Of Patriots and Back-Stabbers

Where Ashli Babbitt fits into Trumpist mythology

There’s an impulse among some on the left to ignore Trump, partly out of exhaustion, partly out of a belief that he’s a spent force, and partly out of the fear that giving the former president attention is only feeding the fires of his rage. But withholding attention from Trump is strategically misguided since there’s ample evidence that elected Republicans continue to take their cue from him. This is especially evident in the way top GOP figures have been sandbagging attempts to investigate the January 6 riot that Trump instigated. 

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall reports on Trump’s recent and explicit alignment with those seeking vindication of the January 6 insurrectionists: 

In short, he now seems to be demanding the release of the various insurrectionists facing charges for storming the Capitol on January 6th. “How come so many people are still in jail over Jan. 6?” he asked the crowd.

He also went further and began to suggest or demand (the ambiguity is a central feature of all Trump incitement) the lynching of the Capitol Police officer who shot insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt.

“By the way, who shot Ashli Babbitt? Who shot Ashli Babbitt? We all saw the hand. We saw the gun … Now they don’t want to give the name, but people know the name. People know where he came from. Now if that were on the other side, the person who did the shooting would be strung up and hung. Now they don’t want to give the name. Who shot Ashli Babbitt? It’s got to be released.”

Making a martyr of Babbitt, who was shot trying to rush the Speaker’s Lobby while members of Congress were being evacuated, has become a staple on the far-right since January 6th. 

It’s important to be clear who is responsible for Ashli Babbitt’s death. Babbitt was shot while trying to breach a door. She was doing that because she believed Trump’s lies about a stolen election. She thought she was doing her patriotic duty. To frame this as an issue of an officer shooting a citizen ignores the crucial political context of the killing. It’s an obscene shifting of blame. 

In turning Babbitt into a martyr, Trump and his followers are creating their own-stabbed-in-the-back myth of the events January 6. The day is now being recast as innocent patriots, arrested and killed for spurious reasons. Babbitt is being mythologized as a figure like Horst Wessel, the young stormtrooper killed by communists in 1930 whose death served as a rallying cry for Nazis. 

Over the last five years, the Republican party has a record of slowly ceding ground to Trump on party messaging, so we can expect to hear more and more of this stabbed-in-the-back rhetoric from the GOP.

For better or worse, the interpretative battle over January 6 is likely to play out in the 2022 midterms. One might prefer, as I do, for Democrats to run on the economy. But Trump seems set on vindicating his actions and his followers. He’s powerful enough in the GOP to force his concerns on the agenda. 

(Text edited by Emily M. Keeler)

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