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Opinion: Editorials

National Editorial: No federal endorsement for Southern Poverty Law Center

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Photo - WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 16: Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, speaks at a press conference August 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. Mr. Perkins answered questions and discussed yesterday's shooting incident at FRC headquarters. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 16: Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, speaks at a press conference August 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. Mr. Perkins answered questions and discussed yesterday's shooting incident at FRC headquarters. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Opinion,Editorial

Floyd Corkins, 28, learns his fate July 15 when he returns to federal court in the District of Columbia for sentencing following his Feb. 6 guilty pleading to three felonies, including interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, assault with intent to kill while armed, and committing an act of terrorism while armed. He could be sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.

Even if he gets only half that much time in jail, Corkins will forever be known for entering the Family Research Council's Washington headquarters on Aug. 15, 2012, and firing three shots before being subdued by a wounded security guard. He had planned to kill as many people as possible, then smear their faces with the 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches he brought along for the occasion. Why? He told federal investigators that he wanted to "make a statement against the people who work in that building ... and with their stance against gay rights and Chick-fil-A."

For a variety of public policy and theological reasons, the FRC opposes gay marriage. S. Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A's founder, has often made clear his agreement with FRC. So in the name of tolerance, Corkins attempted the ultimate act of intolerance -- imposing the death penalty as punishment for holding a particular political or religious view.

Among the least discussed aspects of the Corkins case is the role of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Ala., liberal advocacy group originally founded in 1971 by Morris Dees and Joseph Levin to fight the remaining vestiges of Jim Crow in the South. But, as recently chronicled by Charlotte Allen in The Weekly Standard, something happened along the way and SPLC became instead "a civil-rights behemoth bursting with donor cash," thanks to Dees' genius for writing direct mail fundraising solicitations that prompted fear-struck aging 1960s liberals to write lots of big checks to the group. SPLC's most recently available IRS 990 listed $256 million in assets.

Corkins targeted FRC and a number of other groups with similar political views because they were among many labeled by SPLC as "hate groups." According to Allen, "the SPLC put the FRC on its list of 'anti-gay' organizations in 2010, and the SPLC's 'Hate Map' page, whose banner displays men in Nazi-style helmets giving Sieg Heil salutes, lists the FRC among 14 hate groups headquartered in the District of Columbia." That said, SPLC can no more be held responsible for Corkins' crimes than Sarah Palin can for Jared Loughner's murder of six people and wounding of Rep. Gabby Giffords in Arizona.

What should be questioned, however, is why federal officials are bolstering this richly endowed group that critics across the political spectrum have long said does little besides enrich Dees and viciously slander groups he dislikes. The Justice Department's Feb. 6, 2012, Civil Rights Summit, for example, featured SPLC spokesman Mark Potok, and SPLC speakers have been promoted by DOJ at similar events in Kansas and Arkansas. Instead of endorsing the SPLC in this manner, maybe the Justice Department should be investigating it for consumer fraud.

Editor's Note: This editorial has been updated from its original posting to reflect the change in sentencing date from April 29 to July 15, 2013. The delay was granted in order to allows defense attorneys additional time to review Corkins' probation records.

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