Lt Michael Byrd, who guarded glass doors leading to a lobby outside the House of Representatives, where lawmakers and staff were huddled, told NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that his single shot “saved countless lives”.
“I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger,” he told the network in an interview broadcast on Thursday. “And that’s my job.”
On 6 January, Babbitt joined hundreds of people who stormed into the Capitol during a joint session of Congress to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, a riot sparked by a months-long campaign to undermine the outcome, amplified by the former president, his allies in Congress and across social media platforms.
On his radio that day, as hundreds of people stormed the Capitol grounds, Lt Byrd received updates from other officers being “overrun” during the assault, he said. “I was very afraid,” he said.
Babbitt, wrapped in an American flag, joined a crowd forcing its way into the Speaker’s Lobby inside the halls of Congress.
After the mob smashed through a window leading inside the chamber of the House, Babbitt was hoisted up.
“I was, again, taking a tactical stance,” Lt Byrd said. “You’re ultimately hoping your commands will be complied with and unfortunately they were not.”
He fired a single shot, and Babbitt fell to the ground.
“You’re taught to aim for centre mass,” he said. “The subject was sideways and I couldn’t see her full motion of her hands or anything. So I guess her movement caused the discharge to fall where it did.”
In an extended interview published by NBC News, he added: “I tried to wait as long as I could. I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors. But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers.”
Despite Babbitt being unarmed, “it did not” change his decision to pull the trigger, Lt Byrd said.
“I had been yelling and screaming as loud as I was, ‘Please stop. Get back. Get back. Stop,’” he told Mr Holt. “We had our weapons drawn.”
His interview follows federal law enforcement’s ongoing attempt to limit his exposure in the wake of “numerous credible and specific threats” of violence against him and others by far-right figures, according to Capitol Police.
He told NBC that he has received threats involving “killing me, cutting off my head, vicious and cruel things”.
“There were some racist attacks as well. It’s all disheartening,” said Lt Byrd, who is Black.
Asked whether he fears revealing his identity on a high-profile network while threats persist, he said “it’s frightening”.
“I believe I showed the utmost courage on 6 January and it’s time to do that now,” he said.
The network’s announcement that it planned to air the interview sparked criticism reviving those warnings.
“I am intrigued and slightly concerned,” former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC on Wednesday. “I’m monitoring communications from violent extremists – they want this guy, they want to find out who he is, many of them already know ... I’m intrigued why he feels now he needs to come forward and explain his actions.”
On 23 August, an internal review from the Capitol Police determined that “the officer’s conduct was lawful and within department policy, which says an officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury”.
The US Department of Justice has also declined to pursue charges against Lt Byrd. Several people who allegedly participated in breaking the glass or the panes to the Speaker’s Lobby door before Babbitt’s death have been charged by federal prosecutors.
But the phrase “Who shot Ashli Babbitt?” surfaced as a right-wing meme, invoked by Trump-supporting rally-goers, by sitting members of Congress and the former president himself, who has demanded the officer’s name and eulogised her in remarks at campaign-style rallies and on Fox News.
“Who was the person that shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman?” he said in an interview with Fox Business in July.
Mr Trump has also called her death a “murder” and falsely claimed that he worked for a high-ranking Democrat, while Lt Byrd reportedly received a torrent of death threats and racist abuse after his name was revealed on right-wing websites and social media networks.
“It’s disheartening,” Lt Byrd told Mr Holt. “If he was in the room or anywhere and I’m responsible for him, I was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family ... I do my job for Republican, for Democrat, for white, for Black.”
His remarks follow a manipulated narrative among GOP lawmakers who have invoked Babbitt’s death in an apparent attempt to deflect from their liability for the violence in the halls of Congress.
Marking the six-month anniversary of the attack, US Rep Paul Gosar issued a statement from his congressional office pledging to investigate her killing, claiming that “President Trump has joined me in seeking the truth.”
He joined 20 GOP lawmakers to refuse to honour law enforcement that protected them on 6 January, and during committee hearings with federal law enforcement officials about the riot response, he claimed that Babbitt “was executed in cold blood by an unidentified killer” who was “lying in wait” to kill her.
Mr Gosar has claimed that “there is a determined effort to cover up the full circumstances of this homicide and the American people won’t stand for it”.
Babbitt’s husband has also asked a judge to order the disclosure of records related to the investigation that determined the shooting was justified.
In a lawsuit filed with Washington DC Superior Court in June, Aaron Babbitt requested witness statements, detectives’ reports, video footage and documents related to Lt Byrd. An initial hearing before a judge is scheduled for 3 September.
A lawyer for her family, which intends to file a $10m wrongful death lawsuit against the officer, has alleged she was “ambushed”.
Hours before the release of the interview, Maryland attorney Terry Roberts named the officer in a press release and promoted a crowdfunding campaign to support the family’s lawsuit.
The Independent has requested comment from Mr Roberts.
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