Senior Republican Steve Scalise wants FBI to reconsider political motive in shooting that left him wounded

Request comes amid heighten concerns about domestic political extremist violence after the Capitol riots

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 11 May 2021 20:45
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US Congressman Steve Scalise shot during baseball practice
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Steve Scalise, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, called on the FBI to re-open its investigating into the 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball team practice that left him and others wounded.

“We fear that the FBI’s inability or unwillingness to fully investigate this shooting as a matter of domestic extremism four years ago leaves a blind spot within the Bureau in fully assessing risks we face today,” Mr Scalise wrote in a letter, which was signed by 16 others, including fellow Republicans who were on the field that day.

In 2017, James Hodgkinson, a small business owner who lived in Illinois and supported left-wing causes online, opened fire on the group, before he was killed in a shootout with police.

Though it didn’t disclose much publicly about the conclusions of its investigation, Politico reported last week that FBI briefed lawmakers in late 2017 that it determined the attack was an attempt by Hodgkinson to take his own life through “suicide by cop”.

“Today, there is a heightened focus on violent domestic extremism in the United States,” the letter continues. “We all agree that violent extremism of any kind must be rooted out and addressed by our law enforcement agencies. But we cannot presume to understand the scope of this issue if our law enforcement agencies do not investigate all instances of extremism, regardless of motivating ideology, with equal vigour.”

The FBI confirmed it had received the letter to The Hill, which reported the request, and pointed to recent congressional testimony from Jill Sanborn, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, in response.

"If it were to happen today, we would open this as a domestic terrorism case,” she said, adding, "It’s fair to say that 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.”

Last month, Ohio representative Brad Wenstrup pushed the agency to re-examine its findings, arguing the “suicide by cop” conclusion ‘defies logic and contradicts the publicly known facts about the perpetrator and the attack’”.

Hodgkinson, the shooter, had camped out in his van near the Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field for weeks before the shooting, and asked one player on the field, representative Jeff Duncan, whether the players were Republicans or Democrats. Authorities also found a list of GOP lawmakers’ names in Hodgkinson’s pocket. The man also had a history of social media posts criticising Republican politicians, once comparing Republicans to the Taliban.

Top security officials have been warning of a rise in domestic extremism, especially from right-wing, white supremacist groups.

“The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasising across the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” FBI director Christopher Wray told senators earlier this year. “Whenever we’ve had the chance, we’ve tried to emphasise that this is a top concern.”

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