U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said having a rifle-wielding gunman open fire during a congressional baseball practice Wednesday morning in Alexandra, Va., brought home the potential danger of serving in a political office.
“This is evil, it’s horrible, it’s unacceptable,” he said.
He said Democrats and Republicans gathered on the House floor after the shooting to address their concerns about threats made against them, and get briefed on additional security measures being taken by U.S. Capital Police.
“Tragedies like this tend to bring communities together and it brought the congressional community together to talk about this very troubling incident,” said Walden, who was on his way to a Bloomberg press panel discussion when the shooting occurred.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was among five people wounded shortly after 7 a.m. June 14 when a lone guman opened fire from behind third base. Because Scalise is the third-ranking Republican in leadership, Walden said he has two security officials assigned to him at all times, which saved lives.
“Without those officers, there would have been no way to stop this guy and there would have been tremendous carnage,” he said.
Walden said Scalise serves on his House Energy and Commerce Committee and is a personal friend.
“Whip Steve Scalise is a friend, a good man, a valued member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and a true fighter. We pray for his quick and complete recovery, along with the others who are injured,” he said.
Walden said it was too early in the investigation to address the statement by law enforcement officers at the scene that the shooter asked, “Are these Republicans or Democrats?” before launching an attack.
“We don’t know yet whether there was a political motivation because the investigation is just getting started,” Walden said. “Right now we are just praying for the victims and their families.”
The gunman died after getting into a firefight with U.S. Capital Police. He has been identified as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill. He has an active Facebook page that features a photo of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the top and political posts throughout. People who knew Hodgkinson said he campaigned for Sanders last year.
Walden said the congressman from Hodgkinson’s district in Illinois has reported that he was contacted at least 14 times by the suspect, who was “aggressive” about expressing anger with GOP legislative actions.
“It is important that, if this turns out to be political, people not encourage reciprocal anger. We need to have civil discourse about the things we disagree on,” he reiterated.
Since President Donald Trump took office, Walden said the level of vitriol in political dialogue has increased to a level he has never seen since taking office in 1998. He said it is important to address disagreements in a way that does not “trigger” an unstable person on either side of the aisle.
He referenced the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, D-Ariz., and 17 others during a public event by Jared Lee Loughner, a diagnosed schizophrenic. Six people died in that incident.
Walden said it was too early to know if Hodgkinson had a history of mental health problems.
As the only Republican on the Oregon ticket, Walden has come under fire from people opposed to Trump’s political agenda in recent months.
He said threats have been made against him and people have discussed on social media doing damage to his home in Hood River, all of which has raised concern.
After posting a tweet Wednesday to express that he was praying for the shooting victims, Walden was attacked, an even blamed, in some answering tweets because of his support of health care reform and other GOP changes in governance.
“I’ve never seen this level of anger before — it’s just all new,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve learned how to govern in this internet age and we are all just trying to adjust. This has become part of the job, not the best part, and you try to take it all in stride.”
Hodgkinson allegedly opened fire from behind third base during a GOP baseball practice at the Virginia park.
Zack Barth, legislative correspondent for U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, was reportedly shot at the scene and transported to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Tyson Foods said employee Mat Mika, a director of government relations in the company’s D.C. office, was also shot and taken to the hospital.
The two officers accompanying Scalise engaged Hodgkinson and were shot.
None of these injuries were believed to be life-threatening, according to FBI officials.
Media outlets report that Hodgkinson owned a home inspection business and, in 2006, was charged with battery and aiding damage to a motor vehicle. The charges were dismissed.
Timothy Slater, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, told reporters it was too early to say if the suspect had any terrorist ties.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said one rifle and a handgun were recovered from the scene.
Authorities arrived at his home a short time later for a search tied to the investigation.