What Trump is really saying in his Ashli Babbitt birthday video
Not everything the former president does is newsworthy. This is a big exception.
As I got into in my Sunday piece about the complexities of covering the 2021 version of Trump, I don’t think everything the former president says is newsworthy. But a video message he recorded commemorating the birthday of Ashli Babbitt is definitely something I think deserves attention.
What Trump was really saying in his video about Babbitt, one of four Trump supporters who lost their lives during the January 6 insurrection, is that he supports the attack on the Capitol. It was a tacit endorsement of political violence.
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At this point that’s not a surprise. Trump is, after all, the same guy who responded to protests following George Floyd’s murder by tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” But a former president and the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee giving his blessing to violent insurrection is still extremely notable.
Footage of Trump’s video message was posted to Twitter by Ford Fischer, editor in chief of News2Share. Fischer reported that it was played at an event on Sunday in Freeport, Texas, to commemorate what would’ve been Babbitt’s 36th birthday. A clip of it was subsequently broadcast by the Trump propaganda network otherwise known as One America News Network (OAN).
In an ironic twist, Trump called “for a fair and nonpartisan investigation into the death of Ashli Babbitt” — the very thing his Republican supporters in Congress blocked earlier this year. He went on to describe Babbitt as “a truly incredible person” and said “there was no reason Ashli should’ve lost her life that day.”
But what Trump didn’t acknowledge is that nobody is more responsible for Babbitt’s death than him.
Let’s remember what really happened to Babbitt
As was the case for most everything that happened in the Capitol on January 6, Babbitt’s death was caught on tape. And while deadly force used by law enforcement always merits careful scrutiny, a review of the circumstances surrounding Babbitt’s death reveals why Trumpworld’s effort to turn her into a martyr represents a particularly egregious effort to flip reality upside down.
Babbitt was part of a mob that was trying to enter the House Speaker’s lobby by breaking through barricaded doors just outside of it. As one man pounded on the door’s glass pane with his fist, another tried to break through it with a flagpole. Video footage shows an officer drawing his weapon to deter the mob from coming further. People can be heard yelling, “There’s a gun! There’s a gun!”
At that moment, Babbitt and the rest of the mob were just feet away from members of Congress who were still evacuating the House floor. A video played during Trump’s second impeachment trial illustrated just how close they were to being able to get their hands on lawmakers.
Seconds after the officer drew his weapon, Babbitt attempted to jump through a glass pane that had already been broken. The officer fired his weapon once, striking Babbitt in the torso and fatally injuring her.
Investigations by the Justice Department and Capitol Police have backed up what the video shows — that as senseless as Babbitt’s death may have been, there was nothing improper about the officer’s use of force under the circumstances.
“The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved Members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House Chamber where Members and staff were steps away,” said a statement from Capitol Police when the investigation was closed.
But Trump isn’t about to let facts get in the way of his effort to turn her into the MAGA movement’s Horst Wessel.
Let’s also remember who’s responsible for what happened to Babbitt
Babbitt’s social media presence indicated she was immersed in the QAnon cult and that she traveled to Washington DC on January 6 to in hopes of overturning Trump’s election loss.
“Nothing will stop us,” she tweeted on January 5. “They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours.”
In the days leading up to January 6, Babbitt retweeted posts accusing then-Vice President Mike Pence of treason and suggesting he should be executed. Pence was in the crosshairs of Trump supporters because he refused to help Trump overthrow the election; insurrectionists chanted “hang Mike Pence!” as they ransacked the Capitol on January 6. (At Babbitt’s birthday event on Sunday, her mom was recorded saying, “fuck off and die, Nancy Pelosi!” to a big round of applause.)
It’s important to remember that Trump encouraged all this. He urged his supporters to come to DC on January 6, tweeting in December, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” On the morning of January 6, he delivered a speech in which he mentioned “fight” or “fighting” at least 20 times while listeners bellowed “Take the Capitol!” and “Storm the Capitol!”
And as the nation reeled from the assault on the Capitol, Trump made excuses for the insurrectionists with social media posts saying things like, “I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us” and “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” (There is no evidence of election fraud.)
Perhaps most telling is the fact that while Trump tries to make a martyr out of Babbitt, he didn’t reach out to the family of Capitol officer Brian Sicknick, the officer who was assaulted by insurrectionists and died on January 7. Nor has Trump had much to say about the 150 officers who were injured.
As Philip Bump wrote for the Washington Post, Trump’s attitude about Babbitt is essentially, “She wasn’t simply a rioter, she was his rioter, so her death at the hands of a Black Capitol Police officer was necessarily something dubious or unwarranted.” (The officer who shot Babbitt, Michael Byrd, later identified himself publicly and promptly became an object of hate in Trumpworld.)
Trump is sending a message by going out of his way to recast the insurrectionists as victims. That the former president is going this far to legitimize political violence is a big reason why experts are worried US democracy might not survive another Trump term.
“It is insanely dangerous,” Jared Holt, a domestic extremism researcher with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told me in a Twitter DM, referring to Trump’s Babbitt video. “Making someone who died for this shit a martyr is how you get a second try down the line. It’s the same reason they’ve been fighting so hard to rewrite the history of what happened into a story of an out of control national security state.”