FBI reclassifies 2017 baseball field shooting as domestic terror
The FBI has reclassified the 2017 shooting at a Republican baseball practice as an incident of domestic terrorism, following pressure from a number of lawmakers present on the field to reevaluate the conclusion that the shooter sought “suicide by cop.”
Debate over the determination in the shooting went public when FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared before lawmakers in April, with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) asking why the shooter’s political leanings weren’t weighed more heavily.
The shift on the shooting, which left five people injured and seriously wounded House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), was tucked into a Friday report from the FBI detailing every domestic terrorism incident from 2015 through 2019.
“An individual with a personalized violent ideology targeted and shot Republican members of Congress at a baseball field and wounded five people,” the report said, categorizing the shooter as a “domestic violent extremist.”
Wenstrup told Wray that the FBI’s original conclusion “defies logic and contradicts the publicly known facts” about the case, including that the shooter inquired about the political affiliation of those on the field before opening fire.
“Our intelligence and law enforcement apparatuses require accuracy, precision, and justice. I’m encouraged that the FBI has updated its classification of that nearly catastrophic event to reflect the actual motives of the assailant, and I commend Director Wray for his oversight of that correction,” Wenstrup said in a statement.
“I will continue to work with the bureau toward investigating what led to the original ‘suicide by cop’ determination,” he added.
The shift in the conclusion comes as the Biden administration has been vocal in warning of the risks of domestic extremism, particularly those posed by white nationalists and anti-government extremists.
In a late April hearing, Jill Sanborn, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, told lawmakers of the baseball shooting “if it were to happen today, we would open this as a domestic terrorism case.”
“It’s fair to say that the shooter was motivated by a desire to commit an attack on members of Congress, and then knowing by doing so, he would likely be killed in the process,” Sanborn said at the time.
Republicans, however, sought to rehash the issue as they put increasing pressure on the FBI to expand its focus on extremists beyond the kinds who played a role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“Today, there is a heightened focus on violent domestic extremism in the United States. We all agree that violent extremism of any kind must be rooted out and addressed by our law enforcement agencies. But we cannot presume to understand the scope of this issue if our law enforcement agencies do not investigate all instances of extremism, regardless of motivating ideology, with equal vigor,” Scalise, Wenstrup and others wrote to the FBI in a letter last week.
In that letter, the group asked for a review of the determination as well as how the FBI had reached the conclusion.
“Whip Scalise is grateful this has finally been properly reclassified, but we still must get to the bottom of what motivated the FBI’s decision to ignore the facts and falsely classify a politically motivated domestic terror event as a ‘suicide by cop,” Lauren Fine, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Republican, said by email.
—Updated at 7:30 p.m.