Former president Donald Trump has come under fire for a brief but provocative email asking for the identity of the Capitol police officer who shot and killed a rioter during the 6 January insurrection.
Mr Trump sent an email to supporters on Thursday with just four words: “Who shot Ashli Babbitt?”
Ms Babbitt, a military veteran who took part in the Capitol riot while Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory, was killed as a group of rioters closed in on the House chamber. She has become a cause célèbre among conservatives who have attempted to paint her as a patriotic martyr.
In reality, the Capitol Police officer who shot Mr Babbitt has been identified by federal prosecutors and cleared of wrongdoing. Lawyers for the officer chose not to reveal his name because he has faced death threats.
Mr Trump may have been inspired by the conservative British magazine The Spectator, which reported earlier this week that the officer who shot Ms Babbitt may have been someone on former Vice President Mike Pence’s security team.
“Sources close to and within the intelligence community tell [the reporter] that Babbitt was actually shot by a member of then-vice president Mike Pence’s protective detail,” the publication alleged.
Mr Pence was inside the Capitol when the riot began, presiding over the certification of the election results in a ceremonial role. After the mob breached the building, security rushed him out of the Senate chamber.
Mr Trump’s email appears to be an attempt to further stir up the controversy. Commentators from across the political spectrum condemned the provocation.
“So Donald Trump now asks: ‘Who shot Ashli Babbitt?’” conservative pundit Bill Kristol responded. “Look in the mirror. It is you who are in large measure responsible for her death. She was in DC because of you. She stormed the Capitol because of you. She is not alive now because of you.”
Democratic activist Chris Hahn had the same reaction.
“Donald Trump only needs to look in the mirror if he wants to know who killed Ashli Babbitt,” he tweeted.
So Donald Trump now asks: "Who shot Ashli Babbitt?"
The answer: Have you no shame? Look in the mirror. It is you who are in large measure responsible for her death. She was in D.C. because of you. She stormed the Capitol because of you. She is not alive now because of you.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) July 1, 2021
So Donald Trump wants to know who’s responsible for the death of Ashli Babbitt?
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) July 1, 2021
Vox reporter Aaron Rupar objected for another reason, taking aim at the underlying assumption of the question.
“The subtext of this Ashli Babbitt conspiracy theory is that the officer was somehow in the wrong for shooting someone who was trying to break through the last barricade preventing the Trump mob of which she was a part from attacking members of Congress,” he wrote.
A former New York City police commissioner, however, did not agree that this assumption was wrong.
“An unarmed young woman was shot at point-blank range and killed for trespassing,” Bernie Kerik tweeted. “Any cop in this country they did that anywhere else would already be in prison.”
It should be noted that although Ms Babbitt was reportedly unarmed, many in the mob did have weapons, including chemical sprays, spears, bats, stun guns, and fire extinguishers. By the time Ms Babbitt tried to crawl through a shattered window into the House chamber, Capitol Police had been warned the intruders were armed.
Former GOP congressman Joe Walsh, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020, denounced the former president’s email.
“So Donald Trump wants to know who’s responsible for the death of Ashli Babbitt?” Mr Walsh tweeted. “HE is.”
The Independent has reached out to representatives for Mr Trump and Mr Pence for comment, but has not heard back yet.