Bret Stephens, late of the Wall Street Journal and now purporting to provide a rare non-progressive viewpoint at the New York Times, has our answer for us on James Hodgkinson, the shooter who attacked Republican congressmen at baseball practice on Wednesday morning in Alexandia, VA.
According to Stephens, Hodgkinson isn’t to be blamed on the left. Hodgkinson is, rather, an instance of the “indigenous American berserk” (Philip Roth’s characterization).
Hodgkinson seems a representative type: a relatively normal man, with a seemingly normal life, a bit of a loser, a few axes to grind. Then: Boom. Another awful postal moment, stirred by frustration or loneliness or impulse, loosely yoked to a political cause.
Well, OK. But I think that depends on what the meaning of “loosely yoked” is. We can ask how “loosely” Hodgkinson’s actions really were yoked to a political cause, when his history of obsessively hating Republicans, and blaming them for all of America’s ills, was so extensive. This guy had been writing letters, tweeting, making Facebook posts, and otherwise complaining in public about Republicans for years before opening fire at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park on Wednesday.
Belonging to the Facebook group “Terminate the Republican Party” is pretty specific. Sure, no normal person wants to literally, you know, terminate the Republican Party, in the “kill Republicans until it stops moving” sense. But as more details emerge, it becomes clear that that describes Hodgkinson’s intent pretty well.
One key detail emerged on Friday, as reported by Peter Hasson at the Daily Caller. At the time of the shooting, Hodgkinson had a list in his pocket of the names of GOP congressmen. The FBI recovered it in the investigation this week.
The list was written out on notepad paper and found in the shooter’s pocket, according to multiple sources with intimate knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the investigation. The list of names included Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks , South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan and Arizona Rep. Trent Franks , TheDC has confirmed.
Brooks, Duncan, and Franks? Representatives from three different states, who may have common policy links, but for whom a more superficial connection — i.e., something that might motivate a merely “berserk” person — is not obvious.
None of the names is from Illinois (or the adjacent St. Louis area of Missouri), where Hodgkinson hailed from. It would be special pleading, to discount this as a purpose-culled list of some political kind.
To understand Hodgkinson, we have to honestly acknowledge that he considered himself an expert on tax policy and the economy, based on socialist influences in his reading; he expressed an undying hatred of “the 1%”; he had great hero worship for Bernie Sanders and FDR; he steeped himself in the political commentary of Rachel Maddow, among other talking heads on the left; and he explicitly blamed Republicans for everything he didn’t like in relation to all these issues and perspectives.
It was from that background of ideas and motives that he drove to Northern Virginia earlier this year, lived in his van in Alexandria for several months, and then on Wednesday, 14 June, asked if the congressmen practicing in the ballpark were Democrats or Republicans, and upon learning that they were Republicans, got off more than 50 rounds at them until he was gunned down by a wounded Capitol Police officer, one of two who heroically charged him to stop his rampage.
Hodgkinson was out to premeditatedly kill Republicans. This does not, of course, mean that all people on the political left are out to kill Republicans, or that they are responsible for Hodgkinson trying to kill Republicans. I don’t endorse that blame game.
But there can be no lying or obfuscation on this. Hodgkinson’s behavior was manifestly premeditated and specifically motivated by mainstream partisan politics — which makes it unlike Jared Loughner’s, and that of other “indigenous American berserks.” The things Hodgkinson railed incessantly about for years, the Democrats’ top two vote-getters — Clinton and Sanders — actually ran on in 2016 (“income inequality,” “the rich paying their fair share,” Republicans “giving big tax breaks to their fat-cat cronies,” etc.).
The least-useful thing of all is to blame Trump (and/or his voters) for a political atmosphere in which Hodgkinson became radicalized. Grow up. If the level of our moral restraint can be dictated to us by what someone else does, then none of us is eligible for freedom or self-rule. We’re all just an indigenous American berserk waiting to happen. Forget owning guns; forget voting or owning property. You shouldn’t even be making your own decisions about what to eat, much less about whom to marry or what “gender” you are. At any time, someone else’s conduct or words could drive you to start attacking people. It’s all their fault.
Nancy Pelosi, who immediately went into Republican-blaming mode for the attack on Republicans, would do well to take note of that.