Ripping a page straight out of his Charlottesville playbook, former President Donald Trump has embraced another dark moment in American history, the January 6 Insurrection at the Capitol which he helped incite, as he prepares for a likely 2024 run at the White House.
While it’s unclear who his running mate will be — someone should tell Mike Pence not to hold his breath — we do know the name of someone whose story will play a prominent role in any campaign by Trump or his GOP acolytes in the next few years: Ashli Babbit.
Babbitt was the Air Force veteran and conspiracy believer who was shot and killed by a law enforcement officer as she tried to climb through a broken glass pane that separated rioters from the House Speaker’s lobby. No charges were filed against the officer because authorities determined her civil rights were not violated and that the officer fired with just cause; members of Congress were just steps away from where Babbitt and the other rioters had breached the building. The officer has not been publicly identified and to protect the officer’s family from potential retribution.
In the months since the Insurrection, the far-right has worked hard to paint Babbitt as an innocent victim, a patriot. Arizona Representative Paul Gosar, one of the more far-right Republican members of Congress, claimed during a hearing that Babbitt was “executed.”
Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ top-rated opinion host, has done his part to push the narrative. Carlson actually supported Russian leader Vladimir Putin questioning the death of Babbitt during an interview with NBC News, a move that thrilled Moscow and made Carlson a bigger laughingstock than he usually is.
But it wasn’t until Trump took up the cause that the campaign really gained momentum. A week ago, he claimed there was no reason for her to be shot, failing to mention how she was part of a violent mob hunting down members of Congress and his own Vice President. Perhaps he forgot the chants being repeated that day: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
Then he was interviewed on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox Business show this past Sunday and proceeded to unleash a gaslighting attempt that was stunning even by his standards. Part of it was to defend the insurrection and say there were many wonderful people there. The other key part of the interview involved Babbitt.
Trump describes Ashli Babbitt, who was part of a mob that was trying to lynch the VP, as an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman” pic.twitter.com/Et5DmYs8Y4— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 11, 2021
Trump also lied when he claimed that the officer who shot Babbitt was part of the security detail for a Democratic member of Congress. That claim was immediately debunked. It doesn’t matter. If we learned anything from the shambolic Trump Era, it’s that shamelessness and lying come as naturally to the former president as does breathing.
Ashli Babbitt was a radicalized Qanon follower who friends describe as being completely absorbed by conspiracy theories like Pizzagate. She shared numerous messages on social media that showed her support for Trump and the MAGA movement (you can read some here). Like many at the Capitol on January 6, she fell for Trump’s lies and thought the election was stolen from him, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Trump very likely knows all this, and doesn’t care. He’s not after the truth. He’s trying to ‘rally the base’ for his political comeback. Babbitt provides him an easy way to do that, to stoke the outrage of his loyal supporters who are already so consumed by misplaced rage because of the election lies, they will believe anything he says, even if there is clear video evidence that her shooting was justified.
Babbitt’s death is a means to an end. And as Max Burns points out, he’s using a strategy Hitler used to bring his Third Reich to power.
This section of Burns’ essay is chilling:
As Matthew Rozsa wrote in Salon this week, Trump's elevation of Babbitt to the status of MAGA martyr bears a shocking resemblance to the story of Horst Wessel, a Nazi brownshirt in the Sturmabteilung("Assault Division"), or S.A., which comprised Hitler's paramilitary terrorism force. Hitler seized on Wessel's death in 1930 as a propaganda gold mine, quickly elevating Wessel into a fascist folk hero.
"After a dispute with his Communist landlady — which was likely over unpaid rent, not politics — Wessel was shot on the street by two other Communists," Rozsa writes. The Nazis recast Wessel as a sacrificial hero of the fascist movement. And it worked. "Nazi propaganda outlets depicted him as a hero. His funeral procession was viewed by 30,000 people who lined the streets of Berlin. He became the subject of a major motion picture and was honored by numerous monuments and books."
Wessel's role as Hitler's martyr served dual purposes: It allowed Nazi leaders to claim victimhood — these dirty communists want to oppress and kill you just like they did Wessel — while energizing their movement with a clear enemy: These communists killed one of ours. Are you going to let that stand?
It’s not just about making Babbitt a hero of the movement. Trump is trying not just to minimize the horrific impact of the Insurrection; he’s trying to justify it. As Vox writes:
The broader context for Trump’s comments about Babbitt is his effort to transform the supporters of his who ransacked the Capitol from perpetrators to victims. Those supporters, inspired by Trump’s relentless election fraud lies, were there to prevent Congress from certifying his election loss to Biden. And though Trump may have condemned the violence on Capitol Hill in the days following January 6, now he’s making full-throated defenses of the insurrectionists.
Plain and simple, he’s trying to rewrite history. And he’s using the sad, tragic story of Ashli Babbitt to do it.