Wednesday, June 22, 2022

To Trump's True Believers, January 6th Was an Act of Faith, Ashli Babbitt's a Martyr, and White Is Not Only a Race, But a Spiritual State

Following-up, "Georgia Election Worker Shaye Moss, And Her Mother and Grandmother, Terrorized by Trump Followers After 2020 Election (VIDEO)."

At Vanity Fair, "January 6 Was Only the Beginning":

"Although no one believed in civil war, the air reeked of it…" — Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, recalling 1860.

1. It’s Cool

We watched her die before we knew her name. We watched almost in real time, or soon enough after, her death looped and memed before the fight was over. But then, the fight’s still not over. A video gives us a crowd throbbing against two wooden windowed doors, one reinforced glass pane spiderwebbing, three Capitol Police officers, standing between the glass and members of Congress on the other side. We don’t yet know to look for her, but she’s there on the screen, the only woman, up front (“a firecracker,” her friends will say), screaming at cops. (“Joking,” her defenders will claim.) There’s a knife in her pocket. She shouts: “Just open the door!” It’s barricaded. “Break it down!” chant the men. One screams at the cops, “You lied!” The cops said there was nobody on the other side. They can see them. Congressmen. Traitors. A young man wearing a black T-shirt and $325 Canada Goose aviator fur hat, shouts “Heyyy!” He stretches out his arms, pulsing veins—he has already punched the glass, hard—and opens his hands. “Fuck the blue!” shouts the crowd. A man wearing a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag tied like a bib beneath his MAGA hat hands Goose a black helmet with which to hit the glass.

Goose lines the helmet with his hat, to cushion his fist. The cops slide out of the way. (“Escape route,” one will later tell investigators; they thought they were going to be killed.) “Go! Get this shit!” the videographer shouts. They get that shit—pounding the reinforced glass.

“Gun!” the videographer yells. Two hands emerge from behind a pillar on the other side, aiming.

Fourteen seconds left. Does she hear them shout “gun”? Can she make out the warnings Michael Byrd, a plainclothes lieutenant in the Capitol Police, will say he delivered? That the man standing beside her will say, “She didn’t heed”? “Please,” Byrd will say he shouted. “Stop! Get back!” She doesn’t. He aims. There are more videos. There she is, bobbing up and down, straining. Her long, smooth face, her dark golden hair, her golden skin. She has come to this moment—seven seconds—from Ocean Beach, California, where she lived in a bungalow beneath avocado and lime trees. Little woman. Five foot two, 115 pounds, her mother will say. One hundred ten, according to Representative Paul Gosar, the Arizona Republican who’ll make her name into a martyr song, “#onemoreinthenameoflove.” She’s 35; or in her “20s,” one witness will say; or “16, supposedly,” guesses another man, each aging her backward, into the imagined innocence of girlhood.

Goose smashes the glass.

“Go!” she shouts. She’s boosted up. She crouches on the sill, her Trump flag like a cape tucked under a red-white- and-blue backpack, like some absurd American bird.

The gunshot sounds like a cannon. Glock 22, .40 caliber. Big gun. One boom.

She falls back. Her hands fly up, open, empty, raised to her temples. As if rather than a bullet there’s an unsettling thought.

Nobody tries to catch her.

