The “Resist” movement spawned a shooting rampage Wednesday morning that targeted Republican lawmakers — an attack by a self-declared anti-Trump crusader that underscored the poisonous tenor of modern American politics.
While police were silent about a motive, the Republicans who came under fire as they practiced for a charity baseball game said they were certain they were targets because of their political party. And the gunman’s biography backs them.
The shooter opened fire at a baseball field in Alexandria where the Republican team had been practicing for weeks, seriously wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and two U.S. Capitol Police officers from Mr. Scalise’s security detail.
The officers returned fire and killed the gunman, identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois.
His brother said Hodgkinson was upset about the election of President Trump and traveled to the Washington area weeks ago to protest.
As leaders in both parties appealed for national unity and political civility, some supporters of Mr. Trump said the shooting by a supporter of Sen. Bernard Sanders’ White House bid was a likely consequence of an increasingly hostile “Resistance” crusade against the president.
“You’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the left,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an ally of Mr. Trump. “You’ve had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it’s OK to hate.”
A day after falling just shy of winning his party’s gubernatorial nomination in Virginia, Corey Stewart was even blunter, accusing Democrats and liberal activists for encouraging supporters to take “the fight to the streets.”
“This is the fault of the left,” Mr. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, told The Washington Times. “They have blood on their hands.”
The demonizing of Mr. Trump has become a contest of one-upmanship, which in just the past weeks involved comedian Kathy Griffin displaying a likeness of the president’s bloody severed head and the staging of a play in New York City that depicts the assassination of Mr. Trump.
The vitriol directed at Mr. Trump has extended to his Republican allies in Congress, whose support for the president’s agenda has sparked such a heated outcry that some lawmakers have debated the need for more security at town hall meetings in their districts.
It was in that increasingly polarized political culture that Hodgkinson opened fire with an assault rifle at Republican lawmakers and staffers at the baseball field at 7:09 a.m. Wednesday, after inquiring whether the players were Republicans or Democrats.
Mr. Scalise of Louisiana, the third-ranking House Republican, was wounded in the hip as he stood near second base. He dragged himself into the outfield grass, leaving a bloody trail in the dirt as the gunman methodically took aim at other players.
The hospital said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon that Mr. Scalise “was critically injured and remains in critical condition.”
In the evening, Mr. Scalise’s office said a single rifle shot traveled through his left hip, fracturing bones, damaging organs and causing severe bleeding. He received multiple blood transfusions, and his critical condition will require additional operations.
After the visit, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to say that Mr. Scalise “is in very tough shape.”
Lawmakers and other witnesses described the agonizing minutes they spent seeking cover at the athletic complex until Capitol Police officers were able to return fire.
In all, dozens of shots were fired, shattering car windows and whizzing over the heads of terrified residents who had brought their pets to a nearby dog park or visited a YMCA adjacent to the ballfield.
Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican, dove with other lawmakers into the first-base dugout.
“A couple of the people in the dugout had cellphones telling people we were under attack, and they’re screaming for reinforcements,” Mr. Brooks said. “We’re helpless. We’ve got bats versus a rifle — not good odds. So very intense moments. I don’t know how many dozens of shots, 50 to 100, but there’s a lot of it.”
Katie Filous of Alexandria told The Washington Times that she was walking dogs to the dog park when she heard loud popping sounds and saw “little puffs of dirt on the baseball field.”
“People were screaming, ‘He has a rifle, he has a rifle,’” she said. “The gun was really, really loud. Everybody was screaming, ‘Lay flat.’ It was terrifying.”
She witnessed the shooting of one of the uniformed Capitol Police officers, who was returning fire against the gunman.
“I saw a person get out of a black Suburban. He or she had a handgun, saying, ‘Drop your weapon!’” Ms. Filous said. “I saw the gunman shooting the agent.”
‘Terminate the Republican Party’
Though investigators wouldn’t say they had established a motive for the shootings, Hodgkinson, in addition to a record of run-ins with the law, had a history of lashing out at Republicans and belonged to a Facebook group called Terminate the Republican Party.
He had volunteered for Mr. Sanders’ presidential campaign. A post on a Facebook page believed to be Hodgkinson’s stated: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
Former Navy SEAL and Trump supporter Carl Higbie of Connecticut placed the blame on Democratic leaders for fanning the flames of the “Resist” movement.
