Civil rights group bristles at shooting criticism
Friday, August 17, 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who volunteered at a gay community center had a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and a box of ammunition when he said “I don’t like your politics” and shot a security guard at the headquarters of a conservative lobbying group, authorities revealed Thursday.
Floyd Lee Corkins, II, was ordered held without bond on charges that he opened fire a day earlier inside the lobby of the Family Research Council, an influential conservative Christian group that has supported the president of the fast-food chain his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage.
Though the shooting was swiftly condemned by groups across the ideological spectrum, it tapped into deep divisions over cultural issues like gay marriage and drew finger-pointing about whether inflamed rhetoric on either side was to blame.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said “reckless rhetoric” from organizations that disagree with his group’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage was to blame for the shooting.
“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organization hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy,” Perkins said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization that tracks and litigates hate groups, labeled the FRC as a hate group in 2010 for what it called the group’s anti-gay stance.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, called Perkins’ accusation “outrageous.” He said the council was labeled for spreading false propaganda about LGBT people, not for its opposition to same-sex marriage.
“The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false,” he said in a statement. “It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.”
Corkins, 28, entered the lobby of the downtown Washington building on Wednesday morning, carrying a backpack with a box of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, authorities said. It wasn’t immediately known what he planned to do with the sandwiches.
Corkins, who had recently been volunteering at a D.C. community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, told the guard words to the effect of, “I don’t like your politics” and pulled a handgun from his backpack, according to an FBI affidavit.
The guard was shot in the arm but was able to help wrestle the gun away and restrain the shooter, police said.
Corkins, who lives with his parents in Herndon, Va., was charged with assault with intent to kill and bringing firearms across state and was ordered held pending a hearing next week. He told the judge he had only $300 in his account and was appointed a public defender. He was otherwise silent during the hearing and stared ahead impassively.
The shooting was rebuked by President Barack Obama and Republican president candidate Mitt Romney, but also gay and lesbian advocacy groups and Christian organizations. One, the National Organization for Marriage, said it was time to stop labeling organizations that oppose same-sex marriage as hateful.
The Family Research Council had recently defended Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy for his opposition to gay marriage. The council strongly opposes gay marriage and abortion and says it advocates “faith, family and freedom in public policy and public opinion.” The conservative group maintains a powerful lobbying presence, testifying before Congress and reviewing legislation.
The assault charge carries up to 30 years in prison and the weapons charge has a 10-year maximum sentence.
Authorities believe Corkins parked his car at a northern Virginia Metro station and used public transportation to get downtown. An open black box resembling a gun box was found on the car’s passenger seat, the affidavit says. Corkins used a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol that was legally bought and owned, said Richard Marianos, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Washington field office.
The guard, Leonardo “Leo” Johnson, 46, was resting comfortably at a hospital Thursday morning. His mother, Virginia Johnson, said she had not been to visit him but had spoken to him by phone.
“He said he feels very well,” she told the Associated Press in a brief interview. “I am proud of him, very proud of him.”
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