Early yesterday morning, a man approached a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where a group of GOP congressmen and staffers were holding their regularly-scheduled baseball practice. The man, who has since been identified by The Washington Post as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, reportedly asked if the assembled congressmen were Democrats or Republicans, then opened fire on the group.
Multiple people were injured, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who underwent surgery for a bullet wound in his hip sustained in the attack, and is now recovering. According to police, Hodgkinson was shot during the gunfight by members of the Congressional security detail; he subsequently died from his injuries.
Make no mistake: this is a tragedy. This is the latest in a growing — and alarming — trend of politically or ideologically motivated attacks, and no matter your political leanings, I would hope you feel the same way. Unprovoked violence is never an acceptable way to express political dissent. Moreover, this kind of attack should not be used for political gain on either side of the aisle. It’s in poor taste.
And yet, that didn’t stop certain politicians and political commentators from blaming this latest attack on the “violent” left. Rep. Steve King of Iowa stopped by the scene of the crime to offer his take on this attack: “America has been divided, and the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.” This sentiment was echoed by various alt-right political pundits on Twitter, the theory being that somehow violence in America didn’t exist before Donald Trump was elected.
In fact, the theory has now expanded. D-list celebrity Kathy Griffin has once again come under fire for a recent photo shoot that portrayed Griffin holding a fake, severed Donald Trump head, as has hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg for his recent music video that depicted the assassination of Donald Trump. These examples are apparently evidence that liberal media figures are encouraging violence against lawmakers, and Hodgkinson was simply following their directives.
It should go without saying, but apparently, it doesn’t: this is insane.
First, Hodgkinson is 66 years old. The odds that he takes his cues from the likes of Snoop Dogg and Kathy Griffin are extremely low. (Frankly, the odds that anyone takes their cues from Kathy Griffin are low. Kathy Griffin is the worst.) Second, using violence or the threat of violence as a means to force one’s ideology upon others is not a “liberal” thing or a “conservative” thing — it’s a terrorism thing. I know many in this country are hesitant to call an act of terrorism what it is (unless it’s perpetrated by a brown person) but that’s what the shooting was.
In 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot by Jared Lee Loughner during a constituent meeting in a supermarket parking lot in Arizona. Loughner killed 6 people in the attack, including a nine-year-old girl; Giffords nearly died, but eventually made a full recovery.
Later, it was reported that Loughner might have been influenced by a tweet sent by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The tweet contained a map of 20 Congressional districts that had voted for John McCain in the 2008 election but whose Congressmen voted in favor of President Obama’s health care bill. Palin posted the map with a caption reading “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD,” marking each of those locations with a crosshair; Rep. Giffords was one of the names on the map.
There was an uproar on the left that Palin’s tweet was responsible for Loughner’s actions. Conservatives defended Palin, rightly pointing out that Loughner’s actions were his own, and the former Governor was not to blame. In fact, they argued, nobody was to blame except Loughner. Not a map, not a tweet, not someone else’s words.
They were right. Nobody has the ability to force someone else to engage in acts of violence.
And yet, those same conservatives are using today’s shooting as evidence that Hodgkinson’s actions were directly attributable to Kathy Griffin and Snoop Dogg, or as evidence that the “so-called tolerant left” is nothing more than a pack of violent thugs. This is ridiculous for the reasons I listed above, but it’s also indicative of a severe amount of cognitive dissonance on the right. For every anti-fascist protester who punches a Nazi like Richard Spencer, there is a corresponding act of violence carried out by right-wing extremists. In fact, on balance, I’d argue that the scales of violence are historically tipped pretty heavily toward conservatives, but that’s another discussion.
This attack will likely reignite the debate on gun control, but it is unlikely that any change to our gun laws will be forthcoming as a result. According to Reuters, Rep. Scalise “has been a strong opponent of gun control measures and has earned an ‘A+’ rating from the National Rifle Association — the influential lobby for expanding gun ownership rights. He has co-sponsored legislation to weaken gun control laws in the District of Columbia.” In fact, after Giffords offered her thoughts and prayers on Twitter to those affected by the shooting, some 2nd Amendment supporters took the opportunity to preemptively warn her not to try and take their guns.
The growing use of violence to support political ideologies; gun control; the increasingly contentious (and sometimes deadly) nature of political discussion in America — all of this can be discussed later. Both parties need to stop trying to score political points on the back of these attacks, and Americans of all stripes need to stop trying to use these events to support their preconceived notions of what the “other side” believes. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s terrorism. Plain and simple.