Written Commentaries

The Lonely Death of Ashli Babbitt


“I will be there tomorrow! God’s speed!”

Those were her words, exactly as she entered them. Ashli Babbitt posted them the day before a Capitol police officer’s bullet bore into her chest on that awful first Wednesday in January. Hers is a tragic story. It is one rooted in agony, anxiety, conspiracy, and more. Towards the end, the 12-year Air Force and National Guard veteran sought meaning in lies; the kind that only those either disturbed or despondent could believe. When Ashli died there was but a flash of post-death devotion from a horde of far-Right extremists. Once the diehard fanfare evaporated and the headlines disappeared, one fact remained: Ashli Babbitt’s rash action forever transformed her into lifeless matter. Why? 

  • There is the psychology of her plight that shaped her actions.
  • Words played a role in her foolish answer to an abhorrent call to action.
  • And then there is that ideological force field to which she gravitated with all her mental might.  

Combine them and the ghastly image of a 35-year-old woman lying on the floor in a pool of blood comes into deadly focus – the specter of Ashli’s vacant eyes fixed on eternity. In the volatile mix of that day death soon enough found its way to the doors of the innocent: Capitol police officers Brian Sicknick (age 42) and Howard Liebengood (age 51) along with Benjamin Philips (age 50), Kevin Greeson (age 55), and Rosanne Boyland (age 34), all three of whom were swept away by the madness that triggered mayhem at the Capitol.  

Meanwhile, a menacing silence filled the air as instigators, insurrectionists and their silent allies took flight from any moral culpability. When words came, they were predictably disingenuous, revealing the glove of hypocrisy covering the hand of iniquity. 

The force at work that day – that Wednesday, January 6th 2021 – finally arrived to set in motion the actions of 

  • a criminally reckless 29-year-old man (Zachary Jordan Alam) who used a helmet to break the window through which Babbitt tried to climb, 
  • a confused and lawless woman (Babbitt),
  • two worthy and courageous men  (Sicknick and Liebengood), and
  • three believers in the wrong place at the wrong time (Philips, Greeson, and Boyland). 

That force field had been set in motion years earlier; it built its momentum with words empty of meaning. The power of those words rang true to those desperate for even a lie to masquerade as truth. Ashli Babbitt was one of them.      

Misery leads to many doors, sometimes without any exit.

Think of a woman down on her luck – that is, think of Ashli Babbitt. No exoneration here, just psychological context. Though discipline and insubordination issues impeded her military career, she nonetheless managed to earn “12 medals and ribbons, including the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.” Even so, there was her fiery temperament, which cost her; financial issues plagued her; and her fear of homeless people and illegal immigrants haunted her.

Ashli Babbitt’s driver’s license photo

Ashli Babbitt was a woman in need of life-support for a cause, any cause to help alleviate the agony of her alienation, of her sense that the stars had been stolen from her sky. Yes, Ashli had her problems, but on that fateful day at the MAGA rally she was elated. A smile on her face, a backpack emblazoned with the American flag, and a cause to join in with like-minded Americans – it all eclipsed the troubles that traumatized her. 

New troubles, deadly ones, would soon find Ashli fighting for life as medics wheeled her, head slumped, from the Capitol on a gurney. But that was tomorrow, for today there was passion in her blood, a battle to be fought, and a plane to catch:    

Nothing will stop  us . . . they can try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours . . . dark to light! 

— Ashli Babbitt (Jan. 5, 2021, 10:57 AM)

Pause: “dark to light”? Just as she was winging her way east, Ashli felt that her dark night would soon be illuminated. Tomorrow would be a new day for her, one flooded with light. She never realized, however, that she was journeying into the darkest of nights, the night of forever.     

The illusion that fooled all saved none.

It was who she was: Ashli proudly proclaimed her allegiance with pro-Trump bumper stickers. She wore QAnon t-shirts, traded in conspiracy theories, and was addicted to senseless Twitter feeds. She was a Trump supporter, a hardcore one. She attended rallies and was zealous in her support of the “Make America Great Again” man. Whatever his failings – moral, legal, and political – she took no notice of them. His words, no matter how false or appalling, spoke to her much as a commander’s call speaks to those about to charge into the storm of battle. His  demagoguery filled her with a soldier’s faith, albeit a false faith.  

That is a snapshot of her psyche. But it is more complicated – there were other pictures. “A decade ago,” observed Matthew Walther, “she was an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama. After that her political views evolved along a not unfamiliar trajectory, from progressive to libertarian to Trumpist to an initiate into the mysteries of QAnon, that half world of centaurs and aegipans lurking in the darkness, locked in unseen combat with the heavenly host.” 

Her loyalty was genuine though fatally misplaced thanks to the likes of horrible men. For example, Ashli retweeted scores of conspiracy-theory-laden messages originally posted by Georgia attorney L. Lin Wood, a most foul man. And then there was 28 year-old Thomas Baranyi who was next to Ashli when her tragic moment came. After fleeing, he sought media attention to show off Ashli’s blood lingering on his hand — his fifteen seconds of infamy.   

Those were some of the men she admired and the company she kept. They lived, she died.

So we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue . . . to the Capitol . . . .

