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Shooter who targeted GOP congressmen was a Bernie Sanders supporter

 
 
 
 
 
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The FBI has officially identified the man suspected of shooting at Republican lawmakers during a practice for an annual charity baseball game as James T. Hodgkinson. With the gunman dead, law enforcement is now trying to determine his motive.

Hodgkinson, 66, is believed to have opened fire on a group of Republican senators and representatives on Wednesday morning as they wrapped up their last practice for the annual congressional baseball game at a field in Alexandria, Virginia. Four people were shot and injured, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), while a Capitol Police officer and Representative Roger Williams (R-Texas) were also injured during the chaos.

The suspect was from Belleville, Illinois, but appeared to have been living out of his van in the Alexandria area since March, FBI Special Agent Tim Slater, in charge of the bureau’s Washington field office, told reporters. Law enforcement is seeking information about Hodgkinson’s time in the Washington, DC, suburb as well as his life in Illinois.

By late morning, even before Hodgkinson had officially been identified by law enforcement, information began to emerge about him from his since-deleted Facebook page and from media reports. Hodgkinson, a home inspector whose license lapsed in November, had long posted on social media about hating Republicans, but he had only a minor arrest record that did not indicate a violent disposition.

Between March 2008 and September 2012, Hodgkinson wrote nearly two dozen letters to the editor of the Belleville News-Democrat, where he “often railed against Republicans and tax policies, and at least once advocated for legalizing marijuana,” the local paper noted.

He contacted his US representative, Republican Mike Bost, 14 times via email or phone in the two years since Bost entered Congress. Hodgkinson was “always angry” about the GOP agenda, but “never crossed the line,” Bost told the Washington Post.

“Every issue that we were working on, he was not in support of,” Bost said. While the communications had a left-wing slant, the messages were delivered “never with any threats, only anger.”

Last winter, Hodgkinson volunteered for the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in Iowa, ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses in February 2016.

On Wednesday, Sanders took to the Senate floor to condemn the shooting, saying he was “sickened by this despicable act.”

Hodgkinson posted to Facebook frequently, often with links to political cartoons or articles that criticized Republicans. In a January 2015 post, he linked to an article about Scalise, and wrote: “Here’s a Republican that should Lose His Job, but they Gave Him a Raise.”

“Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co,” Hodgkinson wrote in a May 22 Facebook post that linked to a Change.org petition to remove President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for “misprision of Treason.”

Despite his anti-Trump posts, the Secret Service did not have him on their radar, CNN reported.

A friend described Hodgkinson as passionate and “pretty well fed up” with the political situation in the US, but always “in control.” The shooting came as a shock to him.

“I guess I just want to let people know that he’s not evil,” Dale Walsh told the Washington Post outside Hodgkinson’s home in Belleville. “I guess he was tired of some of the politics going on. Like in this state, we have politicians collecting a check and doing absolutely nothing for us.”

Hodgkinson also had many run-ins with the law over the years. His scrapes with the police began in the 1990s with arrests for resisting police and drunk driving. In April 2006, he and his wife were arrested and charged with domestic battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm for an altercation with neighbors over the Hodgkinsons’ foster daughter. He had several other arguments with neighbors including one later in 2006 where police were called after Hodgkinson “accidentally struck” a neighbor’s dog “while it was sleeping in the roadway,” according to police records.

The most recent incident happened on March 24 in Belleville, when the St. Clair County Sheriff received a phone call reporting about 50 shots fired “in the pine trees.” Hodgkinson showed the responding deputy his valid Illinois firearms license, and the deputy advised him “to not discharge his weapon in the area.”

Within a week of that incident, Hodgkinson was in the DC area, living out of his white cargo van near the Alexandria ballfield, according to Slater. He appears to have spent a significant amount of time at the local YMCA, where he spoke to former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille nearly every day for the last six weeks.

“He was a very friendly person,” Euille told the Washington Post. “But what I did notice about this gentleman is he’d open up his gym bag and in it, he had everything he owned. He was living out of the gym bag. That, and he sat in the Y’s lobby for hours and hours. Outside of myself, I don’t think he knew anyone else in town.”

Hodgkinson was there Wednesday morning, the YMCA manager told Euille, working out before leaving at about 7am and walking over toward the baseball field where the Republican lawmakers were practicing. He opened fire from outside the field, along the third base side. Most of the legislators were gathered along the first base side.

Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina) and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) were leaving practice early when Hodgkinson asked them if they were the Democratic or Republican team. When they told him they were Republicans, “he said, ‘K, thanks.’ There was nothing earth-shattering about it,” Duncan told CNBC.

Not long after, the shooting began. Hodgkinson’s actions were “determined” and “very deliberate,” Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Michigan) told CNN. “I felt like I was being hunted at that point.”

Hodgkinson had a “direct line of sight at the entrance,” and the lawmakers “couldn’t get up and run because the moment you did, you were shot at,” Bishop said, noting there was only one way onto the field, near first base. “He seemed to have an endless amount of ammunition” and was “aiming and firing indiscriminately.”

Although Hodgkinson had previously posted about Scalise, neither lawmakers nor law enforcement could say whether the third-ranking Republican in the House was targeted.

“I don’t think he was hunting any one particular person, he just wanted all of us,” Bishop said.

Three Capitol Police officers on the scene began firing back, and three Alexandria police units were on the scene within three minutes, Chief Michael Brown told reporters. It “was not only chaotic, it was a combat situation.”

Hodgkinson died in the hospital of multiple gunshot wounds to his torso, Slater said, citing the DC medical examiner’s office.

The FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and local police in Illinois and Virginia “continue to actively investigate motives, acquaintances and whereabouts that led to today’s incident,” he said.

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