How Trump and Republicans in Congress are manipulating the Capitol riot, six months later

Paul Gosar claims government ‘cover up’ in Ashli Babbitt’s death after ex-president suggested Capitol officer should be hanged, as hundreds of GOP officials commit to ‘stolen election’ narrative

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 06 July 2021 23:03 BST
Trump claims that Republicans have been targeted by 'disinformation'
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At a campaign-style rally in Sarasota, Florida on 3 July, Donald Trump – painting a dark vision of the state of the US and amplifying his persistent election lies – invoked the name of a woman who was fatally shot by a US Capitol Police officer during a riot that his “stolen election” narrative inspired.

“By the way, who shot Ashli Babbitt?” he said. “We all saw the hand. We saw the gun.”

In the weeks and months after the assault, the question has emerged as a rallying cry and a meme among some congressional Republicans and on the far right – downplaying or celebrating the violence in the halls of Congress that day and condemning the killing of Ms Babbitt, who has become a martyr in their cultural and political cause.

The former president’s surrogates in Congress – including Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz – have also asked for the name of the officer who killed her, as Republicans look to distance themselves from the false election narratives that inspired the attack in the first place.

US Rep Paul Gosar has repeatedly come to her defence.

Marking the six-month anniversary of the attack, Mr Gosar issued a statement from his congressional office pledging to investigate her death, claiming that “President Trump has joined me in seeking the truth.”

In the wake of the assault, the far right has increasingly found an ally in the Arizona congressman, a prominent “Stop the Steal” proponent who has called Joe Biden a “fraudulent usurper” who won the election in a “coup.”

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 Ms Babbitt “was executed in cold blood by an unidentified killer” who was “lying in wait” to kill her.

Video footage from inside the Capitol shows law enforcement warning the mob as it smashed windows and sought to break into the Speaker’s Lobby leading to the House chamber. Ms Babbitt climbed through a window, and the officer fired.

At his rally on 3 July, Mr Trump told the crowd that had Ms Babbitt been “on the other side, the person who did the shooting would be strung up and hung. Now they don’t want to give the name.”

One person in the crowd could be heard yelling “hang him.”

In April, the US Department of Justice called her death a “tragic loss of life” but ruled that the officer fired in self-defence and in the defence of lawmakers and staffers who were evacuating the House chamber, as it was surrounded by a mob that called for the deaths of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, among others.

Mr Gosar 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.”

He has previously suggested that the FBI, with support from Democratic officials, intentionally provoked the attack that injured dozens of law enforcement officers and threatened elected officials in order to entrap Trump supporters – an echo of the “deep state” narrative that has propelled far-right QAnon conspiracists, among others.

He also claimed that “we do not allow the execution of citizens by street ‘justice’ in our country” and that “we have rejected vigilantism and police abuse for generations.” He has also called the killing of racial justice protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin “100 % justified.”

The congressman has called for a “fair investigation” into Ms Babbitt’s death, despite his rejection of both a select committee investigation and bipartisan probe into the Capitol attack, where such questions could be asked with subpoena power.

House Democrats are moving forward with a select committee probe into the causes and aftermath of the attack. Despite their questions and allegations, Republicans have nearly universally opposed any investigation.

During a recent House committee hearing, Mr Gosar claimed that “outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding US citizens, especially Trump voters”.

Republican voters are also more likely to blame Mr Biden and congressional Democrats than Mr Trump and the GOP, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.

The poll found that 68 per cent of GOP voters think “there has been too much focus” on 6 January.

“Leading Republicans have been working to shift the blame to groups like antifa or the FBI – in conservative media, both those groups are frequently portrayed as anti-Trump,” said J Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Perhaps over the past several months, this message has sunk in with Republicans at large.”

Mr Trump’s political allies also have committed to the lie that the election was stolen from him and his supporters, which propelled the mob to the Capitol to stop the certification of millions of Americans’ votes.

At least a third of the nearly 700 Republican midterm candidates running for election in the Senate or House of Representatives have “embraced” the former president’s claims, according to an analysis from The Washington Post.

At least 136 of them are sitting members of Congress who voted against Mr Biden’s electoral college victory,

Republican candidates in state and local elections across the US “are increasingly focused on the last election – running on the falsehood spread by Trump and his allies that the 2020 race was stolen from him.” At least six of them attended the riot on 6 January.

Multiple requests for comment to Mr Gosar’s office and campaign have not been returned.

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