The Journey of Ashli Babbitt

Flowers and candles are seen at a memorial for Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot dead at the U.S. Capitol after U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building, in Washington, U.S. January 7, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was shot and killed by Capitol Police while attempting to enter the Speaker’s Lobby on the second floor of the US Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021. Babbitt was part of a thousands-strong mob that stormed the building after the conclusion of the #StopTheSteal rally at the Washington Monument earlier in the day. 

At that event, President Donald Trump had encouraged rally goers to head to the Capitol to protest the certification of the 2020 presidential election. His comments came after weeks of false and inflammatory statements to the effect that he had won the election, and that his enemies had rigged it against him. 

Babbitt’s shooting was captured on several videos that were recorded and shared by people in the crowd. Her own social media history also reveals her movements on the morning and afternoon of January 6. But looking back further shows an ideological journey that saw her travel from stating she had backed President Barack Obama to engaging in damaging right-wing conspiracy theories.

We have looked at Babbitt’s social media footprint, as well as other open source information, to trace both journeys.

The Awakening

On January 5, Bellingcat published an article detailing how the January 6 rally in Washington D.C. was preceded by weeks of online discussion among the MAGA right, QAnon and adjacent groups about the “Wild Protest” that would take place in the capital that day. As the article outlined, these conversations openly considered whether the Capitol should be stormed and burned.

While Babbitt was described to San Diego news stations as a patriot by her husband and “loyal and extremely passionate” by her brother-in-law, her social media history details engagement with some of the darker sentiments circulating in online right-wing and pro-Trump circles in recent years.

In terms of her views, Ashli Babbitt probably didn’t stand out from the crowd massed at the U.S. Capitol. And that is precisely why the story of her political awakeningwell told through her activity on Twitteris so instructive in understanding what brought that crowd together.

Over the past five years, a potent MAGA online subculture appears to have transformed this former Obama voter, who turned to Trump over a dislike of Hillary Clinton, into a QAnon follower ready to storm the Capitol. In a Twitter exchange on November 15 2018, Babbitt said that she had voted for President Obama, calling him “our president” and saying that he had done “great things”:

By that time, Babbitt was describing herself on her Twitter page as a hardcore liberatarian, and tweeted messages of support to political figures like Senator Rand Paul, Meghan McCain, Tucker Carlson, and Candace Owens

By 2019, her Twitter feed struck a more explicit anti-establishment tone. That September, Babbitt wrote about a “political global ring/Hollywood/elite”, the seeds of this rhetoric can be traced back to a Fox News video Babbitt shared back in late 2016.

Two months later, these posts became more conspiratorial, lambasting the media and “elites’” involvement in human trafficking. She had yet to mention QAnon, but did refer to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

In February 2020, Babbitt began to tag her posts with QAnon terms, beginning with “WWG1WGA” (Where We Go One We Go All) and simply “Q.”:

It was only in March 2020 that Babbitt first used the term QAnon and started retweeting major QAnon Twitter accounts:

Like nearly all QAnon followers, she believed the election results were rigged and that Trump had won, but that wasn’t Babbitt’s only motivation to attend the January 6 rally. She first announced she’d be in attendance by replying to a post that reads, “We will not let the children be forgotten.”:

Babbitt sent her last tweet on January 5 2021, which contained two QAnon references: “the storm is here” and “dark to light”:

(For more on Babbitt’s history of posts around QAnon, see this Twitter thread by Garrison Davis [@hungrybowtie).

The Storming

Babbitt was clearly committed to her cause, as her social media history shows. On January 5th she flew across the country from her home in San Diego to Washington D.C. to take part in the #StopTheSteal rally.

She listened to President Trump make his speech, and was evidently enthusiastic to be part of the movement, beaming as she described “a sea of nothing but red, white and blue, patriots and Trump. And it was amazing, you could see the president talk,” in this video obtained by TMZ.

Babbitt, like so many others, walked from the site of Trump’s speech down the inaugural path to the Capitol building, describing the group as a “mob”. There, she joined the people who had already broken through the first lines of woefully underprepared Capitol police, and who would eventually break into the Capitol itself through a door on the vast building’s North-West side.

Footage showing the crowd climbing the Capitol steps and breaking through a security fence.

Image: The entry point into the Capitol building. (Map courtesy of United States Congress)

Once inside the Capitol, Babbitt walked through the halls, and can be seen in video footage recording the event on her cellphone. She appeared briefly in a video report by ITV News at the initial breach of the Capitol building, walking in front of the camera holding up her cellphone, wearing a beanie hat, a distinctive red and blue backpack and with a flag tied around her neck.

Left: Still from footage from ITV News report depicting Babbitt at 01:35. Right: Still from Infowars footage of Babbitt’s shooting.

Her route took her south through the ground floor, and eventually up to the second floor towards the Hall of the House of Representatives, commonly referred to as the House Chamber, where many of the United State’s lawmakers had taken shelter. At 2:30 PM EST she could be seen on a PBS livestream of the National Statuary Hall, still filming on her mobile phone and wearing her distinctive backpack as she walked neatly between the guide-ropes (visible at 03:30:48 in the PBS video) towards the House Chamber.

Image: Babbitt caught on camera in the National Statuary Hall, heading towards the Hall of the House of Representatives, also known as the House Chamber (Map courtesy of United States Congress)

The crowd that Babbitt joined was angry. They yelled “Whose house? Our house!” and attempted to batter down doors as they moved through the Capitol. The latter part of this journey was captured in a video by the extremist conspiracy website Infowars. As the mob reached their target, the House Chamber, it was obstructed by a securely-locked door. Behind it stood members of the Capitol police, with guns drawn behind a crudely made barricade.

