Gun, ammunition, Chick-fil-A? A shooting suspect's unusual profile. (+video)
The suspect in the shooting at a conservative group's office is described as a supporter of gay rights who had Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his bag. The FBI is investigating the attack as a possible hate crime.
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Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, says the nature of the organization, which shapes its positions based on how it interprets Christian doctrine, lends legitimacy to the hate-crime designation.Skip to next paragraph
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“Because the organization also defines itself in religious terms in additional to political ones, it is reasonable to look at this as both a hate crime and also a lone wolf act of domestic terrorism,” Mr. Levin says.
Domestic terrorism, which is more serious, “relates to the use or violent threat to intimidate a population or subgroup for social or political goals,” Levin says.
If the shooting at the Family Research Council is ultimately defined in the trial as a hate crime, it would contradict the organization’s own policy on the issue. On its website, the organization condemns the hate crime designation as a “penalty for the politically incorrect thoughts that allegedly” motivate violent actions. It says no such laws are needed because violence is already illegal.
“We oppose all Thought Crime (sic) laws in principle, because penalizing people specifically for their thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes – even ones abhorrent to us and to the vast majority of Americans, such as racism – would undermine the freedom of speech and thought at the heart of our democracy,” the website reads.
The organization stresses it has “particular concern” when violence related to sexual orientation is classified under federal or state hate crime laws because it “sends the false message that deviant sexual behaviors are somehow equivalent to other categories of protection such as race or sex. In fact, the very term ‘hate crime’ is offensive in this context, in that it implies that mere disapproval of homosexual behavior constitutes a form of ‘hate’ equivalent to racial bigotry.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery Ala. classifies the Family Research Council as a hate group based on its opposition to gay rights and past attempts by the organization to link homosexuality to pedophilia.
Wednesday’s shooting has encouraged conservative groups to say such designation is in itself hateful and must not be tolerated.
“Today’s attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end,” Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement released Wednesday.
Levin says that the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, the research organization he operates out of the criminal justice department at California State University, does not regard the Family Research Council as a hate group even though it has “taken counter positions against them on the hate crime law topic.”
He adds that the SPLC “does not require groups to engage in criminality” to receive the hate group classification.