It was shortly after 7 a.m. in a quiet, leafy Washington, D.C., suburb, and Rep. Rodney Davis was up at bat, practicing for a charity baseball game with some of his GOP colleagues, when the first shot cracked into the air. “We heard a loud noise, like a construction site, somebody dropped a big piece of metal. And then the next thing I remember is somebody on the field yelling, ‘Run! He’s got a gun!'” a shaken Davis later recalled to CNN.
Over the next ten minutes – what felt like “an eternity,” according to Rep. Chuck Fleischmann – Republican Congress members and their aides, friends and children huddled in dugouts, batting cages and under cars as Capitol Police officers and those with the Alexandria, Virginia, police department exchanged fire with the shooter.
When it was all over, five people were wounded – including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was shot while playing second base – and the gunman was on his way to George Washington Hospital in critical condition. He later died.
Law enforcement sources identified the man as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Belleville, Illinois. His wife told ABC News he’d been living in Alexandria for two months; during that time, according to Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, Hodgkinson became a regular at the YMCA across the street from the baseball diamond.
Back in Illinois’ St. Clair County, he had a criminal history that dated back almost 30 years – mostly minor offences, like failing to obtain an electrical contractor’s license in 2009, with five more serious charges, including domestic battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm, all dismissed, in 2006. He was also a prolific writer of letters-to-the-editor; his local paper, the Belleville News-Democrat, published nine years worth of his screeds against Republican tax polices today.
Hodgkinson’s most recent brush with the law, according to records obtained by the Washington Post, happened in March, when the St. Clair County Sheriff was dispatched to his house after someone called to report dozens of gunshots “in the pine trees.” The officers checked his gun license (it was valid), and let him go.
Rep. Ron DeSantis told reporters that before the shooting, a man approached him in the baseball field’s parking lot to ask if the men on the field were Republicans or Democrats. After later seeing a photo of Hodgkinson, both DeSantis and Rep. Jeff Duncan, agreed it was him.
The shooter’s brother, Michael Hodgkinson, told The New York Times he’d come to D.C. to protest – “I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff.”
During the 2016 election, Hodgkinson volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Charles Orear, a friend who met Hodgkinson while they door-knocked for Sanders together in Iowa, described him to the Washington Post as “quiet … very mellow, very reserved.”
On Facebook, though, Hodgkinson was an animated and vocal critic of Donald Trump. He signed and posted a number of online petitions, including one in March calling for the impeachment of the president and vice president. “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” Hodgkinson wrote at the time.
Hodgkinson’s posts were immediately seized on by far-right websites like Alex Jones’ InfoWars, which wrote,”We have been warning for months that the mainstream media’s hysterical anti-Trump narrative and the left’s insistence that Trump is illegitimate will radicalise demented social justice warriors and prompt them to lash out with violence. It looks like that’s exactly what happened today. The blood is on their hands.” Donald Trump Jr. echoed the sentiment on Twitter.
The president himself struck a more measured tone as he addressed the nation Wednesday morning. “We may have 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,” Trump said. “We can agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated that message as he addressed his colleagues from the House floor hours after the attack. “We are all horrified by this dreadful attack on our friends and colleagues,” Ryan said. “We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
Sanders also released a statement condemning the attack. “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “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 contrary to our most deeply held American values. “