Shooter had professed deep disgust with GOP

Shooter had professed deep disgust with GOP
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The man who shot a top GOP congressman and several other people early Wednesday morning had a long history of run-ins with the law and for years had professed a deeply held disgust with the Republican Party.

James Hodgkinson, 66, died Wednesday from wounds sustained in the shootout with police, authorities confirmed.

Social media activity and letters to the editor show a man who blamed Republicans for the country’s economic woes going back to the Great Depression. A prolific writer of letters to the editor in his local newspaper, Hodgkinson railed against income inequality and what he saw as the failed policies of GOP lawmakers.

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He was a member of the Facebook group “Terminate the Republican Party,” an appellation that took on a chilling significance after Wednesday morning.

“I have never said ‘life sucks,’ only the policies of the Republicans,” he wrote in a letter published in the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat in the summer of 2012.

“If the rich paid their fair share of taxes today, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. We need to vote all Republicans out of Congress,” he wrote in a separate letter from the same period.

From his home in southern Illinois, Hodgkinson showed a firm commitment to liberal politics and a deep engagement with the constant flow of news coming out of Washington.

Between June 2016 to May of this year, he contacted his congressman, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), 10 times to complain about a variety of legislative issues — emails and phone calls that a spokesperson said were “negative in nature on a variety of legislative issues, but not threatening.”

Online, he heaped praise on Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.), who said Wednesday that the assailant was among the many volunteers who worked for his Democratic presidential campaign.

“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign,” Sanders said, condemning the act as “despicable.”

Court records show Hodgkinson had a history of arrests, petty traffic offenses and other interactions with law enforcement that spanned decades, culminating in an alleged domestic battery incident in 2006 during which he was reported to have punched a woman in the face. The case was ultimately dismissed.

In March, local sheriff deputies in Illinois met with him after receiving alarmed calls that he had fired off 50 shots on his property, a rural area on the outskirts of town where it is legal to fire a weapon. Hodgkinson had a valid firearm license and officials determined that he had done nothing illegal at the time, a spokesperson for the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department said.

But that changed on Wednesday morning, when Hodgkinson opened fire at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., where Republican lawmakers were practicing for an annual charity baseball game scheduled for Thursday.

At least five individuals, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and two Capitol Police officers, were wounded during the incident.

Until recently, Hodgkinson ran a home inspection business in the Illinois town of Belleville, a community of 42,000 just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

But he appears to have been living out of a white cargo van in Alexandria in the months leading up to the shooting. The FBI said late Wednesday that investigators believe he had been in the area since March, but would not confirm if he had been on their radar.

William Euille, the town’s mayor from 2003 to 2016, told The Washington Post that he struck up a relationship with Hodgkinson at the local YMCA.

“What I did notice about this gentleman is he’d open up his gym bag and in it, he had everything he owned,” Euille told The Post. “He was living out of the gym bag. That, and he sat in the Y’s lobby for hours and hours. Outside of myself, I don’t think he knew anyone else in town.”

He was reportedly a regular at a barbecue restaurant in Del Ray, Va., just blocks from the baseball field. Pork Barrel bartender Jamie Craig told ABC News that he “came off a little creepy” and was “extremely quiet, didn't really make eye contact.”

The investigation is now in the hands of the FBI, which is working to determine Hodgkinson’s motives and whether he had any accomplices.

Tim Slater, the special agent in charge of the case, said Wednesday morning that the bureau is “exploring all angles” but could not comment on a motive.

Asked whether the shooting was an attempted assassination, Slater told reporters it was “too early in the investigation to say one way or another.”

"I have no indication of why today at all. Or why this place," Slater said later that afternoon.

Federal authorities are conducting an urgent trace on two weapons from the scene, a rifle and a handgun.

Several former FBI officials told The Hill that the shooting appeared to have been carefully planned — and at least on the surface, appeared politically motivated.

“I think with what has come out thus far, it would be a reasonable assessment to say this guy was politically motivated,” said former FBI agent James Gagliano, who emphasized that he has no firsthand knowledge of the FBI’s investigation.

From an investigative standpoint, Gagliano said, that “turns it into the realm of either terrorism or a political assassination attempt — that he was looking to harm legislators who happened to be conservative, as well as their staff and anybody associated with them.”

Two members who left the field just minutes before the shooting reported an interaction with a man in the parking lot who asked if the team was made up of Democrats or Republicans.

“I responded that it was the Republican team practicing and he proceeded to shoot Republicans,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said. 

“Take that for what it’s worth.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.