Shooter of Republicans was Sanders fan, had run-ins with law


Washington (AFP)

James T. Hodgkinson, the rifle-toting 66-year-old who opened fire on a Republican lawmakers practicing for a baseball game Wednesday, was a fervent fan of leftist Senator Bernie Sanders and disdained President Donald Trump.

He showed no previous signs of violent extremism and his attack shocked people who knew him as "Hodges", a popular, "laid-back" blue-collar worker in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois.

But he was also "rough around the edges," according to an acquaintance, and local media reported he had a number of run-ins with local police, including for assaulting friends of his daughter in an 2006 incident.

US media identified Hodgkinson, who died following a shootout with police in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, as the gunman behind the early-morning attack that left five people wounded, including Steve Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.

Stocky, with graying hair and a well-trimmed moustache-goatee combination, Hodgkinson was an ardent supporter of Sanders, the feisty hero of the left who almost defeated Hillary Clinton last year in a tough fight for the Democratic White House nomination.

On his Facebook page he labelled Clinton a "Republican Lite" and signed social media petitions from the liberal group attacking Trump.

He campaigned to raise taxes on the wealthy, calling himself a democratic socialist. And in April via Twitter he urged Democrats in Congress to fight Trump's conservative Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Sanders said in a statement that Hodgkinson "apparently" worked as a volunteer for his presidential campaign last year.

"I am sickened by this despicable act," Sanders said. "Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."

- Blue-collar 'working man' -

Hodgkinson's home town of Belleville, Illinois -- across the Mississippi River from the city of St Louis, Missouri -- is a former manufacturing hub populated largely by German immigrants.

Hodgkinson attended Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, and through the end of last year worked for JTH Inspections, his Facebook page indicates.

"He was a really nice guy. Laid back, rough around the edges. He was a working man," said Matthew Jett, who works at the Main St. Cafe in Belleville, where Hodgkinson was a regular.

"He never talked politics with us," Jett told AFP. "He was pretty popular around here, people knew him. I'm surprised as anybody."

But he was a strong supporter of progressive politics.

His brother Michael Hodgkinson told the New York Times that he was focused on politics but led a normal life.

"I know he wasn't happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff," he said.

Hodgkinson's Facebook page was topped with a picture of Sanders. His posts were mainly endorsements of anti-Clinton and anti-Trump petitions, and reposts of commentary and cartoons with similar sentiments.

The Washington Post quoted a friend, St. Louis restaurant manager Charles Orear, as saying Hodgkinson was "very mellow, very reserved" -- but passionate about the kind of progressive politics that Sanders represents.

In March he endorsed a petition from left-leaning activist group Change.Org branding Trump a "traitor" who "has destroyed our democracy."

"It's Time to Destroy Trump & Co.," the post said.

Hodgkinson's wife told ABC News that he had been living in Alexandria, Virginia, the location of the shooting, for the past two months, but gave no explanation why.

According to the Belleville News-Democrat newspaper he had several run-ins with police, who were called to his home after neighbors complained over dozens of shots he had fired into nearby trees.

In 2006 he was handcuffed and charged after an incident in which he punched one of his daughter's friends and threatened another with a shotgun. Eventually the charges were dropped.