“#Sayhername,” the patriots will tweet, delighting in their appropriation of a campaign created for Black women. It’s grotesque. But the dead are the dead, no matter what they died doing. So, yes, her name: Ashli Babbitt. She wasn’t a hashtag. As a girl in rural Lakeside, California, she’d ride her horse to the 7-Eleven. She was a scrapper. “She just did boy things,” her brother will say. She joined the Air Force at 17. Two wars, eight deployments, 14 years. Her favorite movie was The Big Lebowski. Her thing was the shaka. “Hang loose,” thumb and pinkie. (Her last words, as she bleeds on the Capitol floor, according to a witness: “It’s cool.”) She did not climb the ranks, but she did marry, and then divorce, and in between she voted for Obama, and she fell in love with a Marine named Aaron Babbitt, and there was some trouble with his ex, who in 2016 claimed Ashli rammed her car three times, but Ashli was acquitted and anyway, maybe love is like that sometimes, at least for Ashli in 2016, since that was when she fell hard for Donald J. Trump. “#Love,” she wrote beside his name that Halloween, in the first of more than 8,000 tweets. “She was all in,” says Aaron, who did not share her devotion. She believed Trump was “one of gods greatest warriors.” She thought she’d be his “boots on the ground.” She wanted to be “the storm.” She had a husband and together they had a girlfriend; she had four younger brothers and parents who loved her, and in the end, she left them all. What’s left is a meme, “Ashli Babbitt,” on Twitter and Fox and Newsmax and Telegram, where she dies on permanent repeat for a man who won’t, in fact, say her name for half a year, until the day it proves useful, when the Trump Organization is indicted for tax fraud. He’ll issue a one-sentence statement: “Who shot Ashli Babbitt?” That he knows is beside the point. Who shot her? They did. The enemy.

2. Sacramento, California

The Justice for Ashli Babbitt Rally opens with a prayer, asking God to bless Ashli’s family, sitting in a row of white “Justice 4 Ashli” T-shirts, and to work on the hearts of the “opposition,” which, whether I like it or not, is me. Ashli’s mother, Mikki Witthoeft, has already told me this morning that she wouldn’t talk to me. “Media,” she’d growled. “Goddamned media,” she’ll clarify when she takes the podium.

Leading the prayer is a “patriot” pastor called JP. He looks like an especially dangerous mushroom. JP wears a black floppy sun hat, mirrored shades, a stars-and-stripes gaiter, green half gloves, and utility-belted jeans that puddle around his ankles. His black T-shirt features in golden letters a “battle verse” popular with patriots, Joshua 1:9. “Be strong and courageous,” the Lord instructs Joshua as he readies to storm Jericho and, at God’s command, to slaughter all—“man and woman, young and old.”

We’re on the west side of the California State Capitol. The rally was called by a group named Saviors of Liberty, hatched in a pickup truck three weeks prior by a couple of white dudes drinking beer and thinking about all that was wrong in the world and how they might fix it by building a supergroup of right-wing fraternal organizations. They’d need new T-shirts. Lady Liberty bleached white on a field of black, looking in sorrow on a red-and-black American flag, vertical so that its stripes appear to bleed. Packed into these T-shirts are muscle-bound men, some bulked up by bulletproof plates, many flexing studded leather gloves. Many are Proud Boys.

A rally organizer keeping a lower profile is a woman named Chelsea Knight, an administrator of Placer County, California, for Trump and a co-administrator, with her husband, Victor Knight, of a Telegram chat group called 1488, which surely has nothing to do with the “14 words” embraced by white supremacists—prattle about protecting white children—and 88, as in the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, which times two in the idiot math of fascism equals “Heil Hitler.” That’s Victor’s thing. He’s the one with an SS Totenkopf skull tattooed on his left fist. Victor’s here too, and that plus the 90-something-degree heat on the sunblasted concrete, plus antifa’s promise to disrupt, may explain the low turnout.

Antifa does arrive. A column of mostly black-clad, black-masked protesters coming from a rally on the other side of the Capitol for what should have been Breonna Taylor’s 28th birthday. The Saviors are ready. A Savior in a skull mask takes the first shot at the tallest antifa, a beanpole in black but for his fists and the pale skin around his eyes. Saviors call him Nosferatu. He’s skinny but he knows how to take a punch; it bounces off his head, and you can almost hear him smile beneath his mask. “That’s a pussy-ass move right there,” Nosferatu says.

Another Savior throws a punch. The cops observe. Then an antifa protester takes a swipe. The cops charge—at antifa. An antifa cries to the police even as they shove her backward.

“Shut up, fat ass!” a right-wing streamer screams.

“Fuck yourself, faggot!” she answers.

