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Right-wing America’s obsession with glorifying traitors

From the Confederacy to the Capitol insurrection, conservatives keep elevating champions of white supremacy.

Tony Naples, left, and Gary Phaneuf salute at a memorial for Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 7 in Washington. Babbitt was fatally shot while attempting to breach a barricaded door during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.Matt McClain/The Washington Post

A week before statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were taken down in Charlottesville, Va., the former president of the United States uplifted another traitor.

“Who shot Ashli Babbitt?” asked Donald Trump during his July 3 rally in Florida. “We all saw the hand. We saw the gun. . . . You know, if that were on the other side, the person that did the shooting would be strung up and hung. OK? Now, they don’t want to give the name. . . . It’s a terrible thing, right? Shot. Boom. And it’s a terrible thing.”


The deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol
Shots are heard inside the House chamber, an intruder invades Pelosi’s office, and Trump supporters make it into the House chamber. The mob roams the Capitol.

On Jan. 6, Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she and other insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol tried to break into its House chamber. She died in defense of Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election that he lost by more than seven million votes.

Six months after her death, there’s a right-wing effort to falsely recast Babbitt as a freedom fighter instead of a woman so radicalized by Fox News and social media that extremist conspiracy theories ultimately consumed her. Republican legislators don’t want a full investigation of the deadly insurrection, but are promoting a mendacious up-is-down narrative where terrorists are tourists, sedition is patriotism, and tyranny is democracy.

When Babbitt died, far-right extremists believed they had found their own George Floyd. As Floyd’s murder last year sparked worldwide protests against police violence and systemic racism, white supremacists saw an opportunity to exploit Babbitt’s name and image as a rallying cry for whatever violent reckoning they were trying to provoke. Such beliefs aren’t confined to the Web’s worst places; they also fester among GOP members of Congress.

“If this country can demand justice for someone like George Floyd, then we can certainly demand justice for Ashli Babbitt and everyone deserves to know who killed her. . . . We need to know who it is,” said Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia on Newsmax, a right-wing outlet.


Someone like George Floyd,” Taylor Greene said, as if he’s undeserving of justice. This is no less offensive than Greene’s idiotic comparisons of COVID-19 protocols and vaccinations to Nazi Germany. Floyd was senselessly murdered by Derek Chauvin, then a Minneapolis police officer. Babbitt was shot as she attempted to climb through a shattered window leading to an area where some members of Congress and their staffs were barricaded — from people like Babbitt.

Of course, one extremist isn’t enough in today’s unmoored GOP. Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, a man so odious that several of his own siblings say he should be removed from Congress, claims there’s a coverup surrounding Babbitt’s death. There isn’t, though this is probably the only time people like Greene, Gosar, and Trump have objected to a police shooting.

Since Babbitt coveted the same lies espoused by Trump, the former president contends that she was killed “for no reason.” He called Babbitt “an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman.” In doing so, he’s plumbing a potent vein of white supremacy — the purity of white womanhood devoured by dark forces.

Such rumors helped spark the organized white terrorism of the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921 that wiped out a thriving Black community; the torture and murder of Emmett Till, a Chicago teenager, by two white Mississippi men in 1955; and many more desecrated Black bodies than history will ever confess. In 1909, the Charlotte News published the article “White Women in Danger” to justify violence against Black men. It said, in part, that unless Black men’s “outcropping of criminality” was stopped, “we dare not contemplate eventualities, if once the citizenship becomes aroused over the commission of some heinous crime.”


Trump and his cult are trying to fashion Babbitt’s death into that “heinous crime.” Her likeness may never sit upon a plinth in a leafy park (at least I hope not), yet she has become something harder to remove from public view — a symbol for those convinced that her death should be avenged.

Babbitt is not a martyr. She’s an avatar of white supremacy’s glorification of traitors to democracy. History gutted of its truth about white violence has long been a conservative compulsion. It’s how those treasonous Confederate men who believed in human bondage came to be immortalized in stone. And it’s the insidious tie that binds them to Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who died trying to overthrow the government of the nation she once swore to support and defend.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.