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Shooting of Ashli Babbit
Part of Law enforcement response to the 2021 United States Capitol attack
Crowd shortly after the breach (top); tear gas deployed against rioters (bottom left); gallows (bottom right).
DateJanuary 6, 2021
Time2:44 pm (UTC-5)
LocationUnited States Capitol, Washington, D.C., U.S.
Coordinates38°53′23″N 77°00′40″W / 38.88972°N 77.01111°W / 38.88972; -77.01111Coordinates: 38°53′23″N 77°00′40″W / 38.88972°N 77.01111°W / 38.88972; -77.01111
TypeKilling by a law enforcement officer
CauseDeadly force used while guarding members of congress
DeathsAshli Babbitt

On January 6, 2021, rioter Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot while breaching the United States Capitol building.[1][2][3] She was part of a mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump who attacked the Capitol Building seeking to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.[4][5][6] The Capitol Complex was locked down and evacuated as rioters assaulted law enforcement officers, vandalized property, and occupied the building for several hours.[7]

As representatives were being evacuated, one of the rioters attempted to climb through a shattered window in a barricaded door.[8][9][10][11] At 2:44 p.m., the rioter, later identified as QAnon follower Ashli Babbitt, was shot in the shoulder/neck by an officer of the Capitol Police.[12][13]

A Capitol Police emergency response team administered aid, and Babbitt was transported to Washington Hospital Center where she later died.[14][15] The shooting was investigated and deemed to be "lawful and within Department policy".[16]

Background

Attempts to overturn the 2020 election

Main article: Attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election

After Joe Biden won the 2020 United States presidential election,[17] then-incumbent Donald Trump pursued an aggressive and unprecedented[18] effort to overturn the election,[19][20] with support and assistance from his campaign, his proxies, his political allies, and many of his supporters. These efforts culminated in the 2021 United States Capitol attack.

Personal life and conspiracy beliefs

In 2004, Ashli Babbitt had enlisted in the United States Air Force, serving twelve years; from 2010, she served in the Air National Guard. Babbitt had reportedly been deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar. Six of her years in service were spent in a "Capitol Guardians" unit of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, whose mandate is to defend the Washington D.C. region and quell civil unrest.[21] Babbitt was noted for insubordination and was demoted during her career.[21] She reached the rank of senior airman, a "relatively low rank" for a twelve-year veteran according to the Washington Post.[21][22][23][24]

In 2016, Babbitt faced criminal charges of reckless endangerment in Maryland after she repeatedly smashed her SUV into a vehicle being driven by a romantic rival.[25] Citing ongoing harassment, the victim obtained multiple judicial orders forbidding Babbitt from contact.[25]

Babbitt was at one point a supporter of Barack Obama. She later registered as a libertarian.[21]

In 2018, Babbitt moved to California where she and her husband purchased a pool servicing business. One customer recalled having fired the company after Babbitt delivered a profanity-laced political rant over the telephone.[26]

As Babbitt faced severe professional difficulties, she came to embrace far-right extremism. On July 1, 2019, a judge issued a $71,000 judgment against her pool business for failing to repay a loan. Around the same time, she supported Donald Trump and started following and promoting conspiracy theories.[21] In November 2019, Babbitt tweeted about Pizzagate, a far-right conspiracy theory which claims that senior Democrats were operating a child sex-trafficking ring.[27] By February 2020, Babbitt publicly supported QAnon, a similar conspiracy theory.[28][29][30] Babbitt was very active on social media through her Twitter handle @CommonAshSense. Though she did not tweet much herself, she intensely retweeted messages from conservative and right-wing figures like Michael Flynn and Jack Posobiec, and conservative news sites like Right Side Broadcasting.[31] After the 2020 election, Babbitt rejected the results and began supporting the Stop the Steal movement.[27] On January 1, 2021, Babbitt announced plans to travel to DC for January 6.[27]

A central belief among QAnon members is that Trump was planning a massive sting operation on the cabal, with mass arrests of thousands of cabal members to take place on a day known as "The Storm".[12][32] On January 5, 2021, the day before the assault on the Capitol, Babbitt tweeted:

"Nothing can stop us....they can try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours....dark to light...."[33]

On January 6, prior to her arrival at the Capitol, Babbitt retweeted messages by Trump lawyer and QAnon promoter Lin Wood demanding that Vice President Mike Pence, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts resign and that charges be brought against Pence and Rosenstein.[34][35][36]

Events

Capitol attack

Further information: Timeline of the 2021 United States Capitol attack and Law enforcement response to the 2021 United States Capitol attack

External media
One of two pipe bombs discovered adjacent to the Capitol on January 6.
video icon "Insurrection Of The United States Capitol" by John Earle Sullivan (40 mins)
video icon Shooting of Ashli Babbit as captured by Sullivan.

