On Wednesday, Congress gathered to certify the votes electing Joe Biden the next president of the United States—and a coalition of homegrown terrorists gathered to, in the words of the now-infamous “Elizabeth from Knoxville,” “storm the Capitol” (h/t WBIR). Complaining to cameras about being maced as she and crowds of others unlawfully occupied the seat of the United States’ legislative branch, the earnest insurrectionist unwittingly embodied the spirit of the day: entitlement so complete it obfuscated even the most basic consideration that she and her largely QAnon-subscribing cohorts might not only be entirely wrong but entirely out of their depth.
“It’s a revolution!” Elizabeth gasped—a proclamation that might’ve been hysterically hypocritical if the “revolution” in question hadn’t also been senselessly deadly.
No doubt Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran who reportedly traveled cross country from her native California only to die of a gunshot wound incurred while breaching the Capitol building, believed she was also a revolutionary. It likely never crossed her mind she’d die largely perceived as a terrorist engaging in treason against the country she’d once fought to defend, rather than a martyr for an already dead cause. A glimpse at her now painfully hubristic social media indicates a passionate adherence to even the most easily disprovable of Trump’s claims, along with heavy regurgitation of QAnon conspiracy theories and rhetoric (including use of the aforementioned popular Nazi vernacular “storm”).
That is, well, tragic.
“Nothing will stop us,” she reportedly responded to a tweet on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. “[T]hey 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!”
No matter what “light” Babbitt may have done or sought in her 35 years of life (and there undoubtedly was some), her legacy will now forever be tied to one of the most shameful events in American history. On January 6, radicalized domestic terrorists—of which she, unfortunately, was one—occupied the nation’s Capitol. Now, some attempting to martyrize her are attempting to co-opt a phrase borne of another movement, asking us to #SayHerName.
Too many comparisons have been made between the events of January 6 (and before it, last April’s attempt to overtake Michigan’s Capitol building) and the movement for Black lives. Some are very necessary juxtapositions proving the obviously discriminate responses to uprisings from these also very different groups, particularly by the police. Others are more sinister, bad faith takes—or at best, willfully obtuse in their attempts to characterize a movement recognizing the humanity and human rights of Black people as equally valid and oppositional to a racism-fueled legion of election-deniers.
We are not the same. Ashli Babbitt was not, as one Tweeter cavalierly phrased it, “an UNARMED WOMAN and victim of POLICE BRUTALITY, [who] was gunned down...by trigger-happy cops in DC.” Neither was she a woman defending her civil rights and or personal liberty, as neither were under threat—unless perhaps we’re talking about the right to die and put others at deadly risk by not wearing a mask in public spaces. (Whether Babbitt was masked when she climbed through a window of the Capitol broken during the insurrection has not been disclosed.)
Babbitt was not Sandra Bland. She was not Atatiana Jefferson or Korryn Gaines or Breonna Taylor or any number of Black women killed for simply defending their right to exist—or, in the case of Jefferson and Taylor, simply existing in their own homes. Even if we’re just talking about white women exercising First Amendment rights (of which participating in insurrections are not), she is certainly no Heather Heyer. And even if we’re talking about women killed while seemingly posing a threat to elected officials, Babbitt is not even close to, as many have noted, Miriam Carey, who was reportedly suffering postpartum psychosis when, with her 19-month-old daughter onboard, she rammed her car into a White House barricade and was subsequently killed in a barrage of bullets on Capitol Hill by security forces in 2013.
To question Babbitt’s mental health is understandable; to elevate her to martyrdom is not. Babbitt not only promoted dangerous conspiracy theories but enthusiastically took part in a violent insurrection intended to upend democracy, disenfranchise voters, and unlawfully maintain the presidency of a man who has repeatedly pledged his allegiance to white supremacy. We can shake our heads at the senselessness of Babbitt’s death—she was a human being, however misguided—but it was a senselessness she’d eagerly invested her life in. We can recognize the very real danger of radicalized thinking, but how can we be expected to effectively mourn the passing of a human being who died in unabashed support of a man with no regard for human life?
“I really don’t know why she decided to do this,” Babbitt’s mother-in-law told D.C.’s Fox5 News.
We don’t either, but we will not cast her in the same breath as we speak of the innocent or those disproportionately targeted by racial profiling and police violence. Neither will we gloat over the chaos this woman invited into her life along with her faith in Trump and the radicalized right. If we’re feeling generous, perhaps we can simply consider Babbitt’s death a teachable moment, but we will not—not today, not ever—#SayHerName.