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An online rush to blame ‘liberal rhetoric’ for Virginia mass shooting

“I can only hope that Democrats do turn down the rhetoric.”

The baseball field that is the scene of a shooting in Alexandria on June 14 where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was shot at a congressional baseball practice. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The baseball field that is the scene of a shooting in Alexandria on June 14 where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was shot at a congressional baseball practice. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Early Wednesday morning, a gunman opened fire at a Republican congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Virginia, injuring at least five people.

Thus far, authorities haven’t confirmed any details about the assailant or his motivations, though several news outlets including the Washington Post have reported his name is James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois. Hodgkinson died from his injuries following the incident.

Hodgkinson appears to have posted anti-Trump posts on his Facebook page and wrote letters to his local paper critical of Republican policies. Two House Republicans who were at the park for a practice ahead of Thursday night’s annual congressional baseball game say they believe Hodgkinson approached them and asked if the lawmakers on the field were Democrats or Republicans before opening fire.

But even before Hodgkinson was identified as the shooter, a number of right-wing figures rushed to place collective blame on liberals and the media for the violence.

It wasn’t just fringe figures like Walsh or Watson who did this. During a Fox News interview conducted before the shooter was identified, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) traced the violence to “political rhetorical terrorism.”

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“This political rhetoric and political discourse that has led to hate, has led to gunfire,” Davis said. “I never thought I’d go to baseball practice for charity and have to dodge bullets. This has got to stop and it has got to stop today… We’ve got to ratchet down the rhetoric that we’ve seen, not only on social media, but in the media, in the 24-hour news cycle.”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) went a step further and explicitly pinned blame for the shooting on Democratic “rhetoric” during an interview with a Buffalo radio station.

Collins, who was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, went on to suggest the violence was an understandable reaction to Democrats’ “outrageous” criticisms of Trump.

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“The rhetoric has been outrageous — the finger-pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters,” he said. “Really, then, you know, some people react to things like that. They get angry as well. And then you fuel the fires.”

Donald Trump Jr. linked the shooting with New York’s Public Theater’s controversial production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” — a play actually meant to illustrate the futility of political violence.

There’s an obvious difference between opposing policies like Trump’s Muslim ban or a health care bill that will strip coverage for millions and advocating violence against Republicans. No prominent Democrats have done the latter, and many quickly condemned Hodgkinson’s actions.

Trump avoided playing the blame game and offered measured comments about the shooting during an 11:30 a.m. briefing at the White House.

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“We are strongest when we are unified, and when we work together for the common good,” Trump said. “Please take a moment today to cherish those you love, and always remember those who serve and keep us safe.”

While the link between Hodgkinson’s political views and the mass shooting it appears he perpetrated is tenuous at best, the Daily Beast reported he was arrested for domestic battery in 2006.

Data has consistently shown a strong connection between acts of domestic violence and acts of mass violence.

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is also blaming “the left” for the mass shooting.

From the Washington Post:

“America has been divided,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who, in suit and tie, stopped by the crime scene to pray and was viscerally angry about his colleagues being attacked. “And the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.”

When asked whether he thought the shooting was politically motivated, King said he did not know why the gunman did what he did, but said: “I’m really not that interested to tell you the truth. If he were on his way to the morgue, it wouldn’t make me sorry at all.”

Kim Weaver, the Democratic nominee who planned to challenge King for his seat next year, dropped out of the race earlier this month, citing death threats.

“Beginning during my 2016 campaign, I have received very alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats,” Weaver wrote in a Facebook post. “While some may say enduring threats are just a part of running for office, my personal safety has increasingly become a concern.”

King blamed Democrats for Weaver’s choice to drop out of the race and claimed the threats she cited were fabricated.