NEW YORK (NewsNation) — The man accused of attacking U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, at an upstate event Thursday is out of jail this morning. Meanwhile, the congressman says he’s doing OK after only suffering minor injuries.
Photos show what appears to be a two-bladed weapon clenched in the suspect’s fist as he approached Zeldin.
Zeldin’s campaign said the attacker was taken into custody and the congressman continued his speech.
“I’m OK,” Zeldin said in a statement. “Fortunately, I was able to grab his wrist and stop him for a few moments until others tackled him.”
President Joe Biden condemned the attack in a statement released Friday afternoon.
“As I’ve said before, violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics. I am especially grateful for the courage of those who immediately intervened, and that he is unharmed and was able to continue his speech,” the statement read in part.
NewsNation reporter Dray Clark has heard from sources this morning that the suspect may be an Iraq War veteran, and was heard to say, “You’re done” before the fracas began. Clark said he learned the suspect may also have been intoxicated.
The attacker climbed onto a low stage where the congressman spoke to a crowd of dozens outside Rochester, flanked by bales of hay and American flags. A video posted on Twitter shows the two falling to the ground as other people try to intervene.
Among those who helped to subdue the attacker was Zeldin’s running mate, former New York Police Department deputy inspector Alison Esposito, said state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy. NewsNation local affiliate WROC reported that AMVETS National Director Joe Chenelly was also one of the bystanders who tackled and restrained the attacker.
“When I saw him coming up on the stage, climbing up in a spot that he didn’t belong, I came around behind stage and got up behind the congressman,” Chenelly said. “And when he pulled out the blade and lunged at the congressman, I said, ‘We’ll get him from the back’ and pulled him down to the ground, where we were able to restrain him until law enforcement arrived.”
Chenelly, who’s running for New York State Assembly, actually had a chance to speak briefly with the suspect while he was restrained. Now, he hopes the attacker eventually gets help.
“When he said he’d served in Iraq, I went down hands on my knees and said, ‘You know, we’re going to get through whatever you’ve done here tonight,'” Chenelly said.
As a combat veteran himself, Chenelly said the fact that the suspect fought in the Iraq War really stood out to him, noting a mental health crisis “nationwide” is affecting both those who served as well as civilians.
“That just struck me, pulled me in a little bit, and snapped (me) from being someone trying to stop an attacker to somebody who wanted to get back to being veterans advocate immediately,” he said. “Obviously what he did yesterday is very serious and bad stuff. But once he works his way through that we will make sure that he gets the services that he needs.”
Langworthy told The Associated Press that he didn’t have any details on the attacker or his weapon, but exchanged text messages with Zeldin afterward while the congressman was speaking to police.
“He is fine. He’s not seriously injured. It’s just a chaotic scene there,” Langworthy said.
In a statement, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned the attack and said she was “relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody.”
The New York GOP is asking Hochul to assign a state police detail to Zeldin for the rest of his campaign, but the governor’s press secretary said those details are up to the New York State Police to decide on.
Zeldin, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has represented eastern Long Island in Congress since 2015, is a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and was among the Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.
He has focused his campaign on fighting crime but faces an uphill battle against Hochul. He’ll need to persuade independent voters — who outnumber Republicans in the state — as well as Democrats in order to win the general election.
Democrats are expected to focus on Zeldin’s vocal defense of Trump during both of his impeachments and objection to the election results.