Starting in December, Trump repeatedly encouraged his supporters to protest in Washington, D.C., on January 6 in support of his campaign to overturn the election results,[37] telling his supporters to "Be there, will be wild!"[38] The Washington Post editorial board criticized Trump for urging street protests, referring to previous violence by some Trump supporters at two rallies and his statement during a presidential debate telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by."[39] Multiple groups of die-hard Trump supporters staged rallies in Washington on that day: Women for America First; the Eighty Percent Coalition (also at Freedom Plaza) (the group's name refers to the belief that approximately 80% of Trump voters do not accept the legitimacy of Biden's win); and "The Silent Majority" (a group organized by a South Carolina conservative activist).[37][40] George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone, ardent allies of Trump, headlined some of the events. In addition to the formally organized events, the Proud Boys, other far-right groups, and white supremacists vowed to descend on Washington on January 6, with some threatening violence and pledging to carry weapons.[37] Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio said that his followers would "be incognito" and would "spread across downtown DC in smaller teams."[40]

As the certification process was underway, Trump gave a speech encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol. Many of them did, whereupon they joined other protesters already gathered in the area and violently breached and stormed the Capitol, eventually entering the Senate chamber as well as numerous offices. The Congressional proceedings were suspended, the legislators were taken to secure locations, and Pence and later Pelosi were evacuated.[41]

Rioters occupied the empty Senate chamber while federal law enforcement officers defended the evacuated House floor.[42][43]

Attempted breach of the Speaker's Lobby and shooting

At 2:44 p.m., law enforcement was trying to "defend two fronts" to the House Chamber, and "a lot of members [of Congress] and staff that were in danger at the time".[44][45] Pipe bombs had been discovered and Capitol Police officers had been warned that many attackers were carrying concealed weapons.[46]

Babbitt, wearing a Trump flag as a cape, was part of a mob of rioters who approached the Speaker's Lobby, adjacent to the House chambers.[8][47] Three uniformed officers were posted outside the Lobby when they were threatened by the crowd. One member of the mob yelled "Fuck the Blue" (blue in this case referring to the blue color of the uniforms of many police departments). One officer guarding the door told the others "They're ready to roll", and the three officers moved away from the door.[8] No longer impeded by police, one rioter, Zachary Jordan Alam, smashed a glass window leading to the Speaker's Lobby.[16][48] Babbitt was warned not to proceed through the window: one witness recalled that "A number of police and Secret Service were saying 'Get back! Get down! Get out of the way!'; [Babbitt] didn't heed the call."[49]

As lawmakers were being evacuated by Capitol Police, Babbitt attempted to climb through a shattered window in a barricaded door and was shot in the neck/shoulder by Capitol Police Lieutenant Michael Byrd. A Capitol Police emergency response team administered aid, and Babbitt was transported to Washington Hospital Center where she later died; Babbitt was 35 years old.[14][13] She was unarmed at the time of the shooting.[50][51]

Republican Representative Markwayne Mullin, a witness to Babbitt's attempted breach, said that the Capitol Police "didn't have a choice" but to shoot, and that this action "saved people's lives".[44][52]

The shooting was recorded on several cameras, and footage was widely circulated.[53] John Earle Sullivan, who recorded footage of the shooting, was arrested for his role in the attack.[54]

Aftermath

Reactions

Though they deplored Babbitt's death shortly after the event, few among Republican Members of Congress and conservative media initially claimed any wrongdoing from law enforcement, or suggested that it warranted a backlash. Gradually, though, efforts were made to suggest that Babbitt was a martyr. Fox New host Tucker Carlson labeled her death a "homicide", which implied that the police officer had committed a crime. Other Fox News hosts, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, were sympathetic to Babbitt, with Levin understating Babbitt's actions and claiming that she had been just "walking around with the rest". Republican representative Paul Gosar claimed that she had been "executed", later doubling down on that comment and adding that the police officer had been "lying in wait" and demanding to know his name. This drew a rebuke from representative Liz Cheney, who accused Gosar of "[smearing] the men and women who defended us".[55] Fringe conservative figures[55] and far-right extremists[56] have also cast Babbitt as a martyr, a "freedom fighter"[56] or at least a patriot who was unjustly killed.[55] Democratic strategist Mark Burns said that this was a "dangerous development for a Republican Party with members [27] increasingly comfortable pressing for and defending political violence".[57] Both he and David Frum in The Atlantic compared these efforts to the Nazi glorification of Horst Wessel.[58] Some QAnon supporters, including Lin Wood, have claimed instead that Babbitt is still alive and that her apparent death was a "false flag" operation.[27][59]

Former president Trump recorded a video message arguing that "There was no reason Ashli should've lost her life that day. We must all demand justice for Ashli and her family".[60][61][62] Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the shooting of Babbitt, describing it as an "assassination".[63]

Investigation

Following the routine process for shootings by Capitol Police officers, the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia and the United States Department of Justice investigated Babbitt's death and made a determination that the shooting was "lawful and within Department policy".[16][64][65][66]

After being cleared of wrongdoing, the officer who shot Babbitt identified himself in an interview for NBC News as Capitol Police Lieutenant Michael Byrd.[67][68][69][70][71] He said his name had been previously revealed in right-wing media and online forums and he had received racist and violent threats, causing him to remain in hiding for several months. Byrd stated that he had pulled the trigger as a "last resort" when the mob of protesters ignored his repeated orders to get back, and that he had no idea at that moment that Babbitt was unarmed and was a woman. He commented : "I know that day I saved countless lives. I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job".[50]

References

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