Gun­man hated Repub­li­cans, was ‘a lit­tle off ’

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Pearce and Joseph Tan­fani

There seemed to be lit­tle about Amer­ica that James T. Hodgkin­son agreed with. He had a hero, Bernie Sanders. But his en­e­mies seemed to be end­less.

To the for­mer Illi­nois home in­spec­tor, Don­ald Trump and his whole fam­ily were traitors who needed to be im­pris­oned. The Repub­li­can Party was worse than ter­ror­ists. The wealthy were a cor­rupt oli­garchy that needed to be shat­tered. On post af­ter post on Face­book, Hodgkin­son sounded off on the cri­sis fac­ing the coun­try, only to see his posts mostly met with si­lence from his friends.

Early Wed­nes­day, Hodgkin­son took his anger into his own hands and opened fire on a base­ball prac­tice in Alexandria, Va., where Repub­li­can con­gress­men, staff and lob­by­ists had gath­ered to pre­pare for an up­com­ing game to raise money for char­ity.

When the shoot­ing stopped, four vic­tims were in­jured, and Hodgkin­son, con­fronted by po­lice, was mor­tally wounded. Not long af­ter he died, his hero, Sanders — whom he had cam­paigned for — de­nounced him on the floor of the U.S. Se­nate.

“I am sick­ened by this de­spi­ca­ble act,” said Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.), who gave his con­do­lences to the vic­tims. “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.”

Hodgkin­son’s at­tack was the work of a left-wing ac­tivist and small-town Demo­crat who had, for years, waged his own po­lit­i­cal war

of words against Repub­li­cans on so­cial me­dia with no suc­cess.

But it was also the fi­nal act of an adrift fa­ther who rarely spoke to strangers and some­times di­rected his dis­sat­is­fac­tion at his neigh­bors and fam­ily — at one point in 2006 be­com­ing vi­o­lent with his daugh­ter, punch­ing her friend and threat­en­ing an­other of her friends with a shot­gun.

In the fi­nal months of his life, the 66-year-old for­mer con­struc­tion worker had left his long­time home in Illi­nois to spend much of his time at a YMCA gym in Alexandria near the base­ball di­a­mond, ful­mi­nat­ing on­line. “Repub­li­cans Hate Women, Mi­nori­ties, Work­ing Class Peo­ple, & Most All (99%) of the Peo­ple of the Coun­try,” he wrote on May 26.

The last time author­i­ties in St. Clair County, Ill., saw Hodgkin­son at home in Belleville, in March, sher­iff ’s deputies were re­spond­ing to a call of shots fired. They found Hodgkin­son out­side his house with a hunt­ing ri­fle, prac­tic­ing his shoot­ing.

“He was a pushy lit­tle bas­tard, an in-your-face kind of guy,” said Lyn­don Evanko, a re­tired at­tor­ney from Belleville who re­mem­bered Hodgkin­son for his tem­per and brusque at­ti­tude to­ward po­lice and neigh­bors. “He be­lieved what he be­lieved and he wasn’t go­ing to take any [stuff] from any­body.”

Hodgkin­son was born in East St. Louis, Ill., on Dec. 12, 1950, and ap­par­ently did not stray far from his roots in down­state Illi­nois. Ac­cord­ing to his Face­book pro­file, he at­tended high school in Belleville, pop­u­la­tion about 43,000, and col­lege at South­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity Ed­wardsville.

He later worked in con­struc­tion and home in­spec­tions in Belleville, where he had scrapes with his neigh­bors and with the law, most of them mi­nor.

In 1993, Hodgkin­son was charged with drunk driv­ing and other traf­fic of­fenses by Illi­nois State Po­lice near his home, a sub­urb of St. Louis. Court records show that judg­ment was with­held, and he spent a year un­der court su­per­vi­sion.

Hodgkin­son was ar­rested again in a more har­row­ing in­ci­dent, in 2006, on a charge of bat­tery by the St. Clair County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice.

The in­ci­dent ap­par­ently un­folded at a neigh­bor’s house as Hodgkin­son burst in­side to get his daugh­ter to come home, ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest re­port. Hodgkin­son “be­came vi­o­lent” af­ter his daugh­ter re­fused to leave and tried to hide in the house, the re­port said.

“James grabbed [his daugh­ter] by the hair and pulled her off the floor,” the re­port states. “Af­ter [she] was off the floor she at­tempted to run away. James would not re­lease his grip and threw [her] to the floor” and later started hit­ting her in the arms and pulling her hair.

His daugh­ter ran out of the house with a friend. But when they got into a car to leave, Hodgkin­son re­port­edly cut her seat belt with a pock­etknife and tried to pull her out of the car. His wife came to his aid and started “fight­ing with” her daugh­ter and try­ing to drag her out of the car by her legs, the re­port said.

