Virginia Shooter Asked: "Are They Republicans or Democrats?"

Created: 14 June, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
4 min read


Video: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) describes attack, ABC News

A shooter -- identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkins -- armed with a rifle shot as many as 50 bullets into a crowd of U.S. Congress members and their staff on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia Wednesday morning.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others were shot and wounded in the attack as the Republican congressional baseball team held its early-morning practice.

Two of the five wounded include Capitol Police officers and one of them was the gunman himself, who was shot by police, said Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown.

Sen. Rand Paul told CNN a massacre could have occurred if police and Scalise's security team were not there.

A Partisan Motivated Shooting

Before the shooting, someone (presumably Hodgkins) asked Rep. DeSantis "if it was Republicans or Democrats out there" on the field:

"Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) described a "very strange" encounter with a man shortly before House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot during a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va...DeSantis said by phone that he and another congressman were leaving when a man asked them whether Republican or Democrat members of Congress were on the field."

It was people. It was people out there on that field!

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And actually nothing could make that fact more apparent than when bullets started flying at them.

The deadly seriousness of such a situation should be jarring enough to knock nearly anybody out of seeing them as Republicans or Democrats, and back into seeing them as people, and fearing for them, and thinking about their families.

Politicizing Tragedy

As I noted in the aftermath of the shooting that critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011, there was an incredibly indecent and contemptible rush to ascribe extreme partisan motivations to the shooter.

As soon as news of the shooting broke, commentators with absolutely no evidence made a concerted effort to blame Sarah Palin for inciting the shooting:

"Commentators said that his violent act was the predictable result of a climate of 'vitriol' created by Tea Party activists in their opposition to Washington’s sweeping consolidation of power over the health insurance and banking industries."But as more facts emerged, it became clear that the gunman - who is a registered independent - had no coherent political ideology, but a serious mental illness and a stalker-like obsession with Congresswoman Giffords." - W.E. Messamore, January 11, 2011

As we learn more about this shooting in Virginia, it seems we will discover it actually was motivated by extreme partisanship taken to a violent conclusion.

But if Republicans use this event to place unilateral blame on Democrats for poisoning the dialogue with too much vitriol, they will be doing the very thing they are accusing Democrats of doing.

It's hypocrisy to condemn vitriolic rhetoric while accusing the other side of bearing responsibility for an attempted murder.

The Dehumanizing Rancor of Partisanship

If Hodgkins did set out with the insane notion to kill some people for belonging to one of the two major political parties, then politicizing his actions to drive the wedge between the people of both parties even deeper will only be exactly what he hoped to accomplish.

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People dehumanize each other every day on the basis of party. You can see it everywhere online every day: how people talk to each other because of partisanship, how abusive, and mean, and dehumanizing their words are.

Hodgkins is acting out commonplace attitudes exemplified by so much of our partisan political dialogue both online and in every other media format.

The attitude is that people from "the other" party are less than human, undeserving of basic respect, civility, good faith, and being accorded an inherent human dignity.

The attitude is that people from "the other" party are different from ourselves in a more fundamental way than they are akin to us.

The attitude is that maybe, they hardly even deserve to live.

Just recently the president's son, Eric Trump, said on Fox News that Democrats are "not even people" to him because of the way they treat his father.

No doubt he's reflecting back the tone he's hearing from many of them, that he and his father are not even people to them.

The Movement to Independence

To become a more healthy society we need to cure ourselves of our dependence on the incredibly toxic and dehumanizing system of partisan labels as a way of understanding the world.

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It is a mean, simple, warped view of society and it is so obviously deeply layered with the malice of a vengeful blood feud.

The cure is to openly declare our independence, to point out partisanship's obvious flaws when there's a good opportunity to change how people think, and to speak up boldly and compassionately when we see a better way to be.

A culture is made or destroyed by its articulate voices. Please use your voice to tear down partisanship and build up people.

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen / AP

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