By Glenn Greenwald
At a softball field in a Washington, DC suburb on June 14, 2017, a lone gunman used a rifle to indiscriminately spray bullets at members of the House GOP who had gathered for their usual Saturday morning practice for an upcoming charity game. The then-House Majority Whip, Rep. Steven Scalise (R-LA), was shot in the hip while standing on second base and almost died, spending six weeks in the hospital and undergoing multiple surgeries. Four other people were shot, including two members of the Capitol Police who were part of Scalise’s security detail, a GOP staffer, and a Tyson Foods lobbyist. “He was hunting us at that point,” Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) said of the shooter, who attempted to murder as many people as he could while standing with his rifle behind the dugout.
The shooter died after engaging the police in a shootout. He was James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old hard-core Democrat who — less than six months into the Trump presidency — had sought to kill GOP lawmakers based on his belief that Republicans were corrupt traitors, fascists, and Kremlin agents. The writings he left behind permitted little doubt that he was driven to kill by the relentless messaging he heard from his favorite cable host, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and other virulently anti-Trump pundits, about the evils of the GOP. Indeed, immediately after arriving at the softball field, he asked several witnesses whether the people gathered “were Republicans or Democrats.”
A CNN examination of his life revealed that “Hodgkinson’s online presence was largely defined by his politics.” In particular, “his public Facebook posts date back to 2012 and are nearly all about his support for liberal politics.” He was particularly “passionate about tax hikes on the rich and universal health care.” NBC News explained that “when he got angry about politics, it was often directed against Republicans,” and acknowledged that “Hodgkinson said his favorite TV program was ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on MSNBC.”
Indeed, his media diet was a non-stop barrage of vehement animosity toward Republicans: “His favorite television shows were listed as ‘Real Time with Bill Maher;’ ‘The Rachel Maddow Show;’ ‘Democracy Now!’ and other left-leaning programs.” On the Senate floor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) divulged that Hodgkinson was an ardent supporter of his and had even “apparently volunteered” for his campaign. A Sanders supporter told The Washington Post that “he campaigned for Bernie Sanders with Hodgkinson in Iowa.”
The mass-shooter had a particular fondness for Maddow’s nightly MSNBC show. In his many Letters to the Editor sent to the Belleville News-Democrat, reported New York Magazine, he “expressed support for President Obama, and declared his love for The Rachel Maddow Show”. In one letter he heralded Maddow’s nightly program as “one of my favorite TV shows.”
While consuming this strident and increasingly rage-driven Trump-era, anti-GOP media diet, Hodgkinson “joined several anti-GOP Facebook groups, including ‘Terminate The Republican Party’; ‘The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans’;, and ‘Join The Resistance Worldwide!!'” Two of his consuming beliefs were that Trump-era Republicans were traitors to the United States and fascist white nationalists. In 2015, he had posted a cartoon depicting Scalise — the man he came very close to murdering — as speaking at a gathering of the KKK.
Once Trump was inaugurated in early 2017, the mass shooter’s online messaging began increasingly mirroring the more extreme anti-Trump and anti-GOP voices that did not just condemn the GOP’s ideology but depicted them as grave threats to the Republic. In a March 22 Facebook post, Hodgkinson wrote: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” In February, he posted: “Republicans are the Taliban of the USA.” In one Facebook post just days before his shooting spree, Hodgkinson wrote: “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.” As NBC News put it: “Hodgkinson’s Facebook postings portray him as stridently anti-Republican and anti-Trump.”
Despite the fact that Hodgkinson was a fanatical fan of Maddow, Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, and Sanders, that the ideas and ideology motivating his shooting spree perfectly matched — and were likely shaped by — liberals of that cohort, and that the enemies whom he sought to kill were also the enemies of Maddow and her liberal comrades, nobody rational or decent sought to blame the MSNBC host, the Vermont Senator or anyone else whose political views matched Hodgkinson’s for the grotesque violence he unleashed. The reason for that is clear and indisputable: as strident and extremist as she is, Maddow has never once encouraged any of her followers to engage in violence to advance her ideology, nor has she even hinted that a mass murder of the Republican traitors, fascists and Kremlin agents about whom she rants on a nightly basis to millions of people is a just solution.
It would be madness to try to assign moral or political blame to them. If we were to create a framework in which prominent people were held responsible for any violence carried out in the name of an ideology they advocate, then nobody would be safe, given that all ideologies have their misfits, psychopaths, unhinged personality types, and extremists. And thus there was little to no attempt to hold Maddow or Sanders responsible for the violent acts of one of their most loyal adherents.
The same is true of the spate of mass shootings and killings by self-described black nationalists over the last several years. Back in 2017, the left-wing group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) warned of the “Return of the Violent Black Nationalist.” In one incident, “Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed Dallas police officers during a peaceful protest against police brutality, killing five officers and wounding nine others.” Then, “ten days later, Gavin Eugene Long shot six officers, killing three, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” They shared the same ideology, one which drove their murderous spree:
Both Johnson and Long were reportedly motivated by their strong dislike of law enforcement, grievances against perceived white dominance, and the recent fatal police shootings of unarmed black men under questionable circumstances, specifically the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota . . .
