In August 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins entered the Family Research Council (FRC) headquarters and opened fire, injuring a security guard as he was tackled — fortunately, before he could cause any more damage.
Periodically, I see people who I otherwise respect trying to dismiss the incident as insignificant, or even making excuses for Corkins.
Violence is not an acceptable response to hate. I’ll add the caveat “unless someone is in direct danger.” I believe in the right to self-defense and accept that there could be extreme situations that preclude using the word “never,” i.e. mass criminalization and mob violence. But that was not the case here and is besides the point. Floyd Lee Corkins deliberately chose to seek out the FRC with the intent of killing people. I blame the idiot with the gun. Whether a right-wing nut or a left-wing nut, violence is not an acceptable response to hate.
When we try to rationalize actions like Corkins’ — even when we’re not completely serious and just using hyperbole — we are (consciously or unconsciously) creating an environment in which violence is seen as an acceptable response. It isn’t.
Further, rationalizations have a tendency to lead toward absurdity. The most vivid example of this is the contention that if a woman is raped, she should be held at least partly responsible if she wore a particularly short skirt. Selecting clothes is not an act of consent, and yet increasingly, this rationalization is used to minimize or even absolve sexual violence. Rationalization of aggression needs to be called out, no matter who is doing it.
“Well, if they’re going to be that way, they’re going to have to expect that people aren’t going to like it.”
And it is not that long ago that being lesbian or gay was rationalized as reason enough to expect to be targeted for violence. It is still seen that way for trans people.
Instead, be the change you wish to see.
If we are to condemn victim-blaming and rationalizations of hate and violence, then we also need to practice the alternative we expect others to live up to… even if the victim in a particular case has been vile. I do not believe that violence and fear are the response to violence and fear that we should espouse. Inspire. Be the change you wish to see. And that means not making excuses for violence.
Challenge the ideology, not the individual.
The Family Research Council has tried to take advantage of the Corkins episode by blaming the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and has categorized FRC as a hate group for the voluminous anti-gay and otherwise vitriolic / targeted rhetoric it has habitually used.
There is value in what the SPLC does, in that it draws attention to and demands answers for hateful comments. Identifying hate challenges those identified to either back down from hateful positions or to reveal the full and extreme extent of them for all to see. Both are revealing to the social dialogue on minority issues. But identifying hate is not a license to target individuals or groups for violence. And if we begin rationalizing its use that way, then we risk encouraging people with poorer judgement to act violently, whether we intended to or not. And if we cannot be clear on this, then we risk losing the moral high ground.
No matter how vile the FRC has been in its rhetoric, violence is not an acceptable response.