Va. Shooting Suspect's Politics Voiced in Illinois Newspaper Letters, Social Media

After James T. Hodgkinson allegedly opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in Virginia on Wednesday, authorities are searching for information to help them understand his motivations.

Social media accounts for 66-year-old Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, reveal he was distraught over the presidential election and did not shy away from posting his political views.

A Facebook page in his name displayed affiliation with anti-GOP groups like “Just Say No to Republicans,” as well as posts supportive of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign – and critical of President Donald Trump.

Hodgkinson, who died at an Alexandria-area hospital from multiple gunshot wounds, appears to have sent 18 letters to his local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, between 2010 and 2012.

In those letters, he wrote things like "I have never said life sucks, only the policies of the Republicans” and “It’s not the Grand Old Party anymore. It’s the Greedy One Percenters.”

Arguing for a more progressive federal income tax, Hodgkinson was known to have attended protests in his hometown as well. [[428486483, C]]

A resident of Rep. Mike Bost’s Congressional District, Hodgkinson contacted Bost’s office 10 times between June 2016 and May of this year, Bost said in a statement.

“While he continually expressed his opposition to the Republican agenda, the correspondence never appeared threatening or raised concerns that anger would turn to physical action,” Bost’s statement reads. “Had we any indication that Mr. Hodgkinson posed a threat to anyone’s safety, we would have taken the appropriate steps to alert U.S. Capitol Police immediately.”

Local police and those who knew him echoed the sentiment that Hodgkinson didn’t seem capable of the shooting, which wounded four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. [[428446933, C]]

“I could not believe that,” St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said at a news conference, despite Hodgkinson’s prior encounters with law enforcement.

In late March, neighbors called 911 to complain that Hodgkinson was firing a high-powered rifle on his property.

"For safety reasons we went over and talked to him," Watson said. "He was very nice, said, 'Hey I’ll take it to a range, somewhere that’s safer' and that was the end of it." [[428420693, C]]

Hodgkinson legally owned his weapons, Watson added--which he would not have been able to do if a prior domestic battery charge had not been dismissed, his former attorney said.

In 2006, Hodgkinson was arrested for battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm in connection with the assault of a woman. At the time, police recovered a pocket knife, hair they say was pulled out of the woman's head and a 12-gauge shotgun at the scene.

“Had I not gotten the charge dismissed, he wouldn’t have been able to own a gun,” said Lyndon Evanko, who represented Hodgkinson in the case. “I did my job a little too well,” he added.

“I didn’t see anything political in him,” Evanko recalled, describing Hodgkinson as “a rather angry little man” and “the kind of person who would butt heads with everybody.”

Still, Evanko said he didn’t see Hodgkinson as the type of person who would “do something this heinous” and didn’t even notice any overt political leanings at the time.

“In 2006 that was when Bush was in the White House. I would have thought if you’d see something political you would have seen it then,” Evanko said, adding that he had just learned Hodgkinson’s foster daughter recently died of a heroin overdose. [[428404213, C]]

In Belleville, Hodgkinson previously owned a business conducting home inspections, though his license lapsed in late 2016 and he dissolved the business.

Federal officials told NBC News that he left Illinois for the Alexandria area several weeks ago, and they continue to investigate both that move as well as a motive for the shooting.

Police have not said if the attack was politically motivated, while at least one congressman leaving the practice described an encounter as he left the baseball practice, in which Hodgkinson asked if it was Democrats or Republicans on the field before he opened fire.

Contact Us