“Who killed Ashli Babbitt?”
It’s a question that, in recent weeks, has become a mainstream rallying cry among the MAGA crew after growing in volume for months on the far-right fringes. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) has asked it repeatedly, as has former President Donald Trump himself.
But the thing is, they think they already know.
They have a specific individual in mind, a Capitol police officer that they believe to be the culprit in the killing. He happens to be a black man.
It’s a detail that, once known, places the calls for the officer to be exposed and punished in a new light. The ensuing witch hunt takes on a racial tinge, casting Babbitt as a defenseless white woman killed by a black man.
And it’s a context that has allowed Trump and others to blow the dog whistle on the case as loud as possible. He venerated Babbitt as “an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman,” adding, “if that were on the other side, the person that did the shooting would be strung up and hung.”
Babbitt was shot and killed on Jan. 6 after trying to break through a window into the House Speaker’s Lobby, where members of Congress were sheltering and continuing to evacuate.
In an appearance with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo last week, Charlie Kirk, the Turning Point USA director, pointed to a story by Paul Sperry, a reporter with RealClearInvestigations, that attempted to identify the officer in question. The same person had been labeled as the culprit by right-wing blogs such as the Gateway Pundit weeks before.
Officials have not publicly released or confirmed the identity of the officer who shot Babbitt; TPM has not confirmed the officer’s identity. And while that crucial fact hasn’t been confirmed, some far-right groups have already satisfied themselves that they know who it is, and are using that as the basis to build out a palace of grievance over her death.
Babbitt was one of the many Jan. 6 insurgents that Trump had stranded in a reality where, in fact, Biden had stolen the election. The conservative movement has been trying to use her death to recast the insurrection as a case of innocents being killed.
But the fringe right has molded that narrative to incorporate the explicit use of Babbitt’s race. Racist influencers have also emphasized that Babbitt was killed by a black man, explicitly mixing her supposed martyrdom with the race of the person that shot her.
“With Sicknick’s autopsy, it’s now official: no people were killed by the nationalist demonstrators on January 6th,” wrote far-right propagandist Erik Striker in April, on his Telegram channel. “The only homicide victim that day was Ashli Babbitt, murdered by a black criminal with a badge whose identity is still being kept a secret by the media and the government.”
Western Chauvinist, a Telegram channel with nearly 50,000 subscribers, drew racist comparison’s between Babbitt’s death and that of George Floyd.
“Unlike St. Fentanyl Floyd, Ashli Babbitt will receive no justice from this sick anti-white system,” read an April message on the channel. “But WE will always remember her sacrifice and she will never be forgotten.”
In June, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio posted on his own Telegram channel a message from another account that showed video of a black Capitol police officer on Jan. 6 along with still images of Babbitt’s shooting.
“This black man was waiting to execute someone on january 6th,” the message reads. “He chose Ashli Babbitt.”
In some cases, the racial dynamic is blatant. In others, the dog whistle operates at a less explicit frequency, via layers of obfuscation and deniability.
One thread throughout has been an effort to stoke resentment by drawing comparisons between the mass outrage at the death of George Floyd and what they perceive to be the comparative silence at Babbitt’s killing. In that universe, she’s an unsung martyr not only of the stolen 2020 election, but of the supposedly unfair treatment of whites.
Or, as Fox News’s Tucker Carlson put it in a monologue about Babbitt in April: “Two systems of justice. One for the allies of the people in charge, and a very different one for their enemies.”
Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator, walked a similar line as he described the killing on a Monday episode of his podcast as a parallel with Floyd’s death, suggesting that Babbitt’s race meant she was treated badly and that the cop who killed her was protected.
“But the reason this cordon of protection has gone around him, not only from the authorities but from the media, is they can’t afford to admit that the only lethal force used on Jan 6 was illicitly, inappropriately, and in violation of law — used by a black male capital police officer against a female unarmed trump supporter,” he said.
D’Souza took the narrative even further in the podcast, portraying her as an innocent, unarmed white woman who fell victim to a Black man wielding federal power, and using the lack of transparency from Capitol police on the shooting and on the response to Jan. 6 as a way to stoke racial resentment.
“There have been a number of police shootings,” D’Souza noted. “Can you think of a single case where the identity of the officer has been systematically concealed by the media?”
He then asked listeners why.
The answer, he said, is because the officer is “black.”
“And so we have right away, a racial incident in the sense that you’ve got a black cop shooting and killing an unarmed white woman, who, by the way, is also a veteran,” he said. “And this white woman was doing nothing more in this case than pushing her way through a window.”
Similar comparisons have made their way into radical right members of Congress. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) made the same comparison this week to the death of George Floyd.
“If this country can demand justice for someone like George Floyd,” she said, “then we can certainly demand justice for Ashli Babbitt and everyone deserves to know who killed her … we need to know who it is.”
Some analysts have likened the reaction of the far-right to Babbitt’s death to that of Vicki Weaver, the white woman who died from an FBI sniper’s bullet at Ruby Ridge in the 1990s.
“Like Babbitt, Weaver quickly became a martyr for both the anti-government and white supremacists,” wrote Simon Purdue, a fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right. “Her perceived status as an innocent, white, female victim of ‘state aggression’ instantly placed her on a pedestal, and was used to justify tax protests, demonstrations and even violent action by far-right groups in the years that followed.”
Both Rep. Gosar and Trump have used language that, when heard in the context of the officer’s race, sounds very different.
“Who was the person who shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman?” Trump told Bartiromo on Sunday. The former president said last week about the officer: “If that were on the other side, the person that did the shooting would be strung up and hung.”
Gosar, who has associated with far-right figures like Nick Fuentes and popularized the idea that Babbitt is a martyr, has made similar remarks. He released a statement last week describing Babbitt as “110-pound woman with nothing in her hands.”
She, Gosar said, was a victim of “a still unknown Capitol Hill police officer.”
But it was still Trump who went the furthest in the mainstream, coming up to the edge without going over.
“If that were the opposite way, that man would be all over,” Trump said. “He would be the most well-known — and I believe I can say ‘man,’ because I believe I know exactly who it is — but he would be the most well-known person in this country, in the world.”