“We must examine why it has happened,” Mr. Higbie said. “It’s because the Democratic Party, led by Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, my home-state U.S. senator Chris Murphy and the like have encourage[d] this childish, anarchist #Resist movement to the point where people are acting violently on behalf of it.”
He said Democrats must “stop this vitriolic #Resist narrative and start acting like adults because your words have consequences.”
Others said it was premature to lay blame. Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said there are unbalanced individuals on both ends of the political spectrum.
Mr. Sanders took to the Senate floor to condemn the attack. He said he was horrified to learn that the suspect had been a volunteer for his presidential campaign last year.
“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Mr. Sanders said. “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.”
Hours after the attack, Rep. Claudia Tenney, New York Republican, said she contacted Capitol Police about a threatening email she received.
“One down, 216 to go,” a Boonville, New York, resident wrote in the email, published by Politico.
“Did you NOT expect this?” the person wrote. “When you take away ordinary peoples very lives in order to pay off the wealthiest among us, your own lives are forfeit. Certainly, your souls and morality were lost long before. Good riddance.”
Ms. Tenney, a freshman lawmaker, told Syracuse.com that the nation should be having a robust debate about policy issues, but ”this is beyond another realm.”
Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican who was at the ballfield, pleaded for more political unity in the aftermath of the shooting.
“It’s my breaking point of civility in politics when you go to baseball practice for a game for charity and you have to dodge bullets and you watch your colleagues lay in [the] field,” Mr. Davis said. “Hate has to stop. We can disagree on policies as Republicans and Democrats, as Americans, but that’s what makes this country great. It’s a sad testament of what I now consider political rhetorical terrorism.”
But Mr. Stewart wasn’t in a forgiving mood, saying Democrats have condoned violence against conservatives in the past, so he doesn’t buy their calls for unity now. He highlighted Miss Griffin’s “Trump beheading” publicity, which resulted in CNN breaking ties with the comedian.
“You don’t see conservatives attacking liberals or Democrats. It is always the vile, disgusting, animals that are attacking Republicans,” Mr. Stewart said.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, told a packed House chamber later that “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
In the most obvious display of unity, lawmakers in both parties said the annual charity baseball game will take place as scheduled at 7:05 p.m. Thursday.
Rhetoric spinning out of control
But on a broader level, Mr. Gingrich and others said, the hostile political rhetoric is spinning out of control.
“I talk to college students regularly who say to me if they are openly for Trump, they get threatened,” Mr. Gingrich said on Fox News. “Some of them get death threats. The intensity on the left is very real, whether it is a so-called comedian holding up the president’s head in blood or it’s right here in New York City, a play that shows the president being assassinated. … This intensity has been building, I think, since election night.”
After the shooting, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted with approval a post from conservative political commentator Harlan Z. Hill: “Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President.”
Since Mr. Trump’s election, many front lawns in the heavily Democratic neighborhood where the shooting took place have displayed signs proclaiming a generic message of “Kindness.” Sprinkled among them are some “Resist” signs, along with a few holdouts still defiantly sporting “Clinton/Kaine” signs.
A Virginia poll watcher in Alexandria said she believed the shooting was a carryover of the anger displayed by the Resist movement during Tuesday’s primary elections in Virginia.
“It’s not as if I certainly expected this to happen or whatever, imagined or predicted this to happen, but in retrospect, yesterday I visited four or five precincts right around the immediate area where the shooting occurred, and the vitriol and the anger was palpable,” Mari Estull said in a phone interview with The Washington Times.
Ms. Estull, 51, said she was spit upon and cursed at by the Resist protesters.
“Virginia was out in force yesterday voting, so it was kind of unusual because I got to see the actual voters. … I got to sort of have a glimpse of the tenor of the feeling in politics here and it just so happens the very next day this happens and I’m in shock. In retrospect, it’s almost like ‘aha,’ ” said Ms. Estull, a mother of two. “I certainly can’t say I saw this coming, but I sensed this seething anger yesterday, just 24 hours ago.”
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, aided by a TV campaign ad in which he called Mr. Trump a “narcissistic maniac” and saying “we’re not letting him bring his hate into Virginia.”
Partisan vitriol was still evident on social media hours after the shooting.
Some people lashed out at David Axelrod, who served as an adviser to then-President Barack Obama, when he said on Twitter that he was “saddened to read political responses among expressions of thoughts and prayers. Can we please hit pause on that for now?”
On the Facebook page called the Trump Resistance Movement, many people ridiculed Mr. Axelrod’s plea for unity.
• Laura Kelly, Seth McLaughlin and Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.