As partisanship and divisiveness in our culture become more toxic and pervasive, we are tragically seeing it metastasize into violence and attempted violence. One of the most horrific acts of political violence in our country occurred on June 14–Flag Day, ironically–2017, just five months after President Trump took office.
In a tradition dating to 1909, there has been an annual Congressional baseball game for charity between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. By 2017, after years of ramped up partisanship, the game had become one of the last vestiges of friendly social bipartisanship in Washington. Early on that June day, some Republicans were practicing for the big event. A crazed man from Illinois, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, had traveled to Washington and shortly after 7:00 that morning approached the baseball diamond at a park in Alexandria, Virginia and opened fire with a rifle. Before it was over, he had fired off some 60 rounds and wounded GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and four others. As a result of returning gunfire from police, the gunman later died of wounds. After a long, hard-fought recovery, Scalise survived and is again serving in the House.
Hodgkinson had earlier supported the leftist “Occupy Wall Street” movement, had posted anti-GOP and anti-Trump diatribes on social media, and was a self-identified huge supporter of Senator and failed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT). After the attack, Sanders condemned it in the strongest terms possible. Still, the event shows the power of power of the media and national conversation to be so strong, as to motivate an unstable person to an act of unthinkable violence and terror.
Although the 2017 baseball game shooting should have been a wake-up call about violence and extremism, political life and discourse seem to be growing even more toxic. In early 2020 the US Supreme Court was hearing a case about a Louisiana law requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges in order to perform abortions.
Speaking to supporters in March 2020 about that pending case, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said publicly: “They’re taking away fundamental rights. I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind! And you will pay the price! You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”
Since Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were sitting US Supreme Court justices serving life terms and would never face election, it was unclear what Schumer meant by “you will pay the price!” and “You won’t know what hit you” meant. However, many interpreted it as a kind of dark threat or even masked call to violence.
In the aftermath of a leaked Supreme Court draft letter regarding the possible overturning of the 1973 case Roe vs. Wade, the rhetoric has become more heated and crowds have even been protesting outside the personal homes of some SCOTUS justices in suburban Virginia and Maryland. In Virginia law, protesting outside a private residence is illegal.
In light of those protests, the US Senate did vote recently to provide beefed-up security around for the SCOTUS justices. However, the Democrat-led House of Representatives has refused to pass the measure so it could go to the White House for President Biden’s signature.
Many are publicly wondering why the House is planning a televised hearing tonight about the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol, while still not taking action on the bill to enhance protection for Supreme Court members.
Speaking on May 5 of this year to Fox New Channel’s “America Reports,” Virginia’s senior Sen. Mark Warner roundly condemned the protests and threats of violence: “[I] think anyone who is in public life, whether you are a Supreme Court justice under threat, whether you are some of the … senators who voted for the impeachment of Mr. Trump whose lives were put in threat, I think that kind of action is outrageous — either end of the political spectrum,” Warner said. “And we need to do all we can, and if there are more, you know, secret service or other security entities that need to protect our justices, amen. People should not serve in public life and feel that outrageous extremists on either end of the political agenda suddenly have license to physically, verbally attack public officials.”
Things then took an uglier turn early on Wednesday, June 8, when Nicholas John Roske, a 26-year-old white man from California, was arrested for seeking to assassinate a sitting Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh. According to court records, two US Deputy Marshals on guard duty saw Roske dressed in black and get out of a taxi in front of Kavanaugh’s home in the early minutes of June 8. The Justice and his family were at home at the time. Roske was arrested after he called Montgomery County, Maryland 911 and self-reported that he was feeling suicidal and planned to kill Justice Kavanaugh. Roske had a Glock 17 pistol, ammunition, a knife, zip ties, pepper spray, duct tape, and other items. Roske claimed he was upset about Kavanaugh’s positions on abortion and gun control, and thus traveled across the country with an aim to assassinate him and then commit suicide. An attempt of this nature against a Supreme Court justice is unprecedented in our country.
Shortly after the incident, the White House did release a statement from President Biden where he condemned the attempted murder. However, in his first sitting interview in some 100 days with late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel on the same day this frightening news broke, Biden did not condemn or even mention the attempted assassination, nor did Kimmel ask about it.
Since Sen. Schumer is the Democrat majority leader in the Senate, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote in that divided 50-50 body, The Roanoke Star reached out to Virginia’s two US Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats. The Roanoke Star asked both senators if they had any statement about Roske’s attempted attack, any statement or disavowal of Schumer’s incendiary remarks from 2020, or any intention to see Schumer replaced as the leader of their party in the Senate.
Update June 15, 2022: No response to the above questions has been received from Sen. Warner. However, a spokesperson for Sen. Kaine did give this statement: “Senator Kaine denounces all violence including threatened violence against members of the judiciary. He was in full support of unanimous legislation passed a few weeks ago in the Senate to enhance security for Supreme Court Justices.” However, Sen. Kaine’s response did not address his position on Sen. Schumer’s incendiary remarks from 2020 or if he has a position on Sen. Schumer remaining as majority leader.