Why Trump Is Anointing Ashli Babbitt as MAGA’s First Martyr

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Carlos Barria/Reuters
Carlos Barria/Reuters

We’ve all heard the old adage that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

With Ashli Babbitt, Donald Trump and the GOP have found a perfect martyr to rationalize their perpetual victimhood and inspire future “freedom fighters” to assist in their full-scale assault on democracy.

Babbitt was one of thousands of Trump supporters who decided to join the violent insurrection on Jan. 6 and overrun the U.S. Capitol in hopes of canceling a free and fair election. She was shot by a Capitol police officer while climbing through a broken window on a door that led to the Speaker’s Lobby. She died while wearing a Trump flag as a cape.

The pointless death of the 35-year-old Air Force veteran came in the service of Trump’s Big Lie, but his party has shown no contrition. Rather, Republicans are cynically exploiting her death to fuel their dangerous quest for power at all costs.

Tucker Carlson Bizarrely Suggests Capitol Insurrection Was Orchestrated by FBI

This week, Trump declared that the police officer had “no reason” to shoot Babbitt, because she was not a threat as she tried to breach the door amid a mob storming the Capitol, including people who brought weapons and openly announced their intent to lynch Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. He went on, asking, “And why isn’t that [officer’s case] being opened up, and why isn’t that being studied? They’ve already written it off. They said that case is closed. If that were the opposite, that case would be going on for years and years, and it would not be pretty.”

In April, the police officer who fatally shot Babbitt was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. His identity has not been released due to death threats that inevitably increased after Trump released a one-line statement last week asking “Who Shot Ashli Babbit?” That echoed Rep. Paul Gosar, an ally of avowed white supremacists, who accused the police officer of supposedly “lying in wait” to “execute” Babbitt.

Gosar and 20 other Republicans voted against honoring law enforcement officers with the congressional medal of honor for protecting their lives on Jan. 6. Trump, who now says the police had “no reason” to shoot a violent insurrectionist, declared “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” during the overwhelmingly peaceful protests following the murder of George Floyd. Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton called on Trump to send in the military and respond with an “overwhelming show of force” to men, women and children objecting to the police killing unarmed Black people.

The “Blue Lives Matter” crowd that claims to care so much about the safety and security of our law enforcement desperately wants to “move on” from even investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection that killed Officer Brian Sicknick, with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowing to strip Republicans of their committee assignments if they agree to join that investigation.

The goal is to keep enraging and confusing their base, convince them of a far-reaching “Deep State” conspiracy committed to depriving them of power and glory and “replacing” them, and deflect from the Jan. 6 investigations that will further document the extremist elements embedded within the GOP and conservative movement.

That extremism motivated Babbitt, who’d posted regularly about QAnon since last February and was seen wearing a “We Are the Q” shirt. She saw Trump as a savior and redeemer, a powerful figure who was going to destroy the evil cabal of liberals and Democrats who she believed are “Satan worshipping pedophiles” running a sex-trafficking operation. (23 percent of Republicans believe this wild conspiracy theory according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute Poll.) In her last tweet before arriving in the nation’s capital, Babbitt wrote, “Nothing will stop us...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!”

The “storm” in the QAnon lexicon refers to a “cataclysmic event” when Trump’s enemies, including the Deep State, will be defeated. After seeing the harrowing video footage of the takeover, does anyone really believe that Babbitt and her fellow insurrectionists would simply have had a nice cup of tea and civil chat with Pelosi if they had found her that day?

“She was absolutely radicalized—by not just the GOP, but also this QAnon ideology,” Professor Mia Bloom, co-author of Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon, told me in a phone interview. “It was a layering, one idea upon the other. It was ‘the Democrats were evil,’ they had ‘stolen the election,’ and she was a super-patriot who was going to be there for Trump.”

Bloom, who devotes an entire chapter in her book to Babbitt, mentioned that Babbitt’s mental health issues and financial problems, compounded by the pandemic, contributed to the former Obama voter becoming a full-fledged paranoid conspiracy theorist willing to assault the U.S. Capitol for Trump.

Like Cesar Sayoc before her, Babbitt was an avid consumer of Fox News, in particular praising Tucker Carlson. Sayoc, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sending functional pipe bombs to prominent critics of Donald Trump, said he was radicalized by Fox News. Rosanne Boyland, a 34-year old Trump and QAnon supporter, was also killed while participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Her brother-in-law blames Trump for inspiring the riot and her death.

Sayoc and Boyland weren’t made into martyrs by Trumpists, a process that Babbitt has slowly undergone since she died in January. Sayoc is a coward and a criminal. Boyland wasn’t shot to death by the police; she was trampled by the mob she’d been a part of. Their lives and identity couldn’t be cynically exploited and abused by conservative propagandists and hate merchants for their dubious causes.

But Babbitt—a woman, a wife, an Air Force veteran, and a true believer for Trump who, according to them, was “assassinated” by the “Deep State”—is an ideal character to glorify in death for a conservative movement that has turned into a racket and cult, a “victim” who can no longer speak for herself and can thus embody whatever fiction and grievance they want to promote.

On right-wing social media platforms she is being called “the first victim of the second Civil War” and a “freedom fighter.” Until last week, Sears and Kmart were selling “Ashli Babbitt American Patriot” T-shirts on their websites. Even Vladimir Putin is getting in on the action to deflect from his own abuses of power. When asked by NBC News’ Keir Simmons if he ordered the assassination of political dissident Alexei Navalny, Putin hit back, “Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?”

How comforting to know that Putin shares the same script and talking points as Trump, Gosar, and right-wing media personalities.

Ultimately, the purpose of anointing Ashli Babbitt, and demonizing the officer who shot her in the process, is to justify the GOP’s goal of attacking our democratic institutions to ensure minority rule. If the base believes that they are being prosecuted, oppressed and even “assassinated” like Babbitt, then they will justify any and all means to reject Democratic rule and future elections that deprive them of power.

A martyr like Ashli Babbitt is what they need to inspire future “freedom fighters” for the next coup. Don’t be surprised to see more terrorists and violent extremists in red caps and Trump capes.

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