Metro-East News

Local Sanders backers say they never heard of Hodgkinson before shooting

Witness video captures gunshots at Republican congressional baseball practice

Witness Noah Nathan captured gunshots in a video, while in a dog park next to the park where Republican members of Congress were practicing for the congressional baseball game. Several people were injured, including Rep. Steve Scalise.
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Witness Noah Nathan captured gunshots in a video, while in a dog park next to the park where Republican members of Congress were practicing for the congressional baseball game. Several people were injured, including Rep. Steve Scalise.

Local volunteers in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign say they have no recollection of the 66-year-old Belleville man who shot and injured several people practicing for a congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday.

James T. Hodgkinson’s Facebook page was plastered with posts in support of the Vermont senator before the page was taken down Wednesday after the shooting. One of his neighbors, Aaron Meurer, said during the 2016 election season, Hodgkinson had a lone Bernie Sanders sign near the road in the front yard of his rural Belleville home.

But local volunteers and delegates for Sanders said they did not know Hodgkinson, who died Wednesday after exchanging gunfire with police at the ballpark.

Becky Wuest, a Sanders delegate from Belleville, said she “never heard of him.” She said local meetings were small, with only 15 to 20 people usually attending.

“The Bernie Sanders campaign was all about working together to bring change to the process of elections,” Wuest said. “What he did, it’s completely opposite.”

Lynne Schwartzhoff of Belleville, who ran as a delegate for Sanders, said she questions Hodgkinson’s role in the campaign.

“I do not know that man, nor did he take part in any (local) campaign activities that I know of,” Schwartzhoff said. “As far as what they’re saying about how he was involved (in the campaign), I think it’s a little bit much.”

Schwartzhoff said Hodgkinson’s actions do not reflect Sanders supporters.

“We all think it’s a horrible tragedy. We’re pretty much peace-loving, people concerned with justice and the well-being of all people,” Schwartzhoff said.

Hodgkinson’s name was not on any group lists, local Bernie supporter Karen Lea Sandefur said in a post on Facebook.

I don't remember ever seeing Hodgkinson in any of our local Bernie campaign activities. He isn't on any group lists of...

Posted by Karen Lea Sandefur on Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Another local Sanders delegate, Pam Gronemeyer, said she was often at campaign headquarters in Collinsville, but never saw nor heard of Hodgkinson. She said she never saw his name on a handful of social media pages dedicated to Sanders supporters in the metro-east.

“I think probably more than a Bernie supporter he was unbalanced,” Gronemeyer said.

Sanders said he was “sickened” by Hodgkinson’s actions.

A St. Louis resident, Charles Orear, said he had met James T. Hodgkinson. Orear told The Washington Post on Wednesday he worked with Hodgkinson in Iowa and Illinois on the Vermont senator’s 2016 presidential campaign. They reportedly stayed together at a home in Rock Island after canvassing.

Joe Ferraro is an administrator of the President Bernie Sanders Facebook Group.

Ferraro said he lets anyone into the group as a form of free expression, but reiterated he doesn’t condone violence.

“The guy is insane,” Ferraro said, referring to Hodgkinson.

Ferraro said Wednesday was a depressing day.

“Violence is reserve of people who have nothing else to offer,” Ferraro said. “And what he did was wrong. I know we’ve got an electoral system that is completely busted. No one is taking responsibility for everything, but violence is going to get us nowhere.”

Hodgkinson was not a member of local left-leaning activist group The Indivisible 12th, which is based in Illinois 12th Congressional District, and was not involved in any of the group’s protests or events, according to group organizer Shannon Russell.

“The Indivisible 12th does not, and will not, condone any kind of violence, including jokes about assassinating the President,” Russell wrote in a statement. “No matter how much we oppose Trump’s agenda, we will never support rhetoric that inflames the hatred of those who are on the brink of violent action. We are disgusted with the despicable act of this coward.”

Robert Becker, former Iowa state director for the Sanders campaign, said Hodgkinson was not among approximately 100 paid professionals on the campaign staff there.

“I personally spoke with all of our paid staff and organizers in the Quad Cities, and nobody remembers this guy,” Becker said.

More than 10,000 volunteers came to the Quad Cities for the campaign, he added. Volunteers completed a sign-up process, but did not undergo a background check like paid staffers do, Becker said.

“It’s possible he came in and volunteered one day, but nobody had any recollection of him, or he just didn’t stand out,” Becker said. “If you get someone in the office who espouses violence or who is destructive, we show them the door, but if he came here, he didn’t trip any alarm bells.”

A former alderman from Davenport, Iowa told the Globe Gazette he remembers Hodgkinson. Wayne Hean told the Mason City, Iowa-based newspaper that he was “disturbed” by Hodgkinson’s views, which he described as “extreme.”

Reporter Joseph Bustos contributed to this article.