Way back in 1976, legendary rocker Elton John told us in song that “sorry seems to be the hardest word.” It appears that these days – but only in certain situations – “terrorism” seems to be a much harder word to say. At least that is the case for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Recently, a group of GOP lawmakers pressed the FBI to revisit the attempted mass murder of Republican congressmen in 2017 at a baseball field in Virginia. Why? Because the Bureau, after investigating the shooting, had decided that the gunman’s motive was “suicide by cop.”
Under pressure, the FBI has now reclassified the shooter, former left-wing activist and Bernie Sanders supporter James Hodgkinson, as a “domestic violent extremist” – whatever that means.
Back to Sir Elton John, with a verse from the well-known 1976 track “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”:
“It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh, it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word”
Substitute “sorry” for “terrorism,” and Elton nailed it. The Bureau, however, cannot seem to bring itself to use the T-word in this particular case.
Politics at the FBI – Again?
Why would that be? Well, Representative Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) offered one theory. During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the incident, the lawmaker asked: “Was this political? Was there a conversation within the FBI that said ‘hey, you know what? this was done by somebody on the left. Let’s not call it terrorism’?” Considering the now well-established politicization of the FBI at that time – under the leadership of Director James Comey and his temporary successor, Andrew McCabe – Wenstrup’s theory is really not all that outrageous.
To continue his line of thinking, Wenstrup, during the hearing, went on: “I don’t know – but in 2017, I didn’t know Andrew McCabe. But certainly we’ve heard a lot about Andrew McCabe and his role in the Russia collusion situation.” Here, the congressman was referring, of course, to the FBI’s investigation into now-discredited allegations that then-President Donald Trump had conspired with the Russians to steal the 2016 election.
At the time, McCabe – who, through his wife, has personal connections to the Democratic Party – was all in on this bogus investigation. So, is it really that much of a stretch to suggest that the then-acting director of the FBI chose for political reasons to have his agency avoid using the word “terrorism”?
Then again, that the Bureau came to the conclusion that the 2017 baseball field shooting was a case of attempted suicide by cop may have just been gross incompetence. After all, it is not entirely clear that McCabe could solve a murder case if he walked into the library and found Colonel Mustard, blood-stained lead pipe in hand, standing over the battered corpse of Miss Scarlett.
The Most Elaborate Ever Suicide by Cop
Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) nearly died that day in 2017 after being shot in the hip and almost bleeding to death. Discounting the label “domestic violent extremist,” since it’s a nonsense term used by the FBI in this case to avoid acknowledging that there was any political motivation behind Hodgkinson’s attack, how does one weigh the credibility of classifying this shooting as terrorism, as opposed to an attempt at suicide by cop?
The latter motive is not only easily dismissed, it is laughable. Suicide by cop is, arguably, the easiest way to end one’s life — easier, even, than leaping from the top of a cliff. After all, to get to the cliff, one must have access to transportation or perhaps be prepared for a very long walk – assuming one does not live near the edge of a cliff. Suicide by cop, however, requires almost no effort whatsoever. It requires no particular planning nor any specific equipment – not even a firearm.
Hard to Ignore the Facts
An act of terrorism then? The FBI defines domestic terrorism as: “Violent criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
A review of the facts surrounding Hodgkinson’s actions in 2017 reveal that he was clearly worthy of the label “domestic terrorist.” It is known that the shooter staked out the scene for weeks in advance of his attack. On the day of the shooting, Hodgkinson approached a lawmaker at the side of the baseball field during a practice for a congressional game to ask whether those on the field were Republicans or Democrats – they were all Republicans. The shooter then returned to his van and retrieved two firearms. During the ensuing assault, Hodgkinson fired more than 100 rounds; fortunately, the only fatality was the gunman himself.
Investigators later discovered a list of six Republican congressmen on the would-be killer’s person. A look at his social media history revealed that he was indeed a left-wing extremist who harbored enormous animosity toward Republicans.
Yet the FBI to this day refuses to assign a political motive to the shooting. Prosecutors in Virginia were not so reticent, acknowledging that Republicans had been specifically targeted and describing the attack as terrorism – which it clearly was, by the FBI’s own definition.
During an April 29 hearing, Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director of the FBI, avoided any mention of Hodgkinson’s political bias but still attempted, unconvincingly, to weave in the suicide-by-cop theory. “It’s fair to say the shooter was motivated by a desire to commit an attack on members of Congress,” Sanborn told lawmakers, “and then knowing by doing so he would likely be killed in the process.” An attack on members of Congress? The implication is that Hodgkinson was not concerned about the party affiliation of his intended victims, though he very clearly was. “This conduct is something that we would today characterize as a domestic terrorism event,” Sanborn stated, presumably with a straight face.
So, it would be considered terrorism now but it wasn’t terrorism in 2017. The obvious question is whether it would have been called terrorism back then if a Trump supporter had gunned down a group of Democrat lawmakers. Would it be right or fair to assert that, without doubt, the FBI would have opened a domestic terrorism investigation? Despite what one suspects, it would not be fair to make that assertion absolutely. However, the words “domestic terrorist” would have been on the front page of every newspaper and on the lips of every Democrat in Congress. That much is hardly open to question.
As great a performer as you were, Elton, you and your songwriting colleague, Bernie Taupin, have sadly missed the mark: It is easy to say sorry – it is not so easy, it seems, to say “terrorism.”
Read more from Graham J. Noble.