“These cops want to let us go at ’em,” comments the man next to me. It’s one of the speakers, Jorge Riley, an indicted J6er.

“They don’t have any worries about what the outcome would be,” says a Savior.

Riley smiles. He wears his black hair in a ponytail and a black leather vest over a black T. “I’m a French-speaking Native American Jew,” he likes to say. “For Jesus,” he sometimes adds. He waits for a laugh. He invaded the Capitol with three white feathers braided into his hair, three streaks of black paint running down each cheek. In a video, he boasts: “I may or may not have rubbed my butt on Nasty Pelosi’s desk.” Before January 6, Riley held positions in the local Republican establishment. Two days after the insurrection, he posted his address on Facebook: “Come take my life. I’m right here. You will all die.” The FBI, he thinks, didn’t get it. The “joke,” the threat, was for antifa. “I got six charges,” he crows. He says he likes cops, except the cop who shot Babbitt.

“You feel like the cops are on your side?” I ask.

“Obviously!” He swings his arms open. “They’re here protecting me.” He turns to a woman beside him and asks for the name of the officer who killed George Floyd. “And they only prosecuted him,” continues Riley, “because these people”—the protesters—“threw a fit.” A white cop’s nine-minute knee on a Black man’s neck? “Somebody doing their job.” A Black cop’s split-second shot at a white woman leading a mob? “Assassination,” Riley agrees with another of the speakers today.

Such is the seesaw reality of January 6. “No cops were hurt,” Riley says. More than 150 were hurt. Five would die. Riley says it was a lovefest, J6ers and cops hugging it out after a friendly tussle. Delusion? No—his smirk bespeaks self-awareness. Disinformation? Too obvious. More like lucid dreaming: a deliberately surreal assault. I think of a Telegram message one of the Proud Boy organizers sent on January 6: “I want to see thousands of normies burn that city to ash today.” It wasn’t their own crimes that thrilled them, it was the prospect of drawing the many into their boogaloo vision. The city still stands. But in my mind—in the imagination of anyone who even now marvels at how close we came; how close we still are—it burns. The coup was a bust. The psyop? Victory.

Here, in Sacramento, the speaker at the podium, a former TV host named Jamie Allman—taken off the air of a St. Louis ABC affiliate after he tweeted his desire to “ram a hot poker up the ass” of a Parkland shooting survivor—declares January 6 “one of the most beautiful days I’ve seen in America.”

In the back of the crowd, protesters challenge patriots to define “Nazi.”

“We love America,” says one.

“If Ashli Babbitt were here,” continues Allman, “I guarantee you she’d be out there”—on the edge of the fighting—“talking to those people.”

“Scum!” a patriot screams at the protesters.

“Ashli Babbitt does not want you to be afraid,” Allman says, “ever again.” Present tense. Ashli Babbitt lives, in the hallucinatory. Allman says the patriots will return to Washington, to remember her. Ashli Babbitt dies, in perpetuity.

“I suffered,” says Riley. “But I didn’t pay the price Ashli did. I’m like the guy from 300. I lived to be able to tell her story.”

At the podium, Allman: “What her death does, when we compare it to Crispus Attucks, is—it calls for a revolution!”

“It calls.” The myth of history is calling the patriots. The “spirit of 1776” and 300, the 2006 CGI blood opera, 300 Spartan warriors’ battle against an overwhelming Persian horde until all but one Spartan falls. Attucks, the first man to die in one war, and the fictional Spartan warrior who was the only survivor of the latter, the source material of which is a comic book. Sacrifice stripped of history. “Trial by combat,” as Rudy Giuliani promised on January 6, hours before the mob made it real. “The first Patriot Martyr of the Second American Revolution,” an Oath Keeper posted before anyone knew who the martyr was, only that hers was the mythical victimhood of a white woman, killed by a Black man, they could now claim...

Keep reading.

What happened to Ashli Babbitt, and the official whitewashing after her death, is the most infuriating thing about January 6th.