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Defuse Some Political Tension by Allowing Campus Free Speech, Says Sanders

Hillary Clinton

After a campaign volunteer of his shot the GOP House whip last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stressed that toning down heated political rhetoric in America should include letting controversial guests speak on college campuses.

James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., reportedly arrived in the Beltway a few weeks before the shooting and was found to have a list with a handful of GOP congressmen’s names. He opened fire Wednesday on the Republicans’ early-morning baseball practice across the street from the YMCA in Alexandria, Va., where he had been spending his days. Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Rep. Roger Williams’ (R-Texas) aide Zachary Barth, Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika and two Capitol Police officers, David Bailey and Krystal Griner, were wounded.

That morning, Sanders said on the Senate floor, “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”

Sunday on CBS, Sanders agreed that efforts to stop free speech can contribute to creating a powder keg.

“Look, freedom of speech, the right to dissent, the right to protest, that is what America is about. And, politically, every leader in this country, every American has got to stand up against any form of violence. That is unacceptable,” the senator said. “And I certainly hope and pray that Representative Scalise has a full recovery from the tragedy that took place.”

Asked about protests on college campuses in an effort to stop controversial speakers, the senator emphasized that “people have a right to speak.”

“And you have a right, if you are on a college campus not to attend. You have a right to ask hard questions about the speaker if you disagree with him or her,” Sanders added. “But what — why should we be afraid of somebody coming on a campus or anyplace else and speaking? You have a right to protest. But I don’t quite understand why anybody thinks it is a good idea to deny somebody else the right to express his or her point of view.”

“What is very clear is, we are in a contentious and difficult political moment in our country’s history. I have very grave concerns about the Trump agenda right now.”

The shooting, followed by congressional comity at the annual baseball game, spurred more lawmakers to talk about how they can set an example for the country through civility.

“I think, you know, what — and, again, where this is such a strange moment is, we are looking at a lot of dishonest news that comes across, where people are lying outrageously about other people,” Sanders said. “And I hope that folks on all sides could say, look, I disagree with him or her, but that is an outrageous lie. But let us, on the other hand, be frank, is, there are real differences of opinions that exist in Congress… And people should understand, it is not that there is all kinds of hatred. There’s a — in the Congress, there is a fundamental disagreement.”

Sanders told CNN that law enforcement had not contacted his office about Hodgkinson.

“In our campaign, we had hundreds of thousands of volunteers. We had rallies that spoke in person to over 1.4 million people. We had rallies in some of the poorest communities of states, I remember, in the South Bronx,” he said. “There was zero violence, no violence at all. And I am absolutely convinced that the overwhelming — not overwhelming — virtually all people associated with our political movement understand you have the right to stand up, debate, you have the right to protest, but violence is not acceptable.”

“So, obviously, it was distressing to find out that this particular person had been a volunteer, I believe in Iowa, for a period of time.”