What follows is a fictional, alternative history look at how the attack on the Republican baseball team could have gone. Actual and altered quotes are noted.
Wednesday, gunman James Thomas Hodgkinson opened fire and killed 16 members of the Republican Congressional Baseball team at the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Two senators, 12 congressmen, and two others, a lobbyist and congressional staffer, were among the dead. The team was meeting for an early-morning practice in preparation for what was supposed to be today’s game. The game is an 80 year old tradition meant to unify the often divided members of Congress and raises money for charity.
This political massacre is the only mass killing of American politicians and the first killing of a member of Congress since the death of Leo Ryan in Guyana in 1978 by members of the Jonestown Cult. Of the 35 elected members of Congress are on the Republican team, 17 were present. All 19 senators and congressmen present were wounded. Several more members of the team were absent from practice due to prior commitments and one missed a ride to the game. Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia and Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan are the only survivors.
“If this had happened in Georgia, he wouldn’t have gotten too far,” Loudermilk said.“I had a staff member who was in his car maybe 20 yards behind the shooter, who was pinned in his car, who back in Georgia carries a 9-millimeter in his car… He had a clear shot at him. But here, we’re not allowed to carry any weapons here.” [actual quote]
Loudermilk’s statements are incorrect, but illustrate his belief that a legally armed person could have stopped the killings. Virginia recognizes all state’s concealed weapon permits and Alexandria only prohibits the carry of firearms loaded with large capacity magazines, however Washington DC prohibits nearly all from carrying firearms. The District issues permits on a may-issue basis which are difficult to obtain.
“From where he was shooting, the suspect had an unobstructed view through the outfield fence. The victims were sitting ducks,” said Tim Slater, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Rep. Mike Bishop, who was shot through the arm, recounted his experience:
“A lot more of us could have walked out of this thing, if one of the folks here had a weapon to fire back and give us a moment to find cover. We were inside the backstop and we didn’t have that cover. All it would have taken is a brave person to stand up and take a shot themselves so we could have gotten out of there. Every one of us has been hit — every single one of us. He [the shooter] was coming around the fence line and he was looking for all of us who had found cover in different spots. But if we had return fire right there, he wouldn’t have come up to each one of us and shot us point-blank.” [altered quote]
According to witnesses, Hodgkinson pulled his vehicle onto a path that ran behind the outfield. A jogger told police that the killer asked a member of the team if the players were Republicans or Democrats. Hodgkinson replied “Oh, okay. Thank you,” and left. A few minutes later, shots rang out. Several members of the team who had taken the field were shot. The rest were shot in the area of the dugout. The dugout was a standard municipal park setup, where the waiting teammates are protected from baseballs, not bullets, by a chainlink fence. One congressman was found dead trying to shelter behind a trashcan.
Responding police officers killed Hodgkinson as he tried to flee. Police stated he was armed with an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle topped with a magnified sight, similar to what military troops use. An acquaintance, who declined to be named, from Illinois, Hodgkinson’s home state, reported that Hodgkinson took interest in shooting after the 2016 election. James Thomas Hodgkinson, a Democratic voter and Bernie Sanders volunteer, was reportedly distressed that Hillary Clinton lost the election. Neighbors complained that Hodgkinson would practice shooting too close to their homes in Illinois.
Hodgkinson was charged with domestic battery and for assault with a firearm when he struck his daughter’s boyfriend with a shotgun. Charges were dropped and without a conviction for domestic violence, Hodgkinson was legally allowed to possess and buy firearms. Acquaintances from the YCMA next to the baseball field stated that he often made small talk with them.
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Majority Whip, was not present during the shooting after his vehicle was involved in a minor traffic accident on his way to practice. Scalise is usually accompanied by a detail of Capitol Police Dignitary Protection Section plainclothes police officers. Scalise said in a press conference that he wished he could have been there.
“I travel with armed bodyguard, capitol policemen. They could have stopped this, they could have saved lives. It sounds trite, but it’s true; the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is good guy with a gun.”
Police say that Hodgkinson had selected his point of assault well, giving him a full field of fire all over the baseball diamond, well out of pistol range of anyone who might fire back. The attack seems to have been well-planned and not within the capabilities of the former licensed home inspector who did not serve in the military. FBI and other law enforcement officials have ruled out additional shooters, but are investigating whether the killer had help planning.
Thankfully, that is not what happened.
Author and former Navy SEAL Matt Bracken pointed out on social media that had the killer had professional experience or better planning, the outcome could have been far worse. Additionally, it was only through luck that the two Capitol Police bodyguards to Rep. Scalise were present. If this was a group of average citizens, the death toll would have been far higher. Hodgkinson was moving around, trying to get to the players hiding around the diamond. Cover was sparse, as the video from the scene shows. The officers’ actions to engage Hodgkinson gave him something else to deal with, rather than just kill defenseless men. This event illustrates how one or two armed persons, even with handguns, can seriously disrupt a killer’s plans.
It’s also important to note that state law prohibits in parks loaded semi-automatic centerfire rifles with 20+ round magazines that Hodgkinson almost certainly used. In a sense, this should have been a gun-free (at least rifle free) zone. That silly law did nothing to deter Hodgkinson.
Interestingly, various citizens told reporters that Hodgkinson was a frequent visitor to the Alexandria YMCA, which is just across the way from the park. It is highly likely that as Hodgkinson was in the Washington area he learned about the Republican practices while using that YMCA. I will speculate that he came to the area to engage in some sort of violence or other action against the GOP, but didn’t know what or how to do it until he came across this opportunity strictly by chance.
Hodgkinson's history of violent behavior indicates he likely had anger problems. The liberal dominated media and more leftist dominated online and media sources are responsible for the intense polarization that brought us to this point. Celebrities like Kathy Griffin and others have been virtue signalling for violence against President Trump and Republicans. The rage online and on TV certainly worked to transform the liberal-supporter Hodgkinson into an assassin after countless hours in a vacuum chamber. Perhaps if he had a balanced, unhyped view he wouldn't have reached this point.
I fear we will see more of this violence and sadly, greater "success." Only time will tell if this was our second Fort Sumter moment.