Within minutes of news breaking on June 14 that Republican congressman Steve Scalise had been shot during a baseball practice outside the US capital, supporters of US president Donald Trump and alt-right talking heads were pushing a line that the shooting was part of a left-wing plot:
The president’s son, Donald Jr., gave the idea a boost, linking the shooting with the controversial staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York, where the Roman emperor who gets brutally murdered is, like Trump, a blond man in a suit. Meanwhile, other pro-Trump accounts attacked former attorney general Loretta Lynch and tweeted out identical memes.
There are signs that the shooting was politically motivated: The gunman was later identified as James Hodgkinson, an Illinois home inspector who was a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He had been posting sharp critiques of the Trump administration on Facebook and was unhappy with the results (paywall) of the 2016 presidential election. But well before he was identified, Trump allies had picked up on a quote from Republican representative Jeff Duncan to suggest that Republicans were being targeted.
(It is still unclear whether the man Duncan spoke to beforehand was the shooter or not.)
The shooting happened at about 7:15am. Before 10am, which is to say, well before Hodgkinson’s name had come out, the conservative news portal Drudge Report had a screaming front page, including an incendiary quote that looked like it came from the gunman.
The quote actually came from Mark Walker, a Republican member of Congress, who told NBC he thought the gunman was “there to kill as many Republicans as possible”—and not from Hodgkinson, who died in custody.
After Hodgkinson’s identity was revealed, Trump supporters went further, linking the violence to the various government investigations into potential ties between the Trump election campaign and Russia. Jack Posobiec, an ardent Trump supporter and self-proclaimed media figure (paywall) told his 140,000 Twitter followers it was a “Terrorist Attack on US Capitol After Democrats Call for Blood on the Streets
#Alexandria,” and that the shooter was spreading “left-wing TrumpRussia conspiracy theories.”
Paul Joseph Watson, another pro-Trump media personality, said calling for an investigation into Trump-Russia ties meant the shooter was “radicalised (sic) by MSM’s Russia hysteria.” (MSM here is the mainstream media, which has been closely following the Senate investigation into Russia’s involvement in the US election.)
The “violent left” was a common talking point, and even talk show host Chuck Woolery chimed in:
Meanwhile, on the left, the conspiracy theories were running thick and fast too. Could it be a “false flag,” or someone planted by the pro-Trump camp to make Democrats look bad, Reddit commentators wondered? “Seems like the perfect time for the GOP-dominated government to commit a safe false-flag against them in order to justify their war on liberals, any non-right-wing media, and pick up their terrible approval ratings,” said one.