The Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt is “a disgrace,” former president Donald Trump said in a phone call to a rally for jailed Capitol coup defendants.
Trump called into the rally to speak with Babbitt’s mother, Micki Witthoeft, who put Trump on speaker phone, in a moment captured on video and shared on Twitter by News2Share editor-in-chief Ford Fischer.
“Well, Micki, it’s an honor to be with you and to everybody listening. It’s a terrible thing that has happened to a lot of people that are being treated very, very unfairly. We love Ashli, and it was just so horrible what happened to her. That man that shot Ashli is a disgrace. And then he goes on television, and it looks like he was actually bragging about it,” Trump said.
This is a constant refrain from Trump, elevating Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who was shot and killed as she attempted to breach the Speaker’s lobby leading to the House of Representatives chambers during the Jan. 6, 2021, pro-Trump coup, to martyrdom, at the expense of Lt. Michael Byrd, a 28-year Capitol Police veteran, who had to go into hiding after his name was leaked on right-wing blogs in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
Trump and his supporters have tried to whitewash Babbitt’s role in the coup by claiming that she was simply trying to climb out a window, which makes no sense in the context of where she was and what was going on just down the hallway from where she was, as House members and staffers were frantically trying to evacuate a mob of several hundred pro-Trump rioters.
Babbitt wasn’t there on a sightseeing trip. From reporting by retired intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance in his book They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists, and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency, Babbitt had long since fallen headfirst into the QAnon rabbit hole, tweeting, “Your government doesn’t fear you anymore. That needs to change,” retweeting a Lin Wood screed referring to Vice President Mike Pence as a “traitor,” and posting a litany of pro-Trump videos that included one naming a list of Democratic leaders that she was “putting on notice.”
On Jan. 5, 2021, a day before the coup attempt, Babbitt tweeted that “nothing will stop us … they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours … dark to light!”
“The storm,” in QAnon mythology, refers to the belief that Trump is preparing a secret plan to defeat the “Deep State,” i.e., the federal government, and return to power, leading to subsequent mass executions of Democrats, Republicans who don’t support the MAGA movement and progressives in general.
Babbitt, in the Air Force, was a security forces controller whose duties include guarding gates at Air Force bases, so when she broke through a makeshift barricade protecting the Speaker’s lobby, she would have had to have understood the rules of engagement.
As Nance wrote: “She knew the red lines laid down for using lethal force when someone breaches a restricted area. On Air Force bases, those red lines are literally painted on the ground and are defended with no-warning lethal force.”
And “yet,” Nance wrote, “she persisted,” climbing broken furniture in the makeshift barricade to try to be the first rioter in the hallway.
“The Speaker’s lobby was the last place in the Capitol the rioters had not taken,” Nance wrote. “The red line was drawn. For the safety of the hundreds inside, the experienced officer decided that the seizure of the Capitol would stop right there and right then.
“He would shoot, knowing his life could end the moment the fifteen bullets were fired. He decided to limit the damage and reevaluate. He took aim, set his breathing steady, and braced. He let half a breath out … and did his duty to the nation.”
Babbitt made it one step past the barricade and into the hallway.
One “well-aimed shot,” as Nance described it, stopped her advance.
“It was a deliberate shot with the absolute intent to kill – precisely as the United States government had trained him – so others may live,” Nance wrote.
After she was shot, the effort of the rioters to breach the Speaker’s lobby dissipated.
Trump, being Trump, declared that Babbitt had been “murdered,” and claimed, falsely, of course, because it’s Trump, that Byrd had been working as “head of security” for a “high-ranking” Democrat, an effort to reframe the shooting as a political assassination.
It was nothing of the sort.
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” Byrd told NBC News’ Lester Holt in a 2021 interview. “I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors. But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers.”
Byrd added: “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.”
And for that, Byrd gets death threats – “They talked about killing me, cutting off my head,” Byrd told Holt in 2021 – and this continued nonsense from Trump calling him a “disgrace.”
“I hope they understand I did my job,” Byrd said. “There was imminent threat and danger to the members of Congress. I just want the truth to be told.”