On 6 January, a US Capitol Police officer fatally shot a 35-year-old woman, wrapped in an American flag, who 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 of Representatives, Ashli Babbitt was hoisted up. A police officer fired one shot, and she fell to the ground.
In the weeks and months that followed, Ms Babbitt – an Air Force veteran and QAnon proponent who swore by Donald Trump’s baseless “stolen” election narrative and prophesied a “storm” against the so-called “deep state” – has emerged as a martyr for the revisionist far-right, demanding that the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot be identified, and rewriting the narrative to cast her as a “patriot.”
“Nothing will stop us,” she wrote on Twitter the day before her death. “They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours …. dark to light!”
Ms Babbitt served in the US Air Force between 2004 and 2016 and was deployed in two wars, including a year in Iraq.
After 14 years in the military and living in San Diego, California, Ms Babbitt filled her social media profiles with QAnon and adjacent conspiracy theories, her support for Mr Trump, and raged against Democratic lawmakers in her state.
Her brother Roger Witthoeft told The New York Times that she felt “for the first time in her life, she could actually say what she wanted to say, and didn’t have to bottle it up.”
On 6 January, she 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.
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 was calling for the deaths of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, among others.
The officer has not been identified. However, on 25 August it was announced that he would be giving a television interview with NBC News journalist Lester Holt, to be broadcast the following day.
Meanwhile, 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.
His remarks follow a manipulated narrative among GOP lawmakers, invoking Ms Babbitt’s death to deflect from their liability for the violence in the halls of Congress.
The former president’s congressional allies – including Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz – have also asked for the name of the officer who killed her, and US Rep Paul Gosar has repeatedly come to her defence during hearings about the attack.
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.”
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.
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.”
Ms 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 June 1 in Washington DC, Superior Court, Aaron Babbitt requested witness statements, detectives’ reports, video footage and documents with the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot.
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.”
On 23 August, US 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.”
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