What Happened This Morning?
Police have reported one suspect is in custody following a shooting this morning in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. The officers responded within three minutes and, upon arrival, fired multiple shots at the gunman. In addition to the Alexandria Police officers, Two Capitol Police officers who were assigned to the security detail GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Sen. Rand Paul told MSNBC after the attack that the officers were the security detail for GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise, adding that his presence at the practice therefore most likely prevented the incident from becoming a massacre.
“Everybody would’ve died except for the fact that Capitol Hill police were there,” Paul said. “Had they not been there, it would have been a massacre.”
“When you have no way to defend yourself … the field was essentially a killing field,” Paul later told CNN.
The FBI and police officials said they would not yet share any information about the suspect’s motivation at a press conference. The FBI special agent in charge of the Washington field office said it was too early to rule out terrorism, or whether the gunman deliberately targeted Republican members of Congress.
Scalise’s office said in a statement that the congressman is in stable condition at MedStar Washington Hospital. He was shot in the hip and is undergoing surgery, the statement said.
Rep. Roger Williams, who was at the baseball practice, said a member of his staff was shot and is receiving medical attention. A female Capitol Police officer is also reportedly being treated at Washington’s MedStar hospital. George Washington University Hospital confirmed that it received two patients from the shooting, both in critical condition.
Who Was The Shooter?
Law-enforcement officials named 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, as the suspect in the congressional baseball practice shooting on Wednesday morning, multiple outlets reported.
Hodgkinson’s wife told ABC that he had been living in Alexandra for the past two months. A Facebook page linked to Hodgkinson lists him as the owner of JTH Inspections. A Yelp page for JTH Inspections has pictures of Hodgkinson and locates the company in Belleville, IL.
Hodgkinson posted content favorable to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on his page and signed apetition for the removal of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” Hodgkinson wrote in a March 22 post.
The former mayor of Alexandria, Virginia Bill Euille, said he had spoken with the suspected congressional baseball practice shooter almost every morning for more than a month, and had discovered the man was living out of his gym bag. The forer mayor lost his reelection bid last year, but told the Washington Post he first met Hodgkinson during their morning workouts at the local YMCA. Euille said he frequently saw Hodgkins in the lobby using his laptop.
Euille said Hodgkinson approached him after hearing people greeting Euille as “mayor.”
“After the first or second week, he asked about good places to eat … within walking distance,” Euille said. “He was a very friendly person.”
“But what I did notice about this gentleman is he’d open up his gym bag and in it, he had everything he owned. He was living out of his gym bag. That, and he sat in the Y’s lobby for hours and hours. Outside of myself, I don’t think he knew anyone else is in town.”
Mayor Euille said Hodgkinson had told him he was a home inspector and asked about available jobs, but said he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.
Hodgkinson, whose social media accounts show him to be a fierce critic of President Donald Trump and a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, did not discuss politics directly, Euille said. But when people at the gym would openly criticize Trump, Hodgkinson “indicated he agreed with us.”
According to multiple outlets, after his suspected shoot out with law enforcement, Hodgkinson died of his injuries in hospital. In an interview with Hodgkinson’s wife, Suzanne, told ABC that he had taken a trip and had been living in Alexandria for the last two months. He is survived by his wife and brother Michael.
The Most Important Question:
What caused James Hodgkinson to believe a mass shooting of Republican Congressman, who were practicing for a charity baseball game against Congressional Democrats, was an act of justice when their “crime” was daring to hold political beliefs in opposition to his own?
With each passing day, the American experience grows more disturbing and less familiar.
Today’s shooting is an alarming reminder that the political climate we inhabit has long since passed a state of passionate engagement and descended into one of rabid obsession. In the midst of shock, it is important to identify the root cause of tragedy before the nightly news commentariat begin the exploitative framing of the discussion with hopes of electoral and fundraising gain. Admittedly, there is little that can be done to prevent the politicization of today’s shooting, but what we can do, is uncover the true culprit responsible for our toxic political environment.
