As authorities revealed details about the Family Research Council shooting, the head of the influential conservative organization blamed the attack on “reckless rhetoric,” but then delivered his own politically-charged remark, saying critics gave the accused gunman “a license to shoot an unarmed man.”
Tony Perkins’ comments on Aug. 16 fanned already-inflamed statements from both sides, tapped into deep divisions over abortion and gay marriage, and drew more finger-pointing.
Meanwhile, the accused shooter, Floyd Lee Corkins II, was ordered held without bond on accusations he opened fire a day earlier inside the lobby of the council’s headquarters. Corkins, whose parents said he strongly supported gay rights, had a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches and a box of ammunition when he said words to the effect of “I don’t like your politics” and shot a security guard, authorities said.
The guard was shot in the left arm but nonetheless managed to help take down the gunman, preventing what the police said could have been a deadly attack.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Corkins, 28, had the chicken sandwiches.
The Family Research Council has steadfastly supported the president of Chick-Fil-A and his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage, a stance that has placed the fast-food chain at the center of a hot-button national cultural debate.
The organization 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.
While blaming Corkins for the shooting, Perkins also faulted the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization that tracks and litigates against hate groups. The law center labeled the council a hate group in 2010 for what it called the organization’s anti-gay stance.
“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.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, called Perkins’ accusation “outrageous.” He said the council earned the designation for spreading false propaganda about the gay community, 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 had recently been volunteering at a D.C. community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He lived with his parents in Herndon, Va., and appearing in court on Aug. 16 with what looked to be a black or swollen eye, told a federal magistrate that he had only $300.
Prosecutors requested a mental health evaluation, and Corkins’ public defender did not address the allegations in court.
Corkins faces charges of assault with intent to kill and bringing firearms across state. The judge ordered him held pending a hearing next week. Corkins was otherwise silent during the hearing and stared ahead impassively.
His parents have also not commented, but they told FBI agents that their son “has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.”
The assault charge carries up to 30 years in prison and the weapons charge has a 10-year maximum sentence.
Corkins received a master’s degree in 2006 from George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development in Fairfax. He earlier attended Grace Brethren Christian School near Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.
The shooting was condemned by President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well as gay and lesbian advocacy groups and conservative organizations.
But there was no swift sign of reconciliation across the ideological spectrum.
“Perkins cannot be allowed to exploit the sympathy rightfully generated by this inexcusable crime to whitewash his group’s ongoing anti-gay activities. If the FRC wants to stop being labeled a hate group, it must stop doing and saying hateful things,” Wayne Besen, the founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit group that fights anti-gay sentiment, said in a statement.
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, an affidavit said. 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 Aug. 16. He told WJLA-TV that Corkins claimed he had come to the council’s office to interview for an internship.
Johnson’s 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 said in a brief interview. “I am proud of him, very proud of him.”