Virginia Shooting Underscores Risk of Domestic Terror From Across Ideological Spectrum

  • June 14, 2017
James Hodgkinson

By Oren Segal
Director of ADL's Center on Extremism

On Wednesday, June 14, a congressional baseball team was attacked by a lone gunman in the midst of a morning practice. The U.S. House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (LA), was seriously injured, and several others were also shot. The gunman was killed at the scene. This shooting was, as far as we know, a premeditated, ideological act, and should be considered a domestic terror incident.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, ADL has been tracking growing anger within the American left, directed at President Trump, his administration and political allies. In recent months, ADL has been warning law enforcement personnel about the possibility of an increase in left-wing violence as a result of the growing anger. The shootings in Alexandria appear to be an example of this.

The shooter, James Hodgkinson, does not appear to have belonged to any particular organized group, but this is not unusual for major acts of ideological violence in the U.S. Similarly, the shooter also does not fit any particular “profile” of a terrorist—which should serve as a reminder that ideology is not a predictor of political violence.

Hodgkinson appears to have held strong liberal views, but so far no connection to left-wing extremist groups or movements have emerged. His views seem to have been within the mainstream of the American left, which makes his act of violence unusual. Generally, people closer to the fringes of the ideological spectrum are more likely to engage in violence.

Expectations based on past standards, however, don’t hold in today’s extraordinarily polarized political environment. When people on the left and right view one another as enemies, and rhetoric from both sides is increasingly pitched and angry, we may well see more acts of violence coming from angry, politicized individuals who have no connections to extremist groups.

In other words, the chances of serious civil strife in the U. S. are greater now than they have been in many years.

This is a dangerous development at a critical time, as the U. S. already faces serious violent threats from white supremacists, anti-government extremists and domestic Islamic extremists. The very last thing the country needs is more cause-related violence.