struggle, injured a perfectly innocent security guard, and what’s worse, generated public sympathy for an organization that deserves nothing but national scorn. Violence, even against the empty suit that is Tony Perkins, is no way to solve our problems. Only through winning the hearts and minds of the American people can our struggles come to an end. Bigotry is a reaction to fear, and making bigots more fearful isn’t going to help solve our problems. It only makes things worse.
While the actions of Floyd Corkins are his own, both sides of the battle for equality must take time to acknowledge our casualties, and take responsibility for the damage the battle is causing. We would stop our defense in a moment if that were possible. However, as we remain gay despite the best efforts of the Family Research Council, we have little choice but to continue fighting. The only actor in this scenario capable of ending this confrontation are the bigots, the agitators, the ones who choose to assault our community. For us this struggle is mandatory. For them, it is decidedly optional. They elect to attack us, and we must therefore defend. Never through violence, as that sort of victory is never sustainable, but through the perseverance of thought and the never abating belief that equality shines through all other obstructions, and in the end will prevail.
Benjamin Phillips is an Essayist, Web Developer, Civics Nerd, and all around crank that spends entirely too much time shouting with deep exasperation at the television, especially whenever cable news is on, and proudly serves as Director of Development for The New Civil Rights Movement. He lives in St. Louis, MO and spends most of his time staring at various LCD screens, occasionally taking walks in the park whenever his boyfriend becomes sufficiently convinced that Benjamin is becoming a reclusive hermit person. He is available for children’s parties, provided that those children are entertained by hearing a complete windbag talk for two hours about the importance of science education, or worse yet, poorly researched anecdotes PROVING that James Buchanan was totally gay. If civilization were to collapse due to zombie hoards or nuclear holocaust, Benjamin would be among the first to die as he has no useful skills of any kind. The post-apocalyptic hellscape has no real need for homosexual computer programmers who can name all the presidents in order, as well as the actors who have played all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who.
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