Since the news broke yesterday of the wounding of a security guard in the thwarting of an attempted amoklauf at the Family Research Center it has become more clear that the shooter meant to make a political statement. He is reported to have worked for a gay-rights group and is said to have made a denunciation of the FRC, a "family values" group opposed to gay marriage rights, before firing on the guard. The gay marriage controversy -- including the trivial tempest over the opinions (rather than the policy) of the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain president -- apparently contributed to driving the shooter off the deep end. It would be fair to describe him as a hater, whether he believes himself to have acted dispassionately and according to some political necessity or not. What did he hate? It's too soon for most of us to know for certain, but we can guess that he hated the "Christian Right" to an ultimately violent degree. If so, why did he hate them? In attempting to answer this question, Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group allied to the FRC in opposition to marriage equality, presumes too much for plainly self-interested reasons. In a press release issued after the incident, Brown blames the aborted amoklauf on the specific fact that the FRC had been dubbed a "hate group" by such usual suspects as the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"For too long national gay rights groups have intentionally
marginalized and ostracized pro-marriage groups and individuals by
labeling them as 'hateful' and 'bigoted' -- such harmful and dangerous
labels deserve no place in our civil society and NOM renews its call
today for gay rights groups and the Southern Poverty Law Center to
withdraw such incendiary rhetoric from a debate that involves millions
of good Americans,"Brown writes, "Today's attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end."
Brown vests too much power in a label he clearly resents. It seems unlikely that the "hate" label specifically triggered yesterday's would-be rampage, and more likely that the shooter would have chosen the same target and done the same thing had the H-word never been used in the debate. Without suggesting that the actions of groups like FRC or NOM justify attempted murder, I still have to conclude that those actions, or the gunman's own perception of them, rather than any label placed on them by activists or propagandists, provoked the attack. The "hate group" label was neither necessary nor sufficient to do so. In fact, when was the last time you heard of a "hate group" targeted for attack in this manner? There have been no amoklaufs or "domestic terror" incidents to my knowledge at Ku Klux Klan rallies, Nazi party meetings, etc. Had such incidents occurred, would it follow that the Klan or the Nazis should no longer be deemed "hate groups?" I don't think Brian Brown would go that far, however he feels about himself and his allegedly exaggerated hatred. "Hate" may be a rhetorical amplifier for people who like to yell or blog, but for yesterday's shooter the simple fact that the FRC opposed his own agenda made its people worthy of death. The people who call the FRC haters or homophobes have no more share in his guilt than any of our public Islamophobes would accept if someone shot up a mosque.
My point isn't to say that Brown has no business criticizing other people's rhetoric. Hatreds on the left are real -- whether the shooter proves a genuine leftist or not notwithstanding -- and no party in political debates is automatically exempt from criticism for irrational extremism. My problem with Brown's press release is his exploitation of an act of violence in order to constrain his opponents' rhetoric. If Brown wants us to accept that his opposition to marriage equality doesn't make him a hater, he should concede that those who call him a hater don't (all) hate him, either. The real problem today isn't simply that we hate each other, but that we presume that those who disagree with us hate us. By suggesting that calling his side haters provoked a potentially lethal hatred in one nut, Brown is only perpetuating the rhetorical hatefest he claims to deplore.