FLYNN: The Man Behind the Last Successful Assassination Attempt on a Congressman Hated Baseball, Too

Fenway Outfield Grass
Dan Flynn

A gunman shot House Republican Whip Steve Scalise and a congressional staffer on Wednesday morning while the pair prepared for the annual Congressional baseball game. Nearly four decades ago, gunmen murdered California Democrat Leo Ryan and wounded his staffer Jackie Speier, who now represents in Congress some of the same people her former boss represented.

The Alexandria shooting recalls the carnage on a jungle airstrip in Guyana—arguably the last time that someone murdered a sitting American congressman (some who remember Larry McDonald may disagree). The man behind Wednesday’s attack and the man behind 1978’s carnage that killed five (before 900 or so more lost their lives) both hated Republicans. They both strangely hated baseball, too.

This seemingly insignificant common denominator between the two attacks gains significance when one ponders: What healthy American hates the national pastime? A bucolic, beautiful game seems a strange sport to despise. But some do, and this—more so than any Rorschach test or psychologist’s algorithm—alerts us to a disturbed mind.

One can say that one who turns a baseball field into a battlefield reviles the game Americans love, right? And as for the Alexandria gunman’s more successful Congressional assassin in Guyana, his declarations detesting the diamond linger long after his departure.

Jim Jones, who ordered a dozen or so followers to open fire on a party departing his Jonestown settlement on the last day of its existence, loathed sports, interrupting a basketball game with a Bible sermon as a child and banning followers from attending baseball games as an adult. The tapes of his California sermons record him threatening to expel a follower caught going to San Francisco Giants games. Jones tells the African American frequenter of Candlestick Park, “You better lay off wasting our money on racist sports.”

The unathletic and uninterested killjoy, the last kid picked on the playground, made a virtue of his vice by decrying sports as an immoral, individualistic distraction.

“We’ve talked about the capitalism of ballgames, the exploitation of blacks by sports clubs, the miserable revelations,” Jones further browbeat the baseball enthusiast. “I’ve spent two or three sermons — three — talking about the revelations of a former ballplayer, how they give them hypodermics that kill them, to get more energy out of them, make them muscular. But it finally kills them or makes them addicts. And they’re all involved in barbarous misuse by these organizations, and the homosexuality that was—sadism, sadistic homosexuality—encouraged by coaches.”

Jones, ironically himself involved in both the abuse of drugs and the abuse of underlings through “sadistic homosexuality,” begrudgingly allowed his followers’ kids to play high school baseball. But in abruptly absconding to South America in 1977, Peoples Temple killed the baseball season by taking most of the team’s players with it. Jones permitted baseballs in Jonestown. But the socialist preacher’s progress report for his 3,000-acre commune pointed out immediately after noting the baseballs: “Central to the use of all equipment is the emphasis on cooperation rather than competitive values on the playground.”

Kids who competed at the plate know that a curve ball rarely cooperates. Baseball is a frustrating game. Life becomes more frustrating for those who refused to play it.