FBI defends 'suicide by cop' designation for 2017 baseball field shooting

“It’s fair to say that the shooter was motivated by wanting to attack members of Congress and then knowing that he would likely be killed in the process,” said Jill Sanborn, assistant manager of the FBI, during one Hearing before a subcommittee on home remedies.

Sanborn’s comments came in response to questions from the panel’s Republican Chief Rep. Robert Aderholt, whose investigation came after a week of GOP lawmakers repeatedly reprimanding the FBI for its year-long conclusion – first reported by POLITICO last week – that the attack should be classified as “suicide by police officers”.

Legislature says the FBI announced its conclusion during a private briefing with members of the GOP baseball team in November 2017, but their conclusion remained secret until Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who was present at the shootout, denounced FBI Director Christopher Wray grilled about it during a House Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month. Democrats and Republicans during the hearing raised concerns about the FBI’s classification of the attack.

Sanborn said if the shooting took place today, the case would likely be classified as domestic terrorism, in part due to a shift in understanding about loner actors. Since 2016, the FBI has seen an increase in attacks from people with multiple motivations – some ideological, some personal, she said.

“It’s a mix of their ideology, but often a close partnership with a personal complaint,” said Sanborn. “As you can imagine, it is very difficult to figure out what was really the motivating factor.”

As of this month, the FBI had said little about the 2017 shooting since its immediate aftermath. Investigators discovered that Hodgkinson, an Ohio resident, had camped for weeks in his van near the baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Before opening fire, he approached one of the players, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), And asked if the team was Republicans or Democrats. Investigators found a list of the names of GOP lawmakers in Hodgkinson’s pocket, and social media posts showed that he was joining the political left.

A Virginia prosecutor investigating the shooting classified it as a “crime of domestic terrorism” under state law. Sanborn stressed that given the trends that have prevailed since the 2017 shootings, the FBI could potentially classify the Hodgkinson case differently today.

“If it happened today,” she said, “we would open this up as a domestic terrorism case.”

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