Staff members attacked with bat at congressman’s Virginia office
Representative Gerald E. Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said a person armed with a baseball bat attacked two staff members at his district office in Fairfax on Monday.
By Luke Broadwater, Remy Tumin and Stephanie Lai
A man armed with a baseball bat and demanding to see Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., attacked and injured two staff aides in a rampage inside the congressman’s Fairfax, Virginia, office, the latest episode in a surge of political violence across the country.
Xuan Kha Tran Pham, 49, of Fairfax, was facing charges on one count of felony aggravated malicious wounding and one count of malicious wounding, according to the Fairfax City Police Department. He was being held without bond.
Police said they had not yet identified a motive, and Capitol Police said in a statement that the suspect was not known to them.
Sgt. Lisa Gardner, a spokesperson for the Fairfax City Police, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that the assailant walked into Connolly’s office after 10:30 a.m. with what appeared to be a metal baseball bat and struck two staff members in the upper body.
Both staff members were conscious when the police arrived about five minutes after a 911 call, she said. They were taken to and then released from the hospital, Connolly said.
“You could absolutely tell that the people inside were scared; they were hiding,” Gardner said.
“It’s quite frankly scary that someone can walk up to an office with a baseball bat and just start swinging at innocent victims,” she added.
Connolly represents a swath of the northern Virginia suburbs west of Washington. He was first elected to Congress in 2008. In a statement after the attack, he said he had “the best team in Congress.”
“My district office staff make themselves available to constituents and members of the public every day,” Connolly said. “The thought that someone would take advantage of my staff’s accessibility to commit an act of violence is unconscionable and devastating.”
Speaking later to reporters on Capitol Hill, Connolly said the attacker struck one of his senior aides in the head with the metal bat, and hit an intern in the side — on her first day on the job.
“Imagine your first day in the office,” a man “comes in with a baseball bat and beats you,” Connolly said.
While members of Congress are protected on Capitol Hill by the United States Capitol Police, their district offices generally do not receive such protection unless there is a specific known threat to the member.
In Monday’s attack, the assailant caused substantial damage in Connolly’s office, shattering glass in a conference room and breaking computers.
Pham was taken into custody within five minutes of police arriving on the scene.
Last year, Pham filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia against the CIA alleging that the agency had imprisoned him for decades in a “lower perspective based on physics called the book world” and demanding $29 million. The suit, which was handwritten, claimed the agency was “brutally torturing” him with a “degenerative disability” from the “fourth dimension.”
“This is a gentleman with a long history of mental illness,” Connolly said. “He’s been engaged in bizarre and untoward behavior in the past, including violent behavior. And he decided today, for whatever reason, to descend upon us and inflict more of the same. He needs intense treatment, I think.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the House minority leader, called the attack “horrific.”
“We are grateful for the members of law enforcement and medical professionals who swiftly acted to apprehend the suspect and care for the affected members of our Capitol Hill community,” Jeffries said. “The safety of our members and of our staff remains of paramount importance, particularly given the increased instances of political violence in our country.”
Jeffries said he asked the House sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol Police to “take every available precaution to protect members and our staff, who serve the American people with patriotism and passion and deserve to do so without fear for their safety.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he had reached out to Connolly after the attack. “We’re all praying for the quick recovery for the staffers injured and grateful for the quick actions of the law enforcement who apprehended the suspect,” McCarthy said.
The attack comes amid a rise in threats and violent political speech against members of Congress in recent years. In October, an intruder bludgeoned Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, with a hammer inside their San Francisco home after the attacker shouted, “Where is Nancy?”
Last month, J. Thomas Manger, the Capitol Police chief, testified on Capitol Hill about the heightened threat climate across the country.
Last year, there were more than 7,500 threats against members of Congress. In 2017, there were fewer than 4,000 such threats.
“One of the biggest challenges we face today is dealing with the sheer increase in the number of threats against members of Congress — approximately 400% over the past six years,” he said. “Over the course of the last year, the world has continuously changed, becoming more violent and uncertain.”