In the wake of the horrific shooting of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), a Republican congressional aide and two members of Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, many are pointing to the shooter's supposed political affiliation as evidence of his motivation. Information gleaned from alleged shooter James T. Hodgkinson's Facebook page suggests he was a supporter of progressive Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and a vocal opponent of President Donald Trump.
Conservatives have quickly claimed these facts as evidence that leftwing vitriol was the motivation behind the shooting. The actual motivations of Hodgkinson are unknown as of this writing. Hodgkinson died Wednesday as a result of injuries he sustained in a shootout with Capitol Police following his attack.
It's entirely possible that leftwing vitriol was the motivation behind the shooting. But if you're looking for another indicator in Hodgkinson's background that suggests he is capable of violence, one factor to consider is his alleged history of domestic abuse.
According to police reports, Hodgkinson was arrested in 2006 and held for assault after allegedly punching a woman in the face "with a closed fist," and threatening her boyfriend with a gun. The woman had been a friend of his foster daughter and Hodgkinson had forced his way into her home in an attempt to force his daughter to come home with him.
The report states that Hodgkinson was observed "throwing" his daughter around a bedroom and allegedly “hitting her arms, pulling her hair, and ... grabbing her off the bed.” When the woman attempted to rescue his daughter by driving off with her, Hodgkinson allegedly reached into the car, turned off the ignition and cut her seatbelt with a pocket knife. After the incident, Hodgkinson was detained, but the charges against him were eventually dropped.
It's not surprising that conservative pundits and news outlets have chosen to focus much more on Hodgkinson's political leanings than the allegations of violence. In fact, it's happened before.
In March, Juan Thompson — a left-leaning journalist who pled guilty to calling in bomb threats to a dozen Jewish community centers across the country — became right-leaning media's favorite example of left-wing and anti-semitism motivated violence. But few, if any, of their accounts about Thompson focused on the fact that Thompson's threats were actually part of an elaborate campaign to harass and terrorize an ex-girlfriend.
Omar Mateen, who one year ago killed 49 people in a mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub also had a history of domestic violence, but conservatives like then-presidential candidate Donald Trump looked past that history and focused on the shooters' religion and ethnicity to explain the attack.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two Boston Bombing brothers was once arrested for domestic violence.
John Russell Houser, who opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, has been accused of domestic violence in the past.
Many of the men whose faces we've seen for days at a time on the evening news because of a deplorable act of mass violence had previously revealed violent tendencies toward the women closest to them.
The focus on mass murderers' politics over their violent history isn't just inaccurate, it's dangerous. Politically motivated terrorism is actually far less deadly in the U.S. than domestic violence: From 2001 to 2012, 3,073 Americans died as a result of terrorism. Over that same period 11,766 American women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
Whatever the motivation turns out to be — the Congressional shooting in Alexandria is a tragedy. And if future mass shootings are to be prevented, America may have to reckon with the role violence against women factors into how we understand mass killing.