So the question remains, what drove James Hodgkinson’s enthusiastic civic engagement to develop into an irrational bloodthirsty desire?
At what point did he stop pursuing the political process in lieu of an attempted mass murder against those who held political beliefs different than his own? What was the breaking point which caused his well-incubated political beliefs to birth a lethal act of vengeance?
Clearly, his acts were not those of a well adjusted individual with a sound grasp on reality. At some point, he tossed aside any sense of civic duty felt while volunteering for Senator Bernie Sander’s Presidential campaign. What is the yet to be identified leap he made from handing out flyers to shooting up the batting practice of democratically elected Republicans?
For the purpose of understanding the motivation behind Mr. Hodgkinson’s act, it is useful to call upon the words of poet C.J. Heck,
“We are all products of our environment; every person we meet, every new experience or adventure, every book we read, touches and changes us, making us the unique being we are.”
Mr. Hodgkinson, just like every individual reading this, was entirely a result of his environment. An environment, which upon further inquiry into his social media posts, will reveal a digital experience built on algorithms designed to curate the content he consumed to his exact tastes. It is hard to understate the effect algorithms built to learn a user’s tastes and preferences have had on society. The more consumers have grown expectant of mass customization in virtually every area of their lives, the more sheltered they become from tastes and preferences they do not like.
These algorithms are designed to prevent exposure. Their very purpose is to create a perfectly curtailed user experience cocoon protecting them from any information they have expressed dislike or disinterest in the past. As the algorithm learns more, the exposure to any source of information or product, other than ones which amplify the user’s confirmation bias in the form of user preference, is detrimental to the success of the algorithm.
The technological achievements in machine learning and artificial intelligence allowing our ability to customize, has also created a human experience wildly susceptible to confirmation bias. We are constantly bombarded with an endless number of highly customized sources of news and information. Theoretically, humans have never had a more hospitable environment for diversity of thought and exposure to alternative views, but our reality bears no resemblance to the theoretical realm.
The truth, each one of us has inadvertently built a personal information silo designed to filter out the plethora of information sources available so we can reaffirm our preferences and biases with each click. Is it any surprise our political climate has grown so polarized? During the Civil War, the majority of American polarization was over slavery and state sovereignty.
In the era of mass customization, polarization is not so easily categorized with clear lines of division. In this era, even outrage is customized. Imagine if President Lincoln had to make a customized Gettysburg Address to each individual he sought to convince? Such is the enormity of the problem…
What can be done to temper the rabid hostility and polarization of our political climate?
The solution to our problem has two parts. First, we have to acknowledge the severity of the problem and admit we each bear some responsibility for not making a proactive effort in exposing ourselves to opinions and beliefs we oppose. One would hope all are willing after the tragedy of today.
Second, we have to accept the responsibility which accompanies life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to self-governance is not enough. We must also practice self-care if we are to continue enjoying the fruits born from the tree of individual liberty. We cannot go on in harmony as a society if keep trying to force our idea of how best to live one’s life upon one another. Mr. Hodgkinson’s radicalized beliefs were a result of the self-imposed echo chamber he chose to inhabit. His acts, undoubtedly justified as appropriate because his worldview was the correct one for us all, a sentiment ironically shared by those he opposed most.
If America continues down the path of imposing the views of a simple majority upon an electoral minority, desperate attempts at mass casualty as witnessed today will increase. Such a future is far too bleak to accept. In order to prevent that fate each of us must practice self-care by exposing ourselves to, and accepting the existence of, opinions we abhor while working to reign in the absolute ability of government to impose those beliefs upon one another.
That is the lesson and the burden of today. If we are to avoid the bloodthirst Mr. Hodgkinson developed, we have to stop viewing those who have different beliefs as an abstraction and start working to understand them as individuals. While at the same time having the presence of mind to limit their ability to impose those views upon us, regardless of any vindictive urge to retaliate after electoral success.
The only question that remains, is will each one of us accept the burden to self-care in order to enjoy the freedoms of self-governance?