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5-Year FRC Shooting Anniversary Offers A Study In Presidential Reactions To Hate Crimes


Today, is the five-year anniverary of the Family Research Council shooting in Washington DC.

On August 15, 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins entered the Family Research Council’s building in downtown DC. Leo Johnson, the building manager for the Family Research Council, was at the front desk that morning. After asking him to produce identification, Corkins began rummaging through his bag, which contained 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches. Corkins was also carrying a 9mm handgun and 100 rounds of ammunition.

Johnson walked around the desk to see what Corkins was doing, and Corkins quickly raised his gun and “stated words to the effect of ‘I don’t like your politics,'” according to an FBI affidavit. Johnson immediately charged Corkins, who fired twice, hitting Johnson’s left forearm.

“And I just couldn’t hear anything, my arm just kind of blew back. So at that point I was thinking: ‘I have to get this gun,’ ” Johnson told The Weekly Standard. “That was my sole focus—I have to get this gun—this guy’s gonna kill me and kill everybody here.”

Johnson, a devoutly religious African-American, pushed Corkins across the lobby, punched him repeatedly, and took the gun from Corkins with his wounded arm. Corkins would later admit that he had located Family Research Council’s office on a “hate map” produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and he planned to shoot people in the building and smear the Chick-fil-A sandwiches on them. Both the Family Research Council and the owners of Chick-fil-A have received heavy public criticism for opposition to same-sex marriage and other socially conservative views.

Although this was an act of domestic terrorism walking distance from the White House, it was six hours after the shooting before then-President Obama issued a terse statement through spokesman Jay Carney:

‘The President expressed his concern for the individual injured in the shooting and his strong belief that this type of violence has no place in our society. As you know, there is an ongoing investigation so there is not much more I can say about this specific incident. For additional questions, I would refer you, of course, to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and to the FBI. I have no other announcements.

The next day, Carney was asked if the president considered the Family Research Council shooting a hate crime. “Those kinds of determinations will be made by the FBI, and I know the FBI is part of this investigation,” said Carney, despite the fact the FBI affidavit detailing Corkins’ motivations was already widely available. Aside from reporting on Corkins’ statement about politics before the shooting and reporting “Corkins’ 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.”

Much of the ensuing media coverage ignored or downplayed Corkins’ motives, which the Washington Post referred to as “a detail sure to reignite the culture wars.” A year later, Southern Poverty Law Center founder Morris Dees was still publicly defending the inclusion of Family Research Council on the organization’s “hate map.” In response to these criticisms, Johnson told The Weekly Standard, “I’ve worked here for 14 years. I know these people, I’ve worked closely with them, and I know what people they are. So to label them a hate group is absurd. It’s absurd.”

The five-year anniversary of the Family Research Council shooting comes just three days after the killing of Heather Heyer and grievous attack on protesters in Charlottesville this weekend who were participating in a demonstration against a rally by white nationalists and other racists. Heyer’s murderer is an alleged Nazi sympathizer. Per the press pool report, President Trump said of the attack:

Above all else, we must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We are proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are. So we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville and we want to study it and we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country, where things like this can happen. My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens — but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.

He also said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides.” The reference to “many sides” has subjected the president to a great deal of criticism, as many activists and members of the media believe the president should have called out white supremacists and neo-Nazis more explicitly and specifically, which he did in a statement on Monday.