FBI: 2017 Scalise Shooting Would Be Investigated as Domestic Terrorism Today House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. (Congress.gov via Getty Images)
By Jim Thomas | Thursday, 29 April 2021 04:19 PM
The FBI stands by its designation of "suicide by cop" as the motivation for the shooting of House GOP Whip Steve Scalise in 2017, which nearly killed him.
However, the FBI added that the 2017 Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field shooting would be investigated as domestic terrorism — if it occurred today, a top official told lawmakers, reported Politico.
In June 2017, James Hodgkinson, a man from Illinois who was living out of a van in Alexandria, opened fire after asking Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who was leaving practice early, if the players were Republicans or Democrats. Hodgkinson struck Scalise in the hip, hit lobbyist Matt Mika in the chest, and injured two Capitol Police officers, Crystal Griner and David Bailey. Scalise nearly bled to death and required multiple surgeries before returning to Congress, reported Politico.
''It’s fair to say the shooter was motivated by a desire to commit an attack on members of Congress and then knowing by doing so he would likely be killed in the process,'' said Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director of the FBI, during a hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee, adding, "This conduct is something that we would today characterize as a domestic terrorism event."
Sanborn said that the shooter, Hodgkinson, appeared to be motivated by a ''blend'' of factors, but ultimately ''intended for the shooting to be his final act on Earth,'' reported Politico.
During the process of being apprehended, Hodgkinson died shortly after engaging in a firefight with police.
Some say the incident should have been labeled as domestic terrorism because the shooter targeted elected Republican leaders as they practiced for the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, an Ohio Republican, penned a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, who became the bureau's director in August 2017, asserting that the FBI's conclusion "defies logic and contradicts the publicly known facts about the perpetrator and the attack."
''Much to our shock that day, the FBI concluded that this was a case of the attacker seeking suicide by cop,'' Wenstrup said, according to Politico. ''Director, you want suicide by cop, you just pull a gun on a cop. It doesn't take 136 rounds. It takes one bullet. Both the DHS and the (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) published products labeling this attack as a domestic violent extremism event, specifically targeting Republican members of Congress. The FBI did not,'' reported the Washington Examiner.
During a Thursday hearing in front of a House appropriations subcommittee, Sanborn acknowledged it was an intentional attack on lawmakers and that, if it happened today, Wray’s FBI would consider it to be domestic terrorism, reported the Washington Examiner.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., argued Thursday that ''the shooter was a deranged shooter of Bernie Sanders who … had a list of Republican members of Congress in his pocket when he ambushed the group'' and said that ''classifying the attack as a suicide by cop really defies logic.'' The Alabama Republican asked if ''the FBI cleared up this by reclassifying the incident as an act of domestic terrorism.''
"Cases like this are challenging because there were, as you mentioned, a couple clues left behind, but he died in the process, never allowing us to fully examine through, say, an interview, his motivation,'' Aderholt said.
''There are also indicators that the shooter intended the shooting to be his final act on Earth, but those things are not inconsistent with someone who is motivated by a variety of factors to commit violent acts based on a blend of ideological or personal motivations, and this conduct is something that today we would characterize as a domestic terrorism event,'' he said.
The Republican asked why the FBI hadn’t classified it as domestic terrorism in the first place, and Sanborn replied, ''I would have to get back to you on the specifics of what that rationale was, but in going back and looking at it, and honestly at the trend of that personalized grievance motivation, it fits squarely into the phenomena that the director, and I have talked about often, which is this very personalized sort of blending of ideologies that motivates somebody.''
Sanborn added: ''This is also a good example of … a trend we started to see probably 2016-ish, which is that the motivation and sort of what drove someone to mobilize is a very personalized grievance that they hold, which is something different from the domestic terrorism threat that we saw in years past.''
Rep. Jackie Speier and Rep. Jim Cooper, Democrats from California and Tennessee, respectively, backed Wenstrup's criticism.
Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, tweeted last Thursday: "I was shot by a deranged Leftist who came to the baseball field with a list of Congressional Republicans to kill. This was NOT 'suicide by cop.' End of story."
Alexandria's top prosecutor, Bryan Porter, released a report in October 2017 concluding the shooting was terrorism.
"The evidence in this case establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect, fueled by rage against Republican legislators, decided to commit an act of terrorism as that term is defined by the Code of Virginia," the report read. "The suspect, using a lawfully-purchased assault rifle and handgun, ambushed a peaceful assembly of people practicing baseball and began to fire indiscriminately in an effort to kill and maim as many people as possible."
Virginia's code defines terrorism as ''an act of violence … committed with the intent to intimidate the civilian population at large or influence the conduct or activities of the government … through intimidation.''
But a week after the shooting, an FBI report said it ''does not believe there is a nexus to terrorism.''