On the day the police officer who shot her was exonerated, I went back and watched the terrifying footage of Ashli Babbitt’s death during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
It had been months since I’d seen it, and I had forgotten how frightening it was, the kind of scene we see all the time in the movies — transformed suddenly into a shocking, violent reality.
In the seven months since she was killed, Babbitt has become a martyr to the far right. In the twisted revisionist narrative being pushed by former President Trump and his supporters, she was a peaceful demonstrator — an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman” — who was unjustifiably murdered by the police even though she posed no danger.
But that’s not what the video shows. Her death was a tragedy, to be sure — but it was hardly an unjustified murder.
In our first view of Babbitt on the video she’s at the front of an angry mob trying to get through to the “Speaker’s Lobby,” where members of Congress and staff are holed up. She’s screaming at the police, apparently demanding entry.
The crowd is surging. It’s at the doors. “F— the blue!” can be heard. People are bashing at the glass panels on the doors with sticks and flagpoles. Several police officers are doing their best to hold back an entire crowd, but it seems like a losing battle. “Break it down,” yells the crowd.
Members of Congress can be seen on the other side of the door. Also on the other side of the door is a police lieutenant holding a gun, pointing it at the mob, an unmistakable warning to stay back.
But Babbit decides instead — although it’s a little hard to see on the video — to climb through the shattered glass window into the Speaker’s Lobby, past the police barricade, toward the pointed gun. If she is allowed through, it seems inevitable that the mob will follow.
As she climbs through, a single shot is fired and she drops to the floor.
On Monday, the U.S. Capitol Police declared the shooting lawful, and said it would not pursue disciplinary charges against the lieutenant who killed Babbitt. That follows April’s decision by the Department of Justice not to bring criminal charges against the officer. Neither agency named the lieutenant, for his own safety.
“An officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury,” wrote the Capitol Police’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
“The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved members [of Congress] and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters.”
I’m not a forensics expert, nor am I a cop. I haven’t interviewed the witnesses or seen any more evidence than what I’ve described. But my normal human reaction to the video tells me that the Capitol Police and the Justice Department are absolutely right.
I watched it repeatedly. Babbitt crossed a line that had been clearly delineated. The police obviously felt it was a last stand. The potential danger was obvious. Babbitt’s shooting appears to have stopped the forward movement of the crowd. All this happened on a day when the vice president’s life had been threatened, and when police were being savagely beaten elsewhere in the building.
Could the mob possibly have been stopped without Babbitt’s death? Maybe. Perhaps there was a way to have avoided deadly force. But it’s not clear to me what that way would have been — and it is clear that if Babbitt had gone through that doorway, an out-of-control situation would have deteriorated further.
From the moment the trigger was pulled by the anonymous police officer it was inevitable that Babbitt would become a martyr to the right. She was a 35-year-old Air Force veteran from San Diego, a vehement supporter of the former president and an adherent of the conspiracy theories of Q-Anon.
No one should be surprised by the signs at rallies that call her a “protester murdered by the Capitol Police.” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) described the shooting as “an execution.”
But it is the involvement of Trump himself that really threatens to turn the narrative on its head. Trump has asked why the Capitol Police officer is “getting away with murder.” He asked repeatedly: “Who Shot Ashli Babbitt?” This month, escalating his rhetoric, he said, more chillingly: “We know who he is.”
On Fox News with Trump, host Maria Bartiromo described Babbitt as a woman who went to a “peaceful protest.” And Trump put it in the context of us versus them. “If this happened to the ‘other side,’” he said in a statement, “there would be riots all over America… The Radical Left haters cannot be allowed to get away with this. There must be justice.”
“There was no reason for it,” Trump said of her shooting.
But there was a reason.
Americans need to remember that, and not be fooled. In these days when the truth has been devalued, when everything can be spun, where facts are malleable and can be dismantled and reassembled to tell an entirely different story — remember at least the clearcut images on the video.
These weren’t peaceful demonstrators. These weren’t protesters exercising their constitutionally protected right to calmly express differences of opinion with their elected representatives.
They were bashing down the doors.
This was a riot, Ashli Babbitt was at its vanguard and, based on what I’ve seen, the police officer who shot her was doing his job.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.