Ashli Babbitt’s ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on a sunny morning in February, with a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” filling the air.
The ceremony, which took place on a chartered boat, was meant to be a final farewell for the 35-year-old Air Force veteran and ardent Trump supporter who was fatally shot in the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
While attempting to crawl through a broken window leading to the Speaker’s Lobby outside the US House of Representatives’ chamber, Babbitt was shot in the shoulder by an unidentified Capitol police lieutenant. The shooting was captured on video and broadcast around the world. The lieutenant was found not guilty of any criminal offenses.
Babbitt’s memory has become as polarizing and politicized as the day she was killed, nearly six months after she was killed.
Some conservative Americans regard her as a patriot who died a martyr’s death. Others on the left see her as a domestic terrorist who got exactly what she deserved, a sentiment encapsulated by the hashtag #SheWasATerrorist.
In January, liberal political commentator Bill Maher declared, “She is the tragedy of the modern Republican voter personified.” “She died for a second Trump term even though that would have solved exactly none of her problems.”
Her image appears on a black “martyr flag” with the Capitol in the background that is being circulated on right-wing social media, as well as in the painting “Daughter of Liberty,” which is reminiscent of the revolutionary war era.
“She’ll be used for a long time,” said Simon Purdue, a fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right in the United Kingdom, who wrote an article last month about the significance of Babbitt’s alleged martyrdom as a recruiting tool. “The more they mention her, the more dangerous her story is going to be.”
Michelle and Roger Witthoeft, Babbitt’s mother and brother, spoke openly about her life before the shooting, their perspectives on what led her to the Capitol that day, and their belief that she did not deserve to be shot in interviews with CNN.
Babbitt’s 35-year life was suddenly eclipsed, according to her family, by what they see as a distorted portrait that has emerged since her death, based in part on her own social media postings and videos in which she rants about her conservative political views and support for Donald Trump.
The death of an unarmed woman who spent more than a decade in service to her country and had no prior criminal convictions has been met with a collective shrug by the government and mainstream media, they claim, because of this and her high-profile role on Jan. 6.
“She was a person,” her mother said, her voice cracking with emotion, politics aside.
As for the videos, Roger Witthoeft said, “you’re getting two minutes of 35 years. You don’t know what she was like.”
“So many people either love my sister or they hate her,” he said. “Most of them have never met her.”