Donald Trump – January 6, 2021

It was a joyous day for her, what with all her fellow “patriots” standing tight and COVID-mask- free amidst waves of blue and white banners. The time had come. She felt so at home on the Ellipse with these people. Her leader’s inflammatory words excited her; his insidious messages comforted her; and his lies reconfigured her world.  

“I’ve been in two elections. I won them both and the second one, I won much bigger than the first. OK.”

Donald Trump- January 6, 2021

Could it be so? What of the fact that all of the 42-plus Trump related lawsuits filed after the election failed? What of the fact that when the votes were recounted in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin the President lost? What of the fact that the President lost by 81,283,098 votes in the popular election? And what of the fact-to-be that within hours Congress would declare that the President lost the election by 74 votes in the Electoral College? By the President’s gauge, all such facts and figures were “fake” and that “falsity” was being perpetuated by the media, “the enemy of the people.” The crowd echoed his words as Ashli and others placed their faith in a new turn away from the truth: 

 “[I]f Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do [is listen to] one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it.”

Donald Trump- January 6, 2021

It was all a lie: There was no such “right thing” for Vice President Pence to do, only the wrong thing. There were no “top constitutional lawyers” who argued that Pence could do anything but ceremoniously authenticate the election results, there was only a lone sycophantic law professor. And the Vice President had no such “absolute right,” he had only an absolute obligation to follow the commands of the Constitution. 

Trump said it, they believed it, and that is where things ended . . . in those cavities in people’s minds where truth is infected. It had been a lie long in the making, one rooted in the “make America great again” mantra. It was a slogan launched by Trump in 2015; it became the rallying cry of millions of Americans. What exactly did that mantra mean? For disaffected whites those four words promised hope. But it was a counterfeit promise. To others, that mantra gave a certain “legitimacy” to a long-sublimated hatred of different people. 

photo from Ashlie Babbitt’s Twitter feed

There’s an online photo of Ashli wearing a red MAGA cap. She’s cheerful, her face so full of life. That mantra, HIS words, and all those blue and white banners waving were all she needed to find purpose in her restless life.

I remember . . .  looking into her eyes, like she was staring at me. She’s just staring straight at me, and I [saw] her soul leave her body, . . . the light . . . leave her eyes.

— John Sullivan (witness)

The time had come to take the next step. “In a video posted online, a woman believed to be Ashli Babbitt is seen with a ‘Make America Great Again’ flag draped around her shoulders. She was [amidst] a crowd of rioters inside the Capitol building, attempting to get through a set of locked doors,” the ones that led to legislative chambers and congressional offices. Mob mayhem was in command. 

Ashli was caught in a lethal force field now, inside the trespassed hallways of the “people’s house.” The gravitational pull of the riotous horde tugged her ever deeper into the domain of force from which there is seldom any real return without suffering or worse. All the false words, empty mantras, and those who emboldened HIM, it made for a tragic mix. Evil had been put in motion and there was no stopping it now; there was only a forward thrust. 

In the rush of it all she had no idea of what awaited her behind a fateful door that led into the Speaker’s lobby; she had no idea that a black Glock pistol would soon seal her fate. Her last words were “‘Go! Go!’ as two men hoisted her [through] a smashed glass panel on the door.” When a pistol chamber was emptied, a cold floor marked the spot where a gravely wounded Ashlie grasped for breath.  

It was dreadfully ironic: In the days before the insurrection, Ashli Babbitt affixed a “Blue Lives Matter” flag onto her SUV. She supported law and order; she was a friend of the “men in blue.” But when the field of force seized her, their blue turned to red, her blood.  

February 28, 2021: They flocked to Orlando to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As if the Capitol tragedy were of no moment and the dangers of COVID of no consequence, they assembled en masse to hail Donald Trump. His force field still held them in magnetic control. They were obedient, every cowardly one of them. Calamity had yet to run its full course. But none there that day cared. No one bothered to think; idolatry was all that was on their lips as a golden statue of the former President Trump was unveiled for everyone to worship. 

Weil’s words: When will we “learn not to admire force, not to hate the enemy, nor to scorn the unfortunate?” She posed that question only to raise one more: “How soon this will happen is another question.” The promise of a better time can, after all, be illusory.   

And what of Ashli, that soul faithful to HIM until her death? Would any of the CPAC crowd  bow their heads in her memory? Would her name be whispered by anyone present at the conference held in HIS honor? Or would her truth – the truth of her misery – be spoken? She was past tense, they were present tense. HE was all about himself, his power, and his capacity to wield enough force to control HIS party along with legions of dupped Americans.  

Albert Camus: “limit must not be transgressed. . . . To make a mistake about this limit, to destroy the balance, is to perish.” In that essay, titled “On the Future of Tragedy,” Camus cautioned against collective passions and the evil they can produce when power respects no limits and words have no purpose other than to trigger mindless action. 

January 6th was a day when caution went to the wind, when everything spun wildly out of balance, and when the force field of tragedy thrust itself down upon all in its path. Ashli Babbitt was caught in that storm. Her lonesome ending is a cautionary reminder of what can go gravely wrong when hollow words fill the minds of lost souls trapped in the mania created by men intoxicated with power. 

In the evil twist of things, tragedy always demands its due. Take heed!  

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