Conviction and Forgiveness
It was just 52 seconds, but what happened on the morning of August 15, 2012 changed FRC forever. Were it not for an ordinary man showing extraordinary courage, an activist bent on massacring an office of innocent people might have succeeded in silencing dozens of the FRC team -- forever.
Today, that man, Floyd Lee Corkins II, was held accountable in a court of law for his premeditated act of violence. As prosecutors pointed out, this was no ordinary attack -- but an act intended to intimidate and bully an organization that represents millions of pro-marriage Americans. While rows of his intended targets looked on, the man who methodically planned to take FRC lives was sentenced to 25 years in prison for three felony counts, including the first-ever domestic terrorism conviction in the nation's capital.
Four hundred days after Corkins tried to commit one of the deadliest killings in Washington, the one man standing in the way of that carnage finally had an opportunity to look his assailant in the eye. Surrounded by his mom, girlfriend, and his FRC family, our friend and colleague Leo Johnson turned to Corkins and spoke the simple but powerful words of forgiveness. "I do forgive you, but I will not forget. My family will not forget. Seek God. He saved my life and yours..."
As the nightmare of that August morning replayed in court -- from photographs of the shattered glass to the bullet holes in our lobby walls, God's fingerprints on that day were never clearer. But for Leo's heroic conduct, and the protective hand of the Lord, this crime might have ended like the tragic event this week. As the government's prosecutors said, Monday's anguish reminded us all what one fully-armed man can accomplish. Floyd Corkins was no less determined than the Navy Yard shooter, and were it not for another man sitting in the courtroom, the outcome would have been far different.
Unlike the Navy Yard gunman, Mr. Corkins wasn't attacking a group of people -- he was attacking an institution of political discourse. Asked what he would have done if he succeeded in carrying out his grisly plan, Corkins admitted to investigators, "I would have gone home and kind of planned more, to do more shootings." In an eerie twist, prosecutors showed that he had written his target list on a preprinted, "With God all things are possible" notepad -- never knowing how true that statement would turn out to be. We can thank the Lord, and Leo, that of all the lone gunmen who've tried to take the lives of innocent Americans these last 24 months, FRC's was the only attack in which the shooter did not achieve his goal. In perhaps the greatest irony, Judge Roberts told Corkins that the first victim he sought to kill saved Corkins from himself -- and from killing other victims.
But with each act of violence, whether it's Washington, Sandy Hook, or Aurora, we're all sensitive to the shattered sense of security felt all across America. But the solution to this violence isn't more gun control laws -- as many on the Left are quick to claim. Certainly, there are issues of how best to help people with mental illness that can and should be addressed. But there's also the issue of civility. In Corkins's case, he was spurred on by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that seeks -- not to debate their opponents -- but to marginalize and silence them. As August 15th made painfully clear, this is more than dangerous; it threatens our very system of government.
For 13 months, I've called on the SPLC to stop their reckless labeling of Christian organizations. And despite the suffering and near loss of life at FRC, SPLC stubbornly refuses. Surely Richard Cohen, SPLC's President, would agree that no person deserves to be put in the crosshairs of an assassin simply for participating in the political process and advocating for a child's right to a mom and dad. If he does, then it's time his organization stopped inspiring such hostility.
As for FRC, you'll never see a white flag at 801 G Street, NW. We aren't backing up -- and we aren't shutting up when it comes to defending the values and virtues that made America great. Regardless of what happens, we will not waver from engaging in public policy in Washington, D.C. or anywhere else. We are Americans, we have First Amendment rights, and those who seek violence to stifle other citizens got a message today that this behavior will not be tolerated in our country.
Heir Force: Senate Takes a First Look at USAF Successor
The next Secretary of the U.S. Air Force is already inheriting some significant challenges -- but none are greater than the attack on religious liberty. Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee made a point of highlighting that climate of intimidation in the hearing of Deborah Lee James, President Obama's pick for the highest post in the USAF. At 54, James has never served in the military, but she has worked for several defense and national security contractors. Not much is known about James's personal beliefs -- and even less is known about her position on faith in the force. "We want to know," FRC's Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin told reporters, "if she would be an advocate for allowing military members to live their faith, not just to believe in certain things."
And we aren't the only ones. In this morning's hearing, Senator David Vitter (R-La.) opened his questioning by explaining that "a lot of us are very concerned about what in our opinion is political correctness run amok on steroids quashing the legitimate exercise and expression of religion in the military." He cited specific examples of religious speech being restricted (several of which are documented in FRC's report, "A Clear and Present Danger") and a Chaplain being told he could not pray according to his particular faith's tenets. When asked if she supported such constraints, James indicated she was not familiar with the incidents, would look into them, and wanted to stay in open communication with the committee regarding any other troubling stories. In a surprising show of unity, Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) expanded on Senator Vitter's questions and urged James to give a forthright reporting to the full committee on these issues. After all, he insisted, this is a "serious subject, deserving of all of our attention." Let's hope the rest of the Senate feels the same.
** Don't miss the amazing profile of Leo the Hero, who sat down with the Washington Post's Ann Marimow to talk about seeing Floyd Corkins for the first time since last year's shooting. To read FRC's statement to the court, click here. For Leo's, follow this ink. Also, check out today's post-sentencing press conference with Leo in the video below.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.