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Suspect killed in congressional shootout wanted to ‘terminate the Republican Party’

By Belleville News-Democrat (TNS) staff • Jun 14, 2017 at 4:46 PM

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — The shooter who was killed during gunfire at a practice for a congressional baseball game Wednesday morning belonged to a number of anti-Republican groups, including one called “Terminate the Republican Party.”

The shooter was James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville.

Injured in the attack were House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.; Matt Mika, a former congressional staff member who now works for Tyson Foods; and Zack Barth, a staff aide to Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas; and two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of Scalise’s security detail.

President Donald Trump said Hodgkinson died during gunfire exchanged with congressional security workers.

Hodgkinson owned a home inspection business. Hodgkinson was a licensed home inspector from 1994 to 1997, when his license expired, according to records from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. He also held a license from 2003 to 2016, but it was not renewed.

Two days ago, Hodgkinson posted an angry tweet about Trump on Facebook.

“I Want to Say Mr. President, for being an ass hole you are Truly the Biggest Ass Hole We Have Ever Had in the Oval Office,” he wrote on Facebook.

Hodgkinson is a member of a number of anti-Republican groups on Facebook, including one called “Terminate the Republican Party.”

—“The Road to Hell is Paved with Republicans”

—“Donald Trump is not my President”

— “President Bernie Sanders”

— “Illinois Berners United to Resist Trump”

— “Boycott the Republican Party”

— “Expose Republican Fraud”

— “Terminate the Republican Party”

The FBI and other federal investigators arrived Wednesday morning at Hodgkinson’s two-story home on the outskirts of Belleville. Spokesman Dillon McConnell of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the agency is “conducting emergency traces for a handgun and a rifle,” but declined to identify the weapons types.

Hodgkinson took a Democratic ballot in the primary election in 2016.

In 2012, Hodgkinson took part in a protest outside the downtown Belleville post office. He said he was part of a “99 percent” team drawing attention to the amount of money and political power the top 1 percent of Americans acquired.

Aaron Meurer is a neighbor of the Hodgkinsons and said he noticed in the last two months James had been gone. The alleged shooter’s wife, Suzanne, told him her husband was traveling.

“She said that he went on a trip. She wasn’t real specific,” said Meurer, unsure of whether the couple had split up recently. “He’s been gone for the last two months, so I haven’t seen him around too often.”

Meurer said he occasionally cut his neighbor’s grass to help out. He didn’t know the neighbors well, just socialized from the lawn, and said his neighbor would fire guns on his rural property, commonplace in the open area outside of Belleville.

“I knew he was a Democrat, a pretty hardcore one. I know he wasn’t happy when Trump got elected but he seemed like a nice enough guy,” recalled Meurer, who said the couple lived across the street for about six years.

“He seemed like he was semi-retired; he was home a lot. He used to garden a couple of years ago,” said Meurer, who runs his own trimming and removal service. “I didn’t really talk to him too much. He was a Democrat and I was a Republican, so we didn’t have too much to talk about.”

Meurer said during the campaign Hodgkinson had a lone Bernie Sanders sign near the road in his front yard. He thought that Hodgkinson had raised foster kids who had grown up. He also thought there were grandchildren who visited occasionally.

“We were neighbors, but we didn’t talk every day. When we saw them in the yard we’d say ‘Hi’ and go on our way,” Meurer said. “He seemed like a normal guy, a regular guy.”

Meurer suggested that perhaps “this Democratic rhetoric made him snap. I know he was a pretty hardcore Democrat.”

Terry Beach, the executive director of the St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department, said Hodgkinson worked as a subcontractor in the department’s housing rehabilitation and weatherization program.

However, Hodgkinson had been banned from the department, Beach said. Beach said he didn’t remember him well. It wasn’t immediately clear why Hodgkinson was banned from the department.

Hodgkinson has a varied arrest record in St. Clair County, for offenses such as failing to obtain electrical permits, damaging a motor vehicle, resisting a peace officer, eluding police, criminal damage to property, driving under the influence and assorted traffic offenses.

Realtor Charlene Brennan with Strano & Associates in Belleville used Hodgkinson from time to time for home inspections.

“He used to be in construction or the building trades, and then he went into home inspections. He had been doing home inspections for several years,” she said.

There was nothing about Hodgkinson that would have pointed to Wednesday’s events.

“From a business standpoint, he did not seem like he is a radical — opinionated but not a radical,” Brennan said. “He wasn’t obnoxious, he wasn’t problematic. When he did home inspections for me he didn’t rile up the buyers or make ridiculous statements.”

The accounting firm in Belleville where Hodgkinson’s wife works declined comment.

Former Congressman William Enyart, a Democrat from Belleville who was defeated by current Rep. Mike Bost, said he’s never heard of Hodgkinson.

“I don’t have a clue who this guy is,” Enyart said.

Enyart was defeated by Bost, a Republican from Murphysboro, in 2014.

