Connolly Staffers Assaulted by Man with Bat in Congressman’s Virginia Office

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A Fairfax police officer talks on the phone outside of Democratic U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly’s district office after a person wielding a baseball bat attacked two of his staff members inside, sending them to the hospital with non-life threating injuries in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S. May 15, 2023.

A man wielding a metal baseball bat assaulted two staffers in the Fairfax, Va., office of Rep. Gerald E. Connolly on Monday, then smashed windows and a computer in an apparent rage after learning the lawmaker wasn’t there, before he was taken into custody, police and the congressman said.

Fairfax police and the U.S. Capitol Police, who are jointly investigating the incident, charged 49-year-old Xuan Kha Tran Pham of Fairfax County, Va., with one count of aggravated malicious wounding and another count of malicious wounding.

The attack left an intern and the congressman’s outreach director with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, Connolly (D) said in an interview. Authorities say the motive is still under investigation.

The attack comes as members of Congress in recent years have dealt with persistent menacing messages and threats – sometimes fueled by the rancorous political climate, though there was no indication that was behind Monday’s incident. The man’s father said his son had long struggled with mental illness, and the congressman said authorities assumed that might have played a role. Lawmakers and other politicians swiftly issued condemnations of the violence.

Last year, the Capitol Police’s Threat Assessment Section examined 7,501 possible threats on members of Congress, though they decided only 313 such cases qualified as true threats and prosecutors moved forward in only 22 cases.

Connolly, who is serving his eighth term, said that his office was working on a constituent issue for Pham at the time of the assaults but that he did not know its exact nature.

The congressman said that staffers had previously talked to the man on the phone and he seemed off, and that he had not received any reports the man said or did anything that would indicate a political motive for the attack.

“The assumption is mental illness is at work, but we don’t know his background,” Connolly said.

Hy Pham, Xuan Pham’s father, said his son was schizophrenic and had dealt with mental illness since his late teens. The son lived with his father, who said he had been unsuccessfully trying to arrange mental health care for Xuan Pham.

“He blamed the FBI for making him sick,” Hy Pham said. “He blamed the Navy for making him sick.”

Connolly said the assailant drove to his district office – which is in an office building and generally not locked, so constituents can access staffers – and walked through the front door carrying the baseball bat Monday morning. At the time, Connolly said he was at a ribbon cutting for a food bank in another part of Fairfax County.

Connolly said the man asked, “Where’s Connolly?” and grew agitated when he learned the congressman was not in the office. Connolly said the man then assaulted the intern, who was sitting at the reception desk, with the baseball bat. Connolly said it was the intern’s first day in the office. He said the man struck her on one side of her body.

A commotion ensued, and Connolly said the man struck the office’s outreach director on the back of the head with the bat. Another staffer, who is a retired Army sergeant, then herded all of the staffers into an office to safeguard them, Connolly said.

“The man then went on a rampage and was smashing glass windows and a computer,” Connolly said, adding that he was rethinking his decision to keep the office unlocked.

Authorities said that a 911 call for the incident came in just before 10:50 a.m. Monday.

Lisa Gardner, a Fairfax City police spokeswoman, said police received a report that a man with a baseball bat was assaulting staffers inside the office. Gardner said police arrived about five minutes after being summoned.

Gardner said officers found two people who had been struck in the upper body with the baseball bat. Connolly said officers used a stun gun to subdue the man.

The injured staffers were taken to a hospital. Connolly said both were awake and speaking when he visited them. A Connolly representative said both had since been released.

“We are extremely, extremely happy this wasn’t worse,” Gardner said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, whose office would prosecute the case, said: “This case is ongoing so my office can’t comment on any specifics, but my thoughts are with the victims and their families. It’s a sad day when public servants are victims of violence.”

A number of politicians from Virginia and elsewhere swiftly condemned the attack on Monday afternoon. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) wrote in a tweet that he was dismayed.

“Intimidation and violence – especially against public servants – has no place in our society,” Warner wrote. “This is an extraordinarily disturbing development, and my thoughts are with the staff members who were injured.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D) wrote in a tweet that the assault was “very, very scary,” and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) said she was “horrified.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said in a tweet: “Violence does not belong in our political system and my prayers are with Rep. 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.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement he had spoken with Connolly “to offer him and his staff the full support of the House Democratic Caucus family in the aftermath of this horrific attack.”

“We must collectively 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,” Jeffries said.

Hy Pham said his son heard voices and had refused to take the medication that was prescribed for him. Last year, Xuan Pham filed a federal lawsuit against the CIA, accusing the spy agency of imprisoning him in a place called “book world” and torturing him “from the fourth dimension.”

Xuan Pham was previously charged with four felonies for allegedly assaulting a police officer and attempting to take a stun gun in an incident that occurred in January 2022, according to Fairfax County court records.

An incident report asserts that Pham had screamed and ran toward a police officer’s cruiser, asking an officer to shoot him. After police told Pham they would be taking him to a mental health facility, the report alleges, Pham grew angry and resisted officers’ efforts to take him into custody, reaching for the gun of one of them. He was ultimately handcuffed and arrested.

The charges were later dropped. The Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney’s office said in a statement that the charges “stemmed from a mental health incident” and were not prosecuted, “as part of an agreement that ensured the individual was complying with mental health services.”

Monday’s incident is the latest in a series of violent attacks targeting politicians and those associated with them.

Connolly, who was inside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack, said Monday’s incident was reminiscent of that earlier violence.

In October, the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was attacked in their San Francisco home. In 2017, a gunman shot and wounded five people, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., and was killed in a gun battle with police. In 2011, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot and wounded in a rampage outside a supermarket in Arizona.

“I hate to think that this is the price we have to pay for public service,” Connolly said. “But this is a political environment where we have people inciting others with their rhetoric.”