A man who is believed to have fired rounds into a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, this morning has now been identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson III — an Illinois resident and owner of a home inspection business — who supported Bernie Sanders in the election, while deeming President Trump a “traitor” on social media.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” retorted Charles Orear to the Washington Post by telephone, stunned the “very mellow, very reserved,” “quiet guy” he met in Iowa working for the Sanders campaign could be capable of any act of violence. “I met him on the Bernie trail in Iowa, worked with him in the Quad Cities area.
“He was this union tradesman, pretty stocky, and we stayed up talking politics,” said Orear, whom the Post contacted after observing past interaction on Facebook. “He was more on the really progressive side of things.”
Nonetheless, the Illinois man stands accused of a mass shooting in which, as Senator Rand Paul, who said the aftermath appeared to be “sort of a killing field,” described of being present at the time shots rang out:
“We were like sitting ducks. Without the Capitol Hill police it would have been a massacre.”
Hodgkinson indeed departs from the typical archetype of a mass shooter, though extenuating circumstances and details remain sparse and murky at this time.
“Democratic Socialism explained in 3 words: ‘We the People’ Since 1776,” reads Hodgkinson’s Facebook profile image.
A post from March 22, however, reveals what authorities intimate could be the impetus for the shooting — in which five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, suffered injuries — as the otherwise unlikely attacker wrote, “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co,” atop a petition he appears to have just signed, titled, “The US Senate: The legal removal of The President & Vice President, et al., for Misprision of Treason.”
Immediately prior to the shooting, witnesses claimed to have heard the suspect incessantly asking “Are these the Republicans or the Democrats?” — referring to congressional members practicing baseball for an upcoming charity game.
Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown told the media officers responded to the shooting within three minutes of the first calls to 911. FBI investigators will lead the probe of the shooting to determine whether, as Special Agent Tim Slater stated, the attack should be classified as an act of “political terrorism.”
“It’s not an assassination attempt,” Slater originally announced — clarifying later the FBI is “not sure at this moment.”
NBC News reports, “Two firearms, a rifle and a handgun, were recovered from the scene, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.”
According to the Washington Post, which first reported the identity of the shooter, authorities descended upon an Illinois residence ‘associated’ with Hodgkinson:
“Law enforcement officials arrived at a home associated with James T. Hodgkinson, who has been identified as the suspect in Wednesday morning’s shooting, shortly after 11:30 a.m. The home, in a rural community southeast of St. Louis, is a modest, rectangular clapboard farmhouse set off a two-lane state highway amid fields of young corn and budding soy bushels.”
Neighbors who refused to identify themselves quickly barred Post reporters from approaching the residence, which they claimed had not been occupied by Hodgkinson for “quite a while.”
President Trump expressed sympathy with the victims, saying the world is praying for Representative Scalise, noting in a press announcement,
“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country. We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.Trump added praise of Capitol Police handling of the incident, stating, “many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault.”
“Congressman Scalise is a friend, and a very good friend. He’s a patriot and he’s a fighter. He will recover from his assault — and Steve, I want you to know that you have the prayers not only of the entire city behind you but of an entire nation and, frankly, the entire world. America is praying for you and America is praying for all of the victims of this terrible shooting.”
Upon hearing the news Hodgkinson had worked for Sanders’ campaign, the Vermont senator asserted on the Senate floor,
“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice this morning is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society, and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values.”Although the alleged shooter’s political ideology leans far left — evinced clearly in ambivalence and outright animosity to Republicans and conservatives on social media and in letters to the editor of the Belleville News-Democrat — eyewitnesses and authorities preliminarily suggested it did not appear the man had intentionally targeted specific individuals.
Perhaps incidentally, Scalise once admitted to having spoken before white supremacist supporters of ex-Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and former presidential candidate David Duke. Esquire reports:
“In 2002, Scalise spoke to the European Unity and Rights Organization, a group led by Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK. ‘He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage,’ Stephanie Grace, a long-time political reporter, told The New York Times in 2014 of her first meeting with Scalise. ‘I think he meant he supported the same policy ideas as David Duke, but he wasn’t David Duke, that he didn’t have the same feelings about certain people as David Duke did.’ While Scalise admitted to the speech, he later claimed he didn’t know their cause was white supremacy.”
Whether Hodgkinson intended to target Scalise over that particular event — or any other factor, if he targeted anyone at all — appears unlikely, but must be determined in coming days.
Of course, politicians wasted little time in vociferous calls to further restrict legal gun ownership — this shooting, perhaps having hit literally a bit too close to home.
But, at press time, there was no indication of how Hodgkinson obtained his weapons.
Notably, the U.S. President announced during the chaos this morning the alleged shooter had been killed — but that statement has not been confirmed by any other source at this time, as Capitol Police say he had been taken into custody and does not pose “a threat.”