When Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, 35, was shot dead by police while trying to force her way through a barricaded door protecting members of the House of Representatives from a mob of rioters inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, she was energized in part by then-President Donald Trump's big lie that Democrats were hard at work stealing the White House from its rightful Republican owners.
Far from dampening support for the big lie, Babbitt's death is being amplified by Trump loyalists into a powerful rallying symbol for far-right anti-government extremists the FBI calls terrorists, who now find aid and comfort within a Trumpified GOP.
Babbitt's canonization as a right-wing martyr is a dangerous development for a Republican Party with members increasingly comfortable pressing for and defending political violence. Trump himself seems to want to use outrage over Babbitt's death as a blast furnace to heat up his 2024 political comeback — but cheerleading extremism is more likely to send the country up in smoke.
"Who was the person who shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman?" Trump asked Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo on Sunday, before interrupting himself to offer an answer: "I will tell you, they know who shot Ashley Babbitt. They're protecting that person. I've heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official — a Democrat."
Trump's rumors have been firmly rejected by law enforcement, according to reporting by NBC News. A senior law enforcement official briefed on the matter said the officer involved was not a member of a security detail provided to a specific member of Congress.
Trump's speculation is also refuted by the video evidence freely available to the public, which clearly shows that Babbitt was not "innocent." She was shot while trying to force entry into a restricted area and disregarding multiple police orders to stop. We also know Babbitt arrived at the Capitol fired up by Trump's conspiracy theories, which she spelled out on her social media profiles alongside threats to Democratic elected officials, such as the vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, and Rep. Maxine Waters of California.
In any case, it is doubtful that anyone in the GOP is actually interested in uncovering the truth about what happened on Jan. 6. Back in May, Republicans loudly and proudly refused to support a bipartisan investigation into the riot. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona went so far as to accuse the FBI of secretly having organized the attack itself — a conspiracy theory amplified by his GOP colleagues Louie Gohmert of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Matt Gaetz of Florida.
But the danger is greater than the now-typical muddying of the waters about what really happened during a day that threatened U.S. democracy. It represents a new tactic to further the spread of propaganda and distortion that courts — rather than denounces — the most dangerous elements of American society. The open embrace of the Jan. 6 rioters as "peaceful patriots" by parts of the GOP signals a grim reality: Republicans simply cannot afford to lose the votes of far-right domestic terrorists.
Trump creating a martyr is Autocracy 101 a symbol to kill for, and a symbol to die for, and that's where we are headed with these white supremacist terrorists. They will use her as justification for whatever deadly violence comes next.