Enyart is friends with Hodgkinson on Facebook, but Enyart said when he was in public life, he had a generally policy of “friending everybody.”

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Belleville lawyer Charles “C.J.” Baricevic, a Democrat, lost to Bost in the 2016 fall election for the Illinois 12th Congressional District. Baricevic said neither he nor his campaign had heard from Hodgkinson during that time.

Dean Pruitt, a Democrat seeking to run against Bost in the upcoming election, said his campaign has no association with Hodgkinson.

Pruitt also condemned any violent or aggressive behavior in politics or otherwise.

David Bequette, another Democrat seeking to run for the seat, said he didn’t know the shooter and called the attacks “horrendous.”

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Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday he was “sickened” by reports that the man who opened fire at a congressional baseball practice had volunteered on his presidential campaign.

“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign,” Sanders, I-Vt., said in a statement. “I am sickened by this despicable act.”

Social media profiles that appeared to belong to Hodgkinson contained pro-Sanders and anti-Trump messages.

“Let me be as clear as I can be,” Sanders said. “Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms; Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”

Trump decried the shooting of a top House Republican on Wednesday as a “very, very brutal assault” and called for all Americans to set aside differences and pray for the recovery of the victims.

Trump said that “many lives would have been lost without the heroic action” of the Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman.

“We may have our differences but we do well in times like these in times like these that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because above all they love our country,” said Trump, speaking from the White House’s Diplomatic Room. “We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified.”

Three metro-east congressmen asked for prayers on Wednesday morning.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, has been Scalise’s Washington, D.C., roommate for about eight years.

Shimkus is listed on the 2017 Republican team roster for the game. The congressman said he was not at the practice Wednesday morning.

“We are pretty close,” Shimkus said. “I blew (practice) off today because my body is old — and I had a speech.”

Shimkus said the game, scheduled for Thursday, is a great bipartisan event with a lot of “trash talk” that unites Congress rather than divides it.

“(Scalise) is a very good friend and it’s a shame that this happened,” Shimkus said. “The world doesn’t stop and he wouldn’t want us to stop.”

The representative said practice usually begins about six weeks before the game.

“And to have this assault occur — whether it was random or targeting, we will let law enforcement do their due diligence — it just puts a damper on something that is good,” Shimkus said.

“My guess is that we will still suit up and still play. It’s one of those moments where you don’t want to let fear and evil stop good things. So I think the game will go on, but I don’t know for sure.”

Bost, R-Murphysboro, who is not on the 2017 roster, said Scalise puts a meal together every week in his office for anyone who wants to come by.

“There is a reason he is a whip … he is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet,” Bost said. “He is just a member of congress that is just as friendly, you know, we get along here — we may have our differences. Steve is one that both democrats and republicans think all the world of.”

Bost said that Scalise was shot in the hip area, a staffer was severely wounded by a bullet, a female officer was shot in the foot and a male officer was shot before shooting the gunman.

Bost also took to Twitter to offer his sympathies.

“Horrible news this morning,” Bost tweeted. “Please keep @SteveScalise and his family, as well as USCP (United States Capitol Police) in your prayers.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is on the 2017 Republican team roster and was at the practice Wednesday morning, his spokeswoman confirmed.

He was not injured.

Davis, in an interview with reporters, said:

“The camaraderie exists. That’s a misperception. We have great camaraderie out here between Republicans and Democrats. I urge you to ask many of the Democrats I’ve served with, No. 1, if they know me, and No. 2, what we’ve worked on together. Because we’ve worked on a lot of things together in a very bipartisan way. We have to come together as Americans.

“We have to take this tragedy that we saw today that could have been much, much worse, and turn it into a positive, to let Americans know if you disagree with your political leaders, that’s OK. That’s why we have elections. But let’s not ratchet up the hateful speech.

“We see stories about policies are going to lead to the death of people. That’s political rhetoric that has run amok and has turned into hate and it may, may be the reason why we saw the senseless tragedy that we saw today. And if it is, this could be the first political rhetorical terrorist act that we’ve seen on our soil. And we can change that. Only we can change that.”

Bost also took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to ask for prayers.

“Please pray for Steve and all those injured,” he wrote in the tweet.

Bost said in a statement: “With reports indicating that Wednesday morning’s shooter is from my district, this is a tragedy that certainly hits close to home. As we continue to gather information, Tracy and I would like to send our prayers to my friend and colleague, Steve Scalise, as well as members of the security detail and congressional staff who were injured. We live in challenging times and the political rhetoric has been turned up to an alarming level. This should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to step back from the battle lines and come together to strengthen our nation.”

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(This story was reported by Dana Rieck, Kelsey Landis, Joseph Bustos, George Pawlawczyk, Beth Hundsdorfer and Elizabeth Donald of the Belleville News-Democrat. McClatchy Washington Bureau reporters Greg Gordon, Kevin Hall and Teresa Welsh contributed to this report.)

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©2017 Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)

Visit the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.) at www.bnd.com

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