Suspect named in baseball bat attack at Democratic congressman’s office

<span>Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP</span>
Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Police in Virginia on Monday named the suspect in an attack in which two staffers at the district office of a Democratic congressman were assaulted with a metal baseball bat and required hospital treatment.

Xuan Kha Tran Pham, 49, was arrested after the attack at Gerry Connolly’s office in Fairfax. Held without bond, Pham faced charges of malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding.

A man with a metal baseball bat walked into the northern Virginia office on Monday, asked for the congressman, then struck two of his workers with the bat, including an intern in her first day on the job, police and the congressman said.

Connolly told CNN one staff member was hit in the head while the other, the intern, was hit on the side.

Speaking to the Associated Press, the congressman said: “Both of them are conscious and talking. They’re both in shock. Their families were with them, too.”

A police spokesperson, Sgt Lisa Gardner, said police were called at about 10.50am. Connolly was not at the office, Gardner said, adding that some staff members hid during the attack.

“You could absolutely tell that the people inside were scared. They were hiding. Someone swinging a bat around, I would be scared as well,” Gardner said.

Connolly said the attacker caused widespread damage, shattering glass and breaking computers. He told CNN the man “was filled with out of control rage”. In a statement, Connolly called the attack “unconscionable and devastating”.

Acts of political extremism, including attacks on lawmakers, have become increasingly common in the US.

Last October, Paul Pelosi, husband of the former Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, was attacked in his home in San Francisco by a man armed with a hammer.

Afterwards, the Michigan representative Debbie Dingell predicted “somebody is going to die”, telling Axios that two years previously, after the now fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson broadcast a segment about her, she “had men outside my home with assault weapons that night”.

The Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, was the target of a foiled rightwing kidnap plot.

Justice Samuel Alito, meanwhile, has complained of an increase in threats to the supreme court. Last year, a man was charged with attempting to kill Brett Kavanaugh, like Alito a member of the 6-3 conservative majority.

In April, the US Capitol police chief, Tom Manger, testified in Congress about the heightened threat.

“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,” Manger said. “Over the course of the last year, the world has continuously changed, becoming more violent and uncertain.”

On Monday, Connolly told the AP the suspect in the attack on his district office was known to Fairfax police but had “never made threats to us so it was unprovoked, unexpected and inexplicable”.

The congressman added: “I have no reason to believe that his motivation was political … but it is possible that the sort of toxic political environment we all live in, you know, set him off, and I would just hope all of us would take a little more time to be careful about what we say and how we say it.”

US Capitol police and Fairfax police said the motive remained unclear. It was not immediately clear if the suspect had an attorney.

Police said the man was suspected in a separate attack a short time earlier on Monday. A man later identified as Pham approached a woman parked in her car about five miles from Connolly’s office and asked the woman if she was white, then hit her windshield with a bat and ran away, according to police. The woman was not injured.

Pham’s father, Hy Pham, told the Washington Post his son was schizophrenic and had dealt with mental illness since his late teens. Hy Pham told the newspaper he had been unsuccessfully trying to arrange mental health care for his son.

In May 2022, a person whose name and community of residence matches Xuan Kha Pham’s sued the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court. In a hand-written complaint, the plaintiff alleged the CIA had been “wrongfully imprisoning me in a lower perspective” and “brutally torturing me with a degenerating disability consistently since 1988 till the present from the fourth dimension”.

Connolly, 73, has represented the 11th congressional district in Virginia since 2009. A prominent Democrat, he frequently spars with Republicans who control the House.

Last week, Connolly criticised CNN’s decision to host Donald Trump for a town hall in New Hampshire, telling Fox News the event was a “travesty”.

“Why would you put a liar and a convicted criminal on a town hall?” Connolly asked, adding: “To me, it is frankly reprehensible.”

Trump is not a convicted criminal. Last week, in a civil case in New York, he was found liable for sexual assault and defamation against the writer E Jean Carroll.

On Monday, Connolly thanked police and emergency medical professionals. His focus, he said, was on ensuring his staff members received “the care they need”.

“I have the best team in Congress,” Connolly said. “My district office staff make themselves available to constituents and members of the public every day.”

Mark Warner, one of two Democratic senators from Virginia, said: “Intimidation and violence – especially against public servants – has no place in our society. This is an extraordinarily disturbing development.”

Jason Miyares, the Republican attorney general of Virginia, wished Connolly’s staffers well and said: “Political violence is always unacceptable. The coward who did this should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor, said: “Violence does not belong in our political system and my prayers are with … Gerry Connolly’s staff for a speedy recovery. We’ve seen this against our judiciary, we’ve seen this against our legislative branch and it has no place in our commonwealth.”

But Dan Goldman, a Democratic congressman from New York, linked the attack to remarks by Republicans.

“This is horrifying,” Goldman wrote. “From ‘very fine people on both sides’” – which Donald Trump said about violence at a far-right march in Virginia in 2017 – “to calling January 6 a ‘peaceful protest’, there are serious consequences when elected officials refuse to condemn or outright glorify political violence.”

“At this time, it is not clear what the suspect’s motivation may have been,” Capitol Police said in a news release announcing a joint investigation with the Fairfax City Police Department.

Capitol police threat assessment agents have been sent to Fairfax.

  • Associated Press contributed to this report