Image: Route of the mob, of which Babbitt was part, through the Capitol building. The orange square is the location of the blockaded door to the Hall of the House of Representatives, also known as the House Chamber. (Map courtesy of United States Congress)

Defeated by this barricade, the mob turned left and sought another way in. As they moved around the halls, their path took them to a door in front of which stood two police officers, clearly unprepared for any kind of crowd control. This door led to the Speaker’s Lobby, a hallway that contains entrances to the House Chamber. 

Image: route of the mob, of which Babbitt was part, through the Capitol building. The red square is the location of the door to the Speakers Lobby (Map courtesy of United States Congress)

At around 2:40 PM — the same time the mob reached this door — PBS reported that Vice President Mike Pence had been escorted to safety from the House Chamber (visible at 3:39:58 in the PBS video). However, it appears that other lawmakers were still present in the Chamber at that time.

It was here, outside the Speaker’s Lobby, where Babbitt would be shot a short time later.

The Shooting

At approximately 2:45 PM, Babbitt stood outside the door to the Speaker’s Lobby along with a large mob. In the background of the InfoWars video, men in suits and law enforcement officers could be seen moving about in the corridor. 

A screenshot from a video posted to InfoWars Video. The confrontation at the door moments before Babbitt’s shooting (Source: https://theresistance.video/watch?id=5ff6857e00bac0328da8e888)

The crowd at the door to the Speaker’s Lobby vastly outnumbered the Capitol police and staff at the scene. Inforwars footage showed the standoff that ensued, as some in the crowd chanted “break it down”, in reference to the door and makeshift barricade that had been erected behind it. This same footage shows Babbitt yelling at the officers guarding the door as members of the mob start to smash through them.

Image: A screenshot from a video posted to InfoWars Video. The crowd reaches the door of the Speaker’s Lobby. Note Babbitt on the right, with the U.S.-flag backpack (Source: https://theresistance.video/watch?id=5ff6857e00bac0328da8e888)

At this point, four heavily-armed police officers climb up the stairs toward the crowd in an apparent attempt to control the situation and evacuate the police officers and staff in front of the door.

A screenshot from a video posted to InfoWars Video. The crowd reaches the door of the Speaker’s Lobby. Note Babbitt on the right, with the U.S.-flag backpack (Source: https://theresistance.video/watch?id=5ff6857e00bac0328da8e888)

As the police officers and staff guarding the door were being escorted away, Babbitt pushed to the very front of the crowd and climbed through the smashed door into the Speaker’s Lobby. A single shot rang out and Babbitt fell to the floor. The shooting was captured in at least four different videos, compiled and synchronised in the video below:

A video shared on Twitter (below) shows the moment that a man in a suit standing behind the barricaded door shot Babbitt. He was later confirmed by Washington law enforcement to be a member of the Capitol police.

A clock located on top of the door into the Speaker’s Lobby captured in the Inforwars footage showed 2:44 PM about a minute and a half before Babbitt’s shooting, placing the event at approximately 2:45 PM.

Screenshot from theresistance.video; clock showing approximately 2:44 PM about a minute and a half before Babbitt’s shooting. Source: (https://theresistance.video/watch?id=5ff6857e00bac0328da8e888)

At 3:16 PM, a man who claims to have been at the scene of the shooting shared two videos on Twitter showing Babbitt receiving medical care on the floor moments after the shooting. In the tweets, the man claims that the shooting had “just” taken place, and that he had been standing near Babbitt at the time that it occurred.

As Babbitt lay dying on the floor, her fellow members of the crowd pulled out their phones and began to film, illuminating her body with the lights of their devices. Babbitt passed away soon after. 

The Aftermath

Despite the ample warning that Babbitt and thousands of like-minded people would attend the #StopTheSteal rally on January 6, District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department Acting Chief Robert J. Contee III said that there was “no intelligence suggesting that there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol”.

Yet the shooting of Ashli Babbitt was preceded by weeks of violent online discussions from the MAGA sphere, white supremacist groups and QAnon conspiracy theorists threatening to storm the Capitol building on January 6. These threats were made more credible by years of violent acts and rhetoric by right wing groups spurred on by the Trump administration. 

US politicians have since castigated law enforcement for a failure to keep the mob at bay. On January 7, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, Mike Senger, would be fired. Speaker Nancy Pelosi also requested the resignation of Steven Sund, the Capitol Police Chief. Sund submitted his resignation letter that same day.

As pro-Trump supporters mourn her passing , it is hard to say what role Babbitt’s death will play against the backdrop of what is now extreme political instability. It is clear, however,  that her death was a tragedy, as was the process of radicalisation which brought her, like so many others, to the steps of the Capitol. 

Our partner Newsy has published a video outlining the journey that thousands of others took yesterday from the #StopTheSteal rally to the halls of Capitol Hill, much of which was captured on footage by members of the mob. 

Bellingcat is currently engaged in a crowdsourcing effort to collect and archive as much digital evidence as possible of the storming of the Capitol and the shooting of Ashli Babbitt. If you have digital evidence that you would like to contribute to this effort, please refer to this document.

We want to thank all of the volunteers and individuals whose contributions so far have made the identification, collection and analysis of this event possible.

Contributors note: Garrison Davis (@hungrybowtie) contributed to this report.