The gunman who shot a top GOP congressman and several other people at a baseball practice outside the nation’s capital had a long history of lashing out at Republicans and recently frightened a neighbor by firing a rifle into a field behind his Illinois home. James T Hodgkinson, 66, wounded House Rep. Steve Scalise before he was fatally shot by police who had been guarding the House majority whip. In the hours after the attack in Alexandria, Virginia, a picture began to emerge of a shooter with a mostly minor arrest record who worked as a home inspector and despised the Republican Party.
On Facebook, Hodgkinson was a member of a group called “Terminate the Republican Party,” a fact that seemed to take on chilling new meaning in light of an account from South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan. He said he was preparing to leave the baseball field when a man politely asked him whether it was a Democratic or Republican team before quietly walking off.
Until recently, Hodgkinson ran a home-inspection business out of his house in southern Illinois. His Facebook page shows that he was a fan of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who last year made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders acknowledged on Wednesday that Hodgkinson had apparently been among many volunteers on his 2016 campaign. Authorities believe Hodgkinson had been in the Alexandria area since March, living out of a cargo van and not working, FBI agent Tim Slater said.
An online search of newspapers shows that he frequently wrote letters to his local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, which published nearly two dozen of them between 2010 and 2012. Many included complaints about the same theme: income inequality.
Hodgkinson, who spent most of his life in the community of 42,000 just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, compared the economic conditions of the time to those that preceded the Great Depression and excoriated Congress for not increasing the number of tax brackets and adopting other tax-reform measures.
On May 14, 2010, he wrote: “I don’t envy the rich; I despise the way they have bought our politicians and twisted our laws to their benefit.”
Less than a year later, on March 4, 2011, he wrote that Congress should rewrite tax codes to ease the tax burdens of the middle class.
“Let’s get back to the good ol’ days, when our representatives had a backbone and a conscience,” he wrote. Later that year, in October 2011, he applauded the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York and Boston, writing that the demonstrators “are tired of our do-nothing Congress doing nothing while our country is going down the tubes.”
Hodgkinson had arrests in his background for a series of minor offenses and at least one more serious matter. Court records show that his legal trouble started in the 1990s with arrests for resisting police and drunken driving.
In April 2006, Hodgkinson was charged with misdemeanor battery after he stormed into a neighbor’s house in an attempt to force home a teenage girl who, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was under guardianship of Hodgkinson and his wife.
Witnesses told deputies that Hodgkinson burst into the home and told his daughter “to get your stuff. It’s time to come home,” the report said. The daughter refused and locked herself in a bedroom before Hodgkinson again forced his way in and “became violent,” grabbing her by her hair and throwing her on the floor, according to the report.