Was Wednesday’s Congressional Shooting an Act of Terrorism?

Intelligence

The FBI is has not used the words “domestic terrorist” to describe James T. Hodgkinson, who shot four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va. on Wednesday morning. But they should.

Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from of Belleville, Ill., opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, scheduled for later today at Nationals Park. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Mo.), who was at the scene, first alerted the world that Scalise was among the victims.

As one would expect, the event consumed news coverage for the day. Cable outlets covered little else, nor did news radio in Washington. As Alexandria police and the FBI released additional details, the picture became clearer. Scalise had been shot in the hip. Unlike most members of Congress who are on their own when it comes to security, as a member of the leadership, he has an official security detail. One of the two Capitol Police officers accompanying him was also shot, as was a staffer, a lobbyist, and the shooter himself.

In his address to the nation, President Trump announced the shooter was dead. But in uncharacteristic fashion, he did not call Hodgkinson a terrorist, either. But there is little doubt that is exactly what he is.

Like treason, terrorism has a specific legal definition despite the often-carefree use of the word. Section 2331 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code says that to be called domestic terrorism, an act must fulfill three criteria. Hodgkinson hit the trifect.

understanding the criteria for domestic terrorism

The third criterion listed is the easiest: it must take place “within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” So, “check.”

Next, the action must “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State.” According to witnesses, Hodgkinson fired as many as 50 to 60 rounds, hitting four people including a police officer and a sitting Congressman. “Check.”?pn;

Lastly, the action “must appear to be intended… to intimidate or coerce a civilian population… to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion… or… to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping…”

This last criterion is the most difficult to prove, but Hodgkinson appears to meet it nonetheless. His social media history is filled with anti-Trump and anti-Republican thought. His tweets and Facebook posts were filled with progressive, anti-Republican musings. Hardly a crime by themselves.

He was a well-known author of letters to the editor in his hometown, letters that, among other issues, repeatedly called for drastically raising taxes on the wealthy. No crime there, ether.

But when he arrived at the ballfield Wednesday morning, he crossed the line. Shortly before the shooting started, Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and Ron DeSantis of Florida were getting into their car when they say a man, whom Duncan later told several news outlets he was sure was Hodgkinson, approached them asking if Republicans or Democrats were practicing.

When you combine Hodgkinson’s past anti-Republican statements with the fact that he appears to have decided to act because it was Republican Congressmen on the field, one can only conclude that he was intending to affect the conduct of other Congressmen through his actions.

“Check.”

The FBI might not yet be using the word, but Scalise’s colleague from Louisiana, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, did so from the floor of the Senate Wednesday afternoon. Cassidy is right on the money. Hodgkinson is a domestic terrorist, even if he was of the lone-wolf variety. Calling him what he is may just wake some people up to the fact that, in the words of Sen. Bernie Sanders, “Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society.”

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin