Conservatives are blaming anti-Trump fervour for the Virginia shooting. And they may have a point

Five people were shot and injured after James Hodgkinson opened fire

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The Independent Online

Donald Trump’s eldest son was the first to seize on the issue.

“This,” Donald Trump Jr said on Twitter, retweeting a remark from commentator Harlan Z Hill. “Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President,” Mr Hill had written.

It was not precisely clear what Mr Hill was referring to. It may have been the recent controversy over comedian Kathy Griffiths’ ill-considered photoshoot in which she posed with a bloodied, severed head that looked like that of the President.

Or, it may have been a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, staged in Central Park by New York’s Public Theatre, which sparked outcry from some quarters - and saw it lose its corporate sponsorship - for depicting the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

It is far too soon to speak with certainty about what led suspect James Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, to open fire on a group of Republican congressmen as they played baseball on the outskirts of Washington.

Reports suggest he had volunteered for the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and despised Trump. “Trump is a Traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It’s time to destroy Trump & Co,” he wrote on Facebook on March 22.

Sanders was quick to condemn what played out sometime before 7am in Alexandria. “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act,” he said.

Sanders' words did little to assuage the anger of some conservatives, who sought to claim Wednesday morning’s events were proof of a growing threat from those on the left.

“America has been divided,” said Congressman Steve King of Iowa, who stopped by the baseball field to pray, and who was said to be visibly angry. “The centre of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.”

Of course, there are millions of Americans who are angry about Trump and who write unpleasant things about him on social media who don’t then launch gun attacks on Republican politicians. Likewise, there are many on the right who feel no need to hurl abuse at Muslim teenagers on a train or stab the bystanders who rush to their aid.

But does King have a point? If progressives feel content to blame Trump’s angry rhetoric for an increase of hate crimes and incidents of abuse, how can they not accept that the sea of anti-Trump fervour may likewise inspire such attacks as that in Alexandria. 

Bernie Sanders delivers statement in Congress after Alexandria shooting

In these ever more toxic political times, the House of Representatives’ baseball game is said to be one of the few occasions when members of the two major parties actually socialise together. Reports say members are determined the match, held to raise funds for charity, should go ahead.

That is to be applauded. The entire country could benefit from such an act of symbolism. 

More pointedly, everyone could benefit from a winding down of the rhetoric, a lowering of the political temperature, a collective de-escalation. A cooling off.

This is not easy, especially at a time when Trump is being investigated for something as monumental as possible collusion with Russia. People, understandably, feel impassioned.

But on this day, it was Sanders who pointed to the hopelessness of heading down the path of violence.

“Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” he said from the Senate floor.

“Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”