Hodgkin­son then started chok­ing his daugh­ter, rip­ping her sweater, then punched her friend in the face when she threat­ened to call po­lice, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Later, an­other friend of his daugh­ter went to Hodgkin­son’s house to talk to him about the in­ci­dent, and Hodgkin­son struck the young man in the face with the butt of a shot­gun, ac­cord­ing to po­lice. The youth told po­lice he heard a sin­gle gun­shot as he ran away.

Of­fi­cials ar­rested Hodgkin­son and his wife, but records say the case was dis­missed af­ter the vic­tims re­peat­edly did not show up at court hear­ings, ac­cord­ing to Bren­dan Kelly, St. Clair County state’s at­tor­ney. (Hodgkin­son’s wife could not be reached for com­ment, and court records do not show a record of a charge.)

Records show that Hodgkin­son al­lowed his in­spec­tion and con­tract­ing li­censes to lapse. Evanko said he rep­re­sented Hodgkin­son in 2009 when he was tick­eted for do­ing work with­out the proper per­mits.

“Even with that, he had a tem­per: ‘What are they charg­ing me for? I know what I was do­ing. So what if I didn’t have the pa­per­work?’ ” Evanko said.

A for­mer con­struc­tion in­dus­try ac­quain­tance, Bill Sta­nis of St. Louis, said Hodgkin­son was “a lit­tle off.”

“He was just al­ways very opin­ion­ated in what he thought should be right,” Sta­nis said. “He was al­ways quick to tell you what he thought it was and what he thought it should be.”

Sta­nis had worked with Hodgkin­son on con­struc­tion projects 20 or 30 years ago, but lost touch with him af­ter mov­ing from Belleville to St. Louis.

The pair re­con­nected in 2013 when Sta­nis hired Hodgkin­son to in­spect his new home. But when it took Sta­nis more than two weeks to send Hodgkin­son a check for the work, Hodgkin­son im­me­di­ately sued him, which stunned Sta­nis.

“Dude, I hadn’t seen you for 20 years, and you sue me? … I can’t be­lieve you did that to me,” Sta­nis re­mem­bered think­ing.

Hodgkin­son sup­ported the Oc­cupy Wall Street move­ment in 2011 and was an early Sanders fan dur­ing the last Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­maries, vol­un­teer­ing for his cam­paign in Iowa.

A neigh­bor in Belleville, Aaron Meurer, 33, said Hodgkin­son lived in a wellkept home in a ru­ral area and had a Sanders sign in his yard dur­ing the elec­tion.

“He had men­tioned stuff about Repub­li­cans and high taxes and not tax­ing the rich enough, stuff like that,” Meurer said. “Noth­ing too ex­treme or too vi­o­lent.”

Hodgkin­son bought a used white van, Meurer said, and dis­ap­peared. FBI of­fi­cials said he re­lo­cated to the Alexandria area in March.

Stephen Bren­n­man, a lawyer who lives in Alexandria, said he would see Hodgkin­son nearly ev­ery day at the YMCA near where the shoot­ings oc­curred. He said Hodgkin­son would most of­ten sit in the lobby, or near a win­dow that has a good view of the ball field, and stare at his com­puter.

“He was al­ways in his own lit­tle world,” Bren­n­man said. “I never saw him talk to any­body.… Just a blank stare.”

But Hodgkin­son was busy on his Face­book page, where Pres­i­dent Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans were cen­tral tar­gets of his ire. In a May 31 post he called Trump and his fam­ily “traitors” who “Need to Be Pros­e­cuted to the Fullest Ex­tent of the Law.”

He was also a mem­ber of sev­eral lib­eral-lean­ing Face­book groups, in­clud­ing Don­ald Trump Is Not My Pres­i­dent and Ter­mi­nate the Repub­li­can Party.

“I’ve seen him post some,” said Howard Pearl­man, founder of the left­lean­ing group Ter­mi­nate the Repub­li­can Party, from his Cherry Hill, N.J., home, adding that he did not per­son­ally know Hodgkin­son. “Ev­ery­one posts — we’re re­ally po­lit­i­cal.”

But Hodgkin­son took it too far. “It’s ter­ri­ble what he did,” Pearl­man said of the gun­man. “I — and we as a group — do not con­done this at all.”

Af­ter Hodgkin­son was iden­ti­fied as the gun­man, his Face­book pro­file was re­moved.

Getty Images

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-La.), the House ma­jor­ity whip, above, is in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. CRYS­TAL GRINER, Capi­tol Po­lice spe­cial agent, is shot in an­kle, un­der­goes surgery and is in “good con­di­tion.” ZACHARY BARTH, a con­gres­sional aide, is shot in the calf, treated and re­leased. MATT MIKA, a lob­by­ist, is shot in the chest and un­der­goes surgery.

Derik Holtmann Belleville (Ill.) News-Demo­crat

JAMES T. HODGKIN­SON pic­tured in 2012, protest­ing in his home­town of Belleville, Ill. The Bernie Sanders sup­porter was strongly de­nounced by the se­na­tor.

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