Liberal groups resistant to Republican policies say they have no plans to change their tactics or approach after a gunman apparently driven by his hatred of President Donald Trump opened fire at a GOP baseball practice, grievously injuring a House Republican leader and several others.
Within hours of the shooting, leaders from both parties called for unity rather than recriminations, and many liberals — most notably former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders — immediately condemned the attack. A resistance group in the Louisiana district of the injured lawmaker, Rep. Steve Scalise, asked its members to call the congressman’s office and wish him a speedy recovery.
But online and on talk radio, several conservatives questioned whether aggressive opposition to all things Trump had created a dangerous climate, and some faulted those on the left. Rush Limbaugh said the shooter represented the “deranged base of the Democratic Party” and Michael Savage tweeted in caps, “I warned America the Dems constant drumbeat of hatred would lead to violence.”
The attack creates a difficult dynamic for a movement opposed to violence but urging its followers to challenge lawmakers at town halls and district offices, as well as write and call them on issues such as the environment, health care and gun control. Leaders on the left say they are emulating the tactics used effectively by the tea party movement at health care town halls in 2009; their work helped Republicans win majority control of the House in 2010.
“We will continue to lawfully and peacefully resist,” said Anna Galland, executive director of the liberal group MoveOn.
Activists argue that because Republicans are pressing ahead on their agenda, with dismantling President Barack Obama’s health-care law a top priority, they cannot afford to stop.
Authorities have not officially disclosed a motive in the attack by James T. Hodgkinson, 66, who was killed in a shootout with police after he wounded five in the Wednesday assault. Hodgkinson left a trail of anti-Trump and anti-Republican postings on social media, but there has been no evidence that he was part of the more mainstream anti-Trump efforts.
Hodgkinson also had the names of several Republican lawmakers, but investigators aren’t sure of the significance of the names.
Sarah Dohl of Indivisible, the resistance group that has thousands of affiliate groups nationwide, say the attack “is antithetical to the progressive movement more broadly and Indivisible’s core values. Non-violence and peaceful protests are essential to who we are.”
Dohl said the group sees no need to change tactics, unless they need to respond to Republicans being even less willing to hold town halls after the attack.
“They were already inclined to not have town halls. Now we’re going to see much less in ways of public events,” Dohl said. “We’re starting to think about ways we can shift tactics… That’s definitely a concern that they’ll be less available now.”
She said she hopes her members are being respectful when they call. It was the Indivisible affiliate in Metairie, Louisiana, that urged its members to offer Scalise support.
In the hundreds of protests against Trump since his election, which often have designated “marshals” to keep demonstrators under control, there have been rare, scattered incidents of violence. Those usually stem from select black-clad anarchists or members of the anti-fascist or “antifa” movement that see violence as a necessary way to fight the state and protect the vulnerable.
“It’s a real small percentage of people” on the left who ever engage in violence, said Yong Jung-Cho of the group All of Us. “This is the challenge of large social movements — there’s a lot of people in them.”
And liberals note that Trump praised people at his rallies who assaulted protesters. Murshed Zaheed, political director of the liberal group Credo, said it took Trump three days to tweet about a white supremacist who allegedly fatally stabbed two men in Portland, Oregon, who had tried to get him to stop harassing Muslim women on a train. In contrast, Sanders delivered his Senate speech within hours of the shootings; he said Hodgkinson apparently was a former campaign volunteer.
“It’s not really an even-handed situation where you can compare both sides,” Zaheed said.
Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic consultant who worked for Sanders’ presidential campaign and separately has advocated for tighter gun laws, pushed back and said the shooting should not have a negative effect on the progressive movement.
“The idea that you’re going to exploit this kind of violence for your own political ends is pretty sickening,” Longabaugh said. “That would be like me trying to impugn everyone on the right because some sick, right-wing kid walks into a church in South Carolina and shoots people in prayer,” he added, a reference to the 2015 killings at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The killer was a white supremacist.