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Man's leap from activist to shooter a warning

Chicago Tribune (TNS) Published: June 19, 2017 4:00 AM

For weeks, members of Congress have been dragging themselves out of bed around dawn for baseball practice. The annual Congressional Baseball Game, scheduled for Thursday at Nationals Park, is a chance for Democrats and Republicans to engage in friendly, charitable rivalry.

On the baseball field, intense disagreements about health care and tax policy shift into less-intense disagreements about balks and close tags.

Make no mistake: The game between the two parties is cutthroat. Broken arms, bloody foreheads, torn muscles and smack talk have marked previous matchups. And for the record, Republicans are hungry for a repeat of the 2016 game, when they broke a seven-year losing streak by beating the Democrats.

That's why they were on a suburban ballfield in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday, along with some of their staff members and children. On the weekends, Eugene Simpson Stadium Park with minor-league seating and an electronic scoreboard often hosts Little League games. On this day, the dugout featured a more potbellied lineup.

It was early. Practice was wrapping up. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois was at bat. The GOP lawmakers were away from the protections of the Capitol. Away from metal detectors. Away from barricades. Away from security checkpoints that shield Capitol Hill like a fortress.

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They were out in the open.

A gunman identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., opened fire. Five people were wounded, including U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, congressional aide Zachary Barth, Capitol Police Officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, and lobbyist Matt Mika, originally from Michigan, who liked to practice with the team.

Davis told CNN he thought the gunshots were bangs from a construction site. Then someone yelled for everyone to run. Davis said he ducked into a dugout and then escaped to a nearby apartment building. He left his cellphone and his wedding band behind.

Witnesses said Hodgkinson engaged in a firefight with police for several more minutes. He died later at a Washington, D.C.-area hospital.

Hodgkinson was a supporter of presidential contender Bernie Sanders. His brother told news outlets he was disturbed over President Donald Trump's election, and his social media posts reflected that.

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He also had criticized Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

After the shooting, Hodgkinson's social media pages exploded. Overheated rhetoric. Divisive name-calling. Obscenity. One Facebook user created a new page called "James T. Hodgkinson is a true American hero." (All have now been deleted.)

Who would do that?

The answer is, outliers. Not us. Not most Americans. Not the majority.

One of the players at Wednesday's practice, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, told police he believed he encountered Hodgkinson in the parking lot as he was leaving practice. Hodgkinson asked him if the players on the field were Democrats or Republicans.

"Republicans," Duncan told him.

So there's little mystery about the gunman's political leanings. But there is confusion about the leap. How could he flip from political activist to shooter, to someone who would engage in "political rhetorical terrorist acts," as Rep. Davis described them?

As the days unfold, we'll learn more about Hodgkinson and the events leading up to the shooting.

But for now, in this moment, we know one thing for sure. Violence that stems from political discourse is reprehensible. It does not represent us as Americans. The vast majority of citizens, even the most passionate partisans, vehemently reject acts of violence as a means of political expression.

We echo the comments of Davis who, in television interviews Wednesday, said: "This hatefulness that we see in this country today over policy differences has got to stop.

"We as Americans have to take a step back, take a deep breath," he said. "We can't let our policy differences tear this country apart with polarization. It's up to us to say, 'enough is enough.'"

Let this be that moment.

-- Chicago Tribune


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Ian_Maserb Jun 23, 2017 9:14 AM

When words fail, blows must surely follow. Too many words today are intended to get whatever is wanted at whatever cost. These words must inevitibly fail and then comes the violence.

There is an overwhelming abundance of those who go about stirring up division for their personal gain. They breed discontent and attract many to their cause by doing so. There are precious few who go about stirring up moderation and fewer still attracted by it. That is the crux of the problem.

Anomy Jun 19, 2017 1:11 PM

Did you hear Teddy Nugent's statement?
THe statement was all nice and cuddly, a "can't we all get along" type statement.

It's like it finally sunk in that more true "Patriots" than only those on the crazy Right are armed.

childofgod Jun 19, 2017 10:51 AM

This is good, especially coming from a Democrat stronghold like Chicago. Having a competitive ball game is one thing, even having heated debates are probably across the line of civility, but shootings and threats are definately over the line of civility.

I saw that some Conservative Country singers are promising to 'tone down' their political retoric; that's good. I would like to see the same from the Liberal / Progressive side, especailly due to the fact that the Left side is where we are getting 'over the line' stunts, like a comedian cutting off a President's head. Who in their right mind could see that as acceptable??? It's inflamatory, and exactly what we don't need.

To my dear Liberal / Progressive friends and neighbors. Please complain when your leaders lie and engage in inflamatory behavior. We all need you to calm down the radicals in your groups that get out of hand. You know and we know that is where we've had our recent (past 10 yrs) problems. We need Civil Discourse, not uncivil anger. Complain about the Berkley riots that stopped Free Speech, and the rioters who called themselves anti-facists as they committed facist acts. You need to do SOMETHING to tame these crazy things down!