Fact check: Trump stokes Jan. 6 conspiracy theories
Washington – Former President Donald Trump is falsely describing the circumstances of Ashli Babbitt’s death as he foments conspiracy theories about the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and all the “love in the air” that day.
In comments over the past week, Trump insinuated that a Democratic partisan shot Babbitt – it was actually a Capitol Police officer defending the House chamber from attackers such as her. And Trump said Babbitt was shot in the head – in reality she was shot in the shoulder and died from the wound.
The defeated president’s comments come as he and many of his supporters recast the pro-Trump insurrection as a patriotic display of “spirit and faith and love,” as he put it Sunday on Fox News Channel.
As thoroughly documented by video, photographs and people who were there, the attackers barged into the Capitol during hours of chaos, many of them hunting for lawmakers in hiding and for Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, who was there to certify Joe Biden’s election victory.
Trump had exhorted his followers at a staging rally to “fight like hell” to deny Biden the presidency. Five people died in the attack that followed or its aftermath, and dozens of law enforcement officers were injured.
A look at Trump’s recent remarks:
TRUMP: “I will tell you they know who shot Ashli Babbitt. They’re protecting that person. I have heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official, a Democrat. And we will see, because it’s going to come out. It’s going to come out.” – on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
THE FACTS: No, the officer who shot and killed Babbitt was not head of security for a Democratic official. He is a police lieutenant on the 2,000-member Capitol Police force that protects the buildings and grounds.
The force guards members of Congress regardless of their party. Democratic and Republican lawmakers do not employ their own security services at the Capitol. All depend on the nonpartisan force as well as on local police officers in some cases. Trump’s linking of the officer to a top Democrat is baseless.
A few high-ranking members of Congress, such as the House speaker, the House majority leader and the Senate majority leader, have an extra level of protection because their prominence and power may put them under greater threat. They are assigned a security detail made up of a small, rotating group of Capitol police and local officers depending on where they are.
The officer who shot Babbitt on Jan. 6 was not a member of such a security detail, according to law enforcement officials and the officer’s lawyer. He is assigned to security in the House. In any event, there is nothing Democratic or Republican about the security details for top members.
Babbitt was shot by the officer when she tried to climb through a door with the glass smashed out as she and others in the mob pressed to get into the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House chamber. She was unarmed.
Federal prosecutors cleared the officer of any wrongdoing after an investigation into the shooting and did not publicly name him. Capitol Police, concerned for his safety, have also not released his name. The officer’s attorney, Mark Schamel, said his client is facing “many credible death threats” and other “horrific threats” and was forced from his home because of them.
The Associated Press is not naming the officer because of the concerns for his safety.
The fact that the officer was not in uniform at the time has fed into the conspiracy theories that Trump is encouraging. Officers in the security details for high-ranking lawmakers wear plainclothes. But so do other members of the Capitol Police at times. It depends on their assignment.
TRUMP, demanding to know who is “the person that shot Ashli Babbitt, boom, right through the head … why isn’t that being studied?” – speaking to reporters Wednesday in Bedminster, New Jersey.
TRUMP: “Who is the person that shot … an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman, right in the head?” – Sunday in the Fox News interview.
THE FACTS: Babbitt was shot in the shoulder, not in the head, and the circumstances of her death were “studied.”
Babbitt, 35, was part of the mob breaching the House as Capitol Police officers were evacuating members of Congress from the chamber. The officers used furniture to try to barricade the glass doors separating the hallway from the Speaker’s Lobby to try to stave off the attackers, who kept trying to break through those doors, smashing the glass with flagpoles, helmets and other objects.
Babbitt, wearing a stars and stripes backpack, was attempting to climb through one of the doors where the glass was broken out, when the officer fired one round from his service weapon, striking her.
Federal prosecutors investigated the shooting for several months and announced in April there would be no criminal charges. Prosecutors reviewed video of the shooting, along with statements from the officer involved and other officers and witnesses. They examined physical evidence from the scene and reviewed the autopsy results.
Officers are allowed to use deadly force if there is a serious risk of harm to them or others. Authorities said they did not find grounds to charge the lieutenant.
Trump described his supporters that day in glowing terms. “The crowd was unbelievable,” he said Sunday. “And I mentioned the word ‘love.’ The love – the love in the air, I have never seen anything like it.”