Needless to say, the ideas that motivated these two black nationalists to murder multiple people, including police officers, is part of a core ideology that is commonly heard in mainstream media venues, expressed by many if not most of the nation’s most prominent liberals. Depicting the police as a white supremacist force eager to kill black people, “grievances against perceived white dominance,” and anger over “the white supremacism endemic in America’s system of governance from the country’s founding” are views that one routinely hears on MSNBC, CNN, from Democratic Party politicians, and in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Yet virtually nobody sought to blame Chris Hayes, Joy Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Jamelle Bouie or New York Times op-ed writers for these shooting sprees. Indeed, no blame was assigned to anti-police liberal pundits whose view of American history is exactly the same as that of these two killers — even though they purposely sought to murder the same enemies whom those prominent liberals target. Nobody blamed those anti-police liberals for the same reason they did not blame Maddow and Sanders for Hodgkinson’s shooting spree: there is a fundamental and necessary distinction between people who use words to express ideas and demonize perceived enemies, and those who decide to go randomly and indiscriminately murder in the name of that ideology.
Since that 2017 warning from the SPLC, there have been many more murders in the name of this anti-police and anti-white-supremacist ideology of black nationalism. In June of last year, the ADL said it had “linked Othal Toreyanne Resheen Wallace, the man arrested and accused of fatally shooting Daytona Beach Officer Jason Raynor on June 23, to several extremist groups preaching Black nationalism.” He had “participated in several events organized by the NFAC…best known for holding armed marches protesting racial inequality and police brutality.” He had a long history of citing and following prominent radical Black anti-police and anti-White ideologues.” Also in June of last year, a 25-year-old man named Noah Green drove a car into a Capitol Hill Police Officer, killing him instantly. The New York Times reported that he follows black nationalist groups, while a former college teammate “recalled that Mr. Green would often talk to fellow players about strategies to save and invest, emphasizing the need to close the wealth gap between white and Black America.”
Just last month, a self-identified black nationalist named Frank James went on a terrifying shooting spree in the New York City subway system that injured dozens. He had “posted material on social media linked to black identity extremist ideologies, including the Nation of Islam, Black Panthers, Black Liberation Army, BLM and an image of black nationalist cop-killer Micah Johnson.” Angie Speaks, the brilliant writer who voices the audio version of the articles for this Substack, reported in Newsweek that James had “posted prolifically on social media and hosted a YouTube channel where he expressed Black Nationalist leanings and racial grievances.” In 2019, The New York Times reported that “an assailant involved in the prolonged firefight in Jersey City, N.J., that left six people dead, including one police officer, was linked on Wednesday to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement,” and had written “anti-police posts.”
Most media outlets and liberal politicians correctly refused to assign blame to pundits and politicians who spew anti-police rhetoric, or who insist that the U.S. is a nation of white supremacy: the animating ideas of these murders. Yet in these cases, they go much further with their denialism: many deny that this ideology even exists at all.
“The made-up ‘Black Identity Extremist’ label is the latest example in a history of harassing and discrediting Black activists who dare to use their voices to call out white supremacy,” claimed the ACLU in 2019. PBS quoted a lawyer for an advocacy group as saying: “We’re deeply concerned about the FBI’s ‘black identity extremist’ designation. This is mere distraction from the very real threat of white supremacy…There is no such thing as black identity extremism.” The same year, The Intercept published an article headlined “The Strange Tale of the FBI’s Fictional ‘Black Identity Extremism’ Movement,” which claimed over and over that there is no such thing as black extremism and that any attempt to ascribe violence to this ideology is a lie invented by those seeking to hide the dangers of white supremacy.
It is virtually impossible to find any ideology on any part of the political spectrum that has not spawned senseless violence and mass murder by adherents. “The suspected killer of Dutch maverick politician Pim Fortuyn had environmentalist propaganda and ammunition at his home,” reported CBS News about the assassin, Volkert van der Graaf. Van der Graaf was a passionate animal rights and environmental activist who admitted “he killed the controversial right-wing leader because he considered him a danger to society.” Van der Graaf was particularly angry about what he believed was Fortuyn’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. As a result, “some supporters of Fortuyn had blamed Green party leader Paul Rosenmoeller for “demonizing Fortuyn before he was gunned down in May just before general elections.” In other words, simply because the Green Party leader was highly critical of Fortuyn’s ideology, some opportunistic Dutch politicians sought absurdly to blame him for Fortuyn’s murder by Van der Graaf. Sound familiar?
During the BLM and Antifa protests and riots of 2020, an Antifa supporter, Michael Reinoehl, was the leading suspect in the murder of a Trump supporter, Aaron J. Danielson, as he rode in a truck (Reinoehl himself was then killed by federal agents before being arrested in what appeared to be a deliberate extra-judicial execution, though an investigation cleared them of wrongdoing, as typically happens when federal agents are involved). In 2016, The New York Times reported that “the heavily armed sniper who gunned down police officers in downtown Dallas, leaving five of them dead, specifically set out to kill as many white officers as he could, officials said Friday.” The Paper of Record noted that many believed that anti-police protests would eventually lead to violent attacks on police officers: it “was the kind of retaliatory violence that people have feared through two years of protests around the country against deaths in police custody.”
Then there are the murders carried out in the name of various religions. For the last three decades at least, debates have been raging about what level of responsibility, if any, should be assigned to radical Muslim preachers or Muslim politicians when individuals carry out atrocities and murders in the name of Islam. Liberals insist — correctly, in my view — that it is irresponsible and unfair to blame non-violent Muslims who preach radical versions of religious or political Islam for those who carry out violence in the name of those doctrines. Similar debates are heard with regard to Jewish extremists, such as the Israeli-American doctor Baruch Goldstein who “opened fire in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, killing 29 Muslim worshippers.” Many insist that the radical anti-Muslim speech of Israeli extremists is to blame, while others deny that there is any such thing as “Jewish terrorism” and that all blames lies solely with the individual who decided to resort to violence.