At a softball field in a Washington, DC suburb on June 14, 2017, a lone gunman used a rifle to indiscriminately spray bullets at members of the House GOP who had gathered for their usual Saturday morning practice for an upcoming charity game. The then-House Majority Whip, Rep. Steven Scalise (R-LA), was shot in the hip while standing on second base and almost died, spending six weeks in the hospital and undergoing multiple surgeries. Four other people were shot, including two members of the Capitol Police who were part of Scalise’s security detail, a GOP staffer, and a Tyson Foods lobbyist. “He was hunting us at that point,” Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) said of the shooter, who attempted to murder as many people as he could while standing with his rifle behind the dugout.
The shooter died after engaging the police in a shootout. He was James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old hard-core Democrat who — less than six months into the Trump presidency — had sought to kill GOP lawmakers based on his belief that Republicans were corrupt traitors, fascists, and Kremlin agents. The writings he left behind permitted little doubt that he was driven to kill by the relentless messaging he heard from his favorite cable host, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and other virulently anti-Trump pundits, about the evils of the GOP. Indeed, immediately after arriving at the softball field, he asked several witnesses whether the people gathered “were Republicans or Democrats.”
A CNN examination of his life revealed that “Hodgkinson’s online presence was largely defined by his politics.” In particular, “his public Facebook posts date back to 2012 and are nearly all about his support for liberal politics.” He was particularly “passionate about tax hikes on the rich and universal health care.” NBC News explained that “when he got angry about politics, it was often directed against Republicans,” and acknowledged that “Hodgkinson said his favorite TV program was ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on MSNBC.”
Indeed, his media diet was a non-stop barrage of vehement animosity toward Republicans: “His favorite television shows were listed as ‘Real Time with Bill Maher;’ ‘The Rachel Maddow Show;’ ‘Democracy Now!’ and other left-leaning programs.” On the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) divulged that Hodgkinson was an ardent supporter of his and had even “apparently volunteered” for his campaign. A Sanders supporter told The Washington Post that “he campaigned for Bernie Sanders with Hodgkinson in Iowa.”
The mass-shooter had a particular fondness for Maddow’s nightly MSNBC show. In his many Letters to the Editor sent to the Belleville News-Democrat, reported New York Magazine, he “expressed support for President Obama, and declared his love for The Rachel Maddow Show”. In one letter he heralded Maddow’s nightly program as “one of my favorite TV shows.”
While consuming this strident and increasingly rage-driven Trump-era, anti-GOP media diet, Hodgkinson “joined several anti-GOP Facebook groups, including ‘Terminate The Republican Party’; ‘The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans’;, and ‘Join The Resistance Worldwide!!'” Two of his consuming beliefs were that Trump-era Republicans were traitors to the United States and fascist white nationalists. In 2015, he had posted a cartoon depicting Scalise — the man he came very close to murdering — as speaking at a gathering of the KKK.
Once Trump was inaugurated in early 2017, the mass shooter’s online messaging began increasingly mirroring the more extreme anti-Trump and anti-GOP voices that did not just condemn the GOP’s ideology but depicted them as grave threats to the Republic. In a March 22 Facebook post, Hodgkinson wrote: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” In February, he posted: “Republicans are the Taliban of the USA.” In one Facebook post just days before his shooting spree, Hodgkinson wrote: “I Want to Say Mr. President, for being an ass hole you are Truly the Biggest Ass Hole We Have Ever Had in the Oval Office.” As NBC News put it: “Hodgkinson’s Facebook postings portray him as stridently anti-Republican and anti-Trump.”
Despite the fact that Hodgkinson was a fanatical fan of Maddow, Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, and Sanders, that the ideas and ideology motivating his shooting spree perfectly matched — and were likely shaped by — liberals of that cohort, and that the enemies whom he sought to kill were also the enemies of Maddow and her liberal comrades, nobody rational or decent sought to blame the MSNBC host, the Vermont Senator or anyone else whose political views matched Hodgkinson’s for the grotesque violence he unleashed. The reason for that is clear and indisputable: as strident and extremist as she is, Maddow has never once encouraged any of her followers to engage in violence to advance her ideology, nor has she even hinted that a mass murder of the Republican traitors, fascists and Kremlin agents about whom she rants on a nightly basis to millions of people is a just solution.
It would be madness to try to assign moral or political blame to them. If we were to create a framework in which prominent people were held responsible for any violence carried out in the name of an ideology they adv…