A Prayer Breakfast, Tony Perkins, the FBI, and right-wing lies


On May 4, 2015, I posted a blog here at Alternating Currents lamenting the booking of the Family Research Council‘s President Tony Perkins to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Tulare County Prayer Breakfast.  In it, I mention the designation by the well respected Southern Poverty Law Center that the FRC is a hate group, and said “that such a person should be invited to Visalia to speak to a religious group is outrageous.” 

On May 5, a Letter-to-the-Editor by Mike Buford, a member of the Tulare County Prayer Breakfast Team, took issue with my blog, and accused me of attempting  “intimidation” and being part of a group wanting the “silencing of the views of a majority of Americans.”  In it, he claims the SPLC “has actually been linked to domestic terrorism in a federal court of law” and that “the activities of this organization are so questionable that the FBI dropped them as a resource and the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army have removed SPLC’s materials from their programs.” Mr. Buford’s comments are incorrect.

Challenging religious organizations who publicly support hate groups, and hold up as respectable people who regularly make demonstrably false statements and who repeatedly attack others who don’t agree with them, are not acts of “intimidation” or an attempt at “silencing”.  It’s an attempt to bring the truth to a group of people seriously lacking in facts, and by their attending and applauding this man, supporting things that are lies and deliberate distortions.  Perkins’ and the FRC’s ongoing and well-funded attacks directed at the LGBT community have earned them the designation of ‘hate group’.  Mr. Buford condemns the SPLC as “anti-Christian”, but the SPLC only designates certain organizations as qualifying as a hate group, not all Christian denominations or sects.  Perhaps Mr. Buford means the SPLC is “anti-his-brand-of-Christianity”.

Mr. Buford claims the SPLC was “linked to domestic terrorism in a federal court of law.” Since he provided no specifics, I’m going to assume he is referring to the case of Floyd Corkins, who entered the lobby of the FRC in Washington, D.C. on August 15, 2012, and armed with a pistol and 100 rounds of ammunition, planning to shoot employees.  As reported by CNSNews.com,

an FBI agent asks Corkins: “How did you … this building, this organization. Did you, how did you find it earlier? Did you like look it up online?”

Corkins answers: “It was a, uh, Southern Poverty Law lists, uh, anti-gay groups. I found them online. I did a little bit of research, went to the website. Stuff like that.”

The “link” between this domestic terrorist and the SPLC is “I found them online”. Only the most ardent conspiracy nut could believe that meant the SPLC was somehow involved in this attack.

Mr. Buford says “The activities of this organization are so questionable that the FBI dropped them as a resource and the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army have removed SPLC’s materials from their programs.”  This also turns out not to be true.

The FBI and many other Federal government agencies have been, for some time, in the process of “cleaning up” the non-governmental sites they link with, and the links to SPLC, along with many others, were removed.  The FBI told the Daily Caller “Upon review, the Civil Rights program only provides links to resources within the federal government. While we appreciate the tremendous support we receive from a variety of organizations, we have elected not to identify those groups on the civil rights page.”

On the FBI’s Civil Rights Hate Crime Overview page, the FBI says:

Public Outreach: The FBI has forged partnerships nationally and locally with many civil rights organizations to establish rapport, share information, address concerns, and cooperate in solving problems. These groups include such organizations as the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Disability Rights Network.

The right-wing echo chamber of conservative media and websites have tried to make it seem like the Feds have suddenly “seen the light”, and are washing their hands of the SPLC, but simply is not the case.  They are, if not outright lying, at the very least promoting a false narrative of what is happening.  Perhaps they need to be reminded of Exodus 20:16.

Mr. Buford continues:

The SPLC has become the premier anti-Christian organization and in its push to redefine marriage, labels anyone who opposes them as a “hate group.” I cannot think of anything more un-American. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion is essential to the future of our nation.

The Catholic Church is ardently against marriage equality, but they are not listed as a hate group by SPLC.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is well known for it’s activities that helped get California’s Proposition 8 passed.  They are not listed.  The Southern Baptist Convention is against marriage equality, and yet they are not listed as a hate group.

Mr. Buford should visit the SPLC’s hate group page, and see how many of these organizations he really wants to be associated with in his dismissal of their designations as hate groups, and if he really thinks any group who opposes marriage equality or the SPLC’s positions are automatically designated a hate group.

Mr. Buford concludes:

“We must not allow this type of intimidation and silencing of the views of a majority of Americans.”

Protesting the invitation of someone like Perkins to a prayer breakfast can hardly be intimidating or an attempt to silence someone’s views.  Speaking up is about as American as you can get, and it’s also a reminder that while Mr. Buford’s views may be a “majority” in his social circles, support for marriage equality has held a growing, and is now a majority, opinion in the United States.  Mr. Perkins and Mr. Buford may claim otherwise, but it is not true.

At the end of the day, the Tulare County Prayer Breakfast didn’t invite someone to bring a positive reputation and message to their function.  They brought a divisive, hateful, lying speaker with a prominent anti-LGBT message.  Of course they had to know of his reputation and history, and this speaks volumes to the message they really wanted to send at their event.  Rather than have a speaker like Mr. Bob Goff, of Restore International, who spoke recently at an event sponsored by Visalia Rescue Mission’s Spring Benefit, they booked Tony Perkins.

It was also inappropriate, in my opinion, for several members of the Sheriff’s Department, including Sheriff Boudreaux, to attend this function in uniform.  This, and the Sheriff’s introduction of Mr. Perkins, lends the approval and sanction of the Sheriff’s Department, a government body, to a religious function.  Attendance, and even the introduction, should have been as private citizens, not as representatives of government.  I’ve not paid attention to the Prayer Breakfast prior to their inviting Perkins (it’s always flown under my radar until now), but I understand it’s had a long tradition of local government officials attending.  That does not excuse the improper imprimatur by those officials appearing in their capacity as public servants.

Image courtesy of Politifact


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