Republican legislators shot at baseball practice; New York Times editorial corrected – June 2017

Alexandria, VA

On June 14, 2017, James Hodgkinson opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, VA. Five people were shot, including US Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA.), the House Majority Whip. Hodgkinson was shot and killed after exchanging fire with US Capitol Police. The Congressional Baseball Game took place as planned two days afterwards.

Key Players

Steve Scalise is a Republican representative from Louisiana and the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership in that body. He was the most critically wounded in the assault. After being shot in the left hip and rushed to a hospital, Scalise underwent surgery and was in critical condition. The Washington Post reported that the doctors described Scalise as being at “imminent risk of death” when he was first brought to the hospital. Following several surgeries, Scalise was discharged on July 26, and began rehabilitation. On September 28, he returned to the House chamber to a standing ovation from fellow lawmakers, and remarked that he was “a living example that miracles really do happen.”

James Hodgkinson was the apparent perpetrator of the shooting, and he was killed during the firefight that broke out after he fired at the Republican lawmakers on the field. Originally from Illinois, Hodgkinson was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Hodgkinson’s posts on Facebook included content such as “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” and “Republicans are the Taliban of the USA.” Sanders acknowledged that Hodgkinson had volunteered for his presidential campaign, and he denounced the shooting as “despicable.”  After an investigation, the FBI determined that Hodgkinson had acted alone, reported The New York Post.

Further Details

The shooting began shortly after 7 a.m. on June 14, as the practice was concluding. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said that he encountered Hodgkinson moments before the shooting, as Duncan was leaving. Hodgkinson asked him if the people practicing on the field were Democrats or Republicans. Duncan replied that they were Republicans, then got in his car and left. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said one gunshot sounded, followed by a burst of gunfire. Scalise was near second base and dropped to the ground after being hit. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), who had been standing on the third base line, said he heard gunfire behind him, and turned around to see Hodgkinson pushing through the chain-link fence while firing toward second base and the outfield. The legislators ran for cover, and US Capitol Police, who had been standing guard, returned the fire and killed Hodgkinson; one officer was shot in the ankle. A staff member and a lobbyist who were helping with the practice were shot and hospitalized, and both recovered. Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) and another US Capitol Police officer suffered minor injuries. Officials found a list with the names of several Republican lawmakers in Hodgkinson’s pocket.

It was later revealed by The Washington Post that Hodgkinson had been “casing” the field for months prior to the shooting. He was spotted watching the Republicans play baseball on the day before the shooting occurred. The article also reported that Hodgkinson fired 62 rounds from his rifle, and that the officers fired at least 40 shots back at him, hitting him three times.

The New York Times ran an editorial in the wake of the shooting titled “America’s Lethal Politics.” It stated that the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in 2011 had been the result of incitement by former Alaska Republican Governor Sarah Palin’s political action committee. It specifically blamed a map the committee circulated that depicted Rep. Giffords and 19 other Democratic incumbents under cross hairs, as if they were targeted for attack.  After the editorial’s publication, the Times was criticized for misrepresenting the map. Two days later, the Times ran a correction in which it stated that no link between the map and Giffords’ shooting in fact existed. Two paragraphs in the middle of the editorial were edited.

The original paragraphs read:

In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.

Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Though there’s no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.

The corrected paragraphs read:

In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.

Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They’re right. Liberals should of course be held to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.

The following statement appeared at the bottom of the editorial:

Correction: June 16, 2017

An editorial on Thursday about the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established. The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.

Sarah Palin filed a federal lawsuit against the Times, claiming the newspaper had “falsely stated as a matter of fact” that Palin had incited the shooting in which Giffords was injured. The case was dismissed by a federal judge, who stated that Palin “failed to show that a mistake in an editorial was made maliciously.”

Outcome

Scalise recovered from injuries and returned to Congress

Steve Scalise made a recovery from his injuries and returned to Congress on September 28.

The Congressional Baseball Game occurred as planned

The Congressional Baseball Game proceeded on Friday, June 16, two days after the shooting. There were no further incidents.

The Times ran a correction of its editorial

The Times ran a correction of its editorial that withdrew the allegation that Sarah Palin’s political action committee had directly incited a shooting that led to the wounding of Gabrielle Giffords.

Palin’s lawsuit against the Times was dismissed

A federal judge dismissed Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the Times over the editorial, because Palin failed to show that the mistake was malicious. “Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not,” wrote US District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

External References:

What we know about the congressional baseball shooting, ABC News

Steve Scalise shot: Gunman James Hodgkinson killed in shootout

Rep. Steve Scalise Discharged From Hospital, Now Begins Rehabilitation, NBC News

Congressman Steve Scalise, Three Others Shot at Alexandria, Virginia, Baseball Field, NBC News

Suspect in congressional shooting was Bernie Sanders supporter, strongly anti-Trump, CNN

FBI: Congressional baseball practice shooter acted alone, The New York Post

Shame on the New York Times. Shame. National Review

America’s Lethal Politics, The New York Times

NYT issues correction to Giffords editorial, The Hill

Sarah Palin sues New York Times for editorial on Steve Scalise shooting, NOLA.com

Sarah Palin’s Defamation Suit Against The New York Times is Dismissed, The New York Times

‘Miracles really do happen’: Rep. Steve Scalise returns to Congress 15 weeks after he was shot, The Washington Post

Gunman Had List of GOP Lawmakers’ Names, NBC News

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

October 10, 2017