Thoughts and prayers be damned.
In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting in Virginia Wednesday morning that wounded one Republican congressman, two members of the Capitol Police, a congressional aide, and a lobbyist at a Republican congressional baseball practice, the familiar condemnations of violence and calls for unity from leaders of both parties came forth.
But in a reflection of this fractious moment in American life, red-blue politicization could not be contained as Republicans inside and outside of Congress quickly began blaming liberals for the violence.
Republican Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia took to Twitter to retweet far-right figures blaming “leftist terrorism” and insinuating that Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia bore some of the blame for the shooting by calling people to “fight in the streets” against Trump this past January.
“RESPONSIBLE?,” the congressman tweeted alongside a link to Kaine’s remarks. When a user pointed out that Kaine was calling for protesting and marching, Garrett was dismissive:
The revelation that the suspected shooter, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, was a liberal supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders only stoked the anger on the right. Sanders gave a speech on the Senate floor stating that “violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”
Still, the right raged. “BERNIE BRO GOES ON RAMPAGE,” Drudge Report headlined at the top of its site.
“I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric,” Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York told a Buffalo radio station before the identity of the shooter had been revealed. Collins added that he would be carrying a gun on him in the future. “The rhetoric has been outrageous – the finger-pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters. Really, then, you know, some people react to things like that. They get angry as well. And then you fuel the fires.”
Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia blamed D.C.’s progressive gun laws that restrict members of Congress from carrying weapons, telling reporters that “if this had happened in Georgia, he wouldn’t have gotten too far.” Challenged that the shooting occurred in Virginia, Loudermilk responded that since many members of Congress live in D.C. and all work there, they tend to comply with the District’s strict gun laws, which ban concealed carry without a permit.
Michael Savage, the popular conservative radio host and author, tweeted, “I warned America the Dems’ constant drumbeat of hatred would lead to violence!” And Breitbart promoted the response of Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a perennial bomb thrower, who said, “Violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.”
Republican leaders, for their part, did not point fingers. House Speaker Republican Paul Ryan went to the floor of Congress Wednesday to call for unity in the aftermath of the shooting. “For all the noise and fury, we are a family,” Ryan said. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Ryan’s remarks “beautiful” and said together they were sending “thoughts and prayers to our colleague Steve Scalise.”
President Donald Trump, who during last year’s campaign caught the attention of Secret Service by suggesting that “Second Amendment people” could take action against Hillary Clinton, joined the House leaders in striking an inclusive note during a televised statement.
“Please take a moment today to cherish those you love, and always remember those who serve and keep us safe,” he said.
The centered stoicism from leaders, however, could not douse the partisan blaze that the violent shooting ignited. The president couldn’t control the sentiments of his own son, who quickly took to Twitter to endorse the view that New York elites were responsible.
And members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reported getting threatening calls from partisan voters soon after the shooting. Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan told BuzzFeed that multiple Democrats in Congress received calls promising retribution: “you guys are next.”
And Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney’s office reported receiving an email with the subject line “One down, 216 to go…”
Alexa Liautaud contributed to this report