SAN DIEGO (AP) — Like President Donald Trump, the San Diego woman fatally shot by police as a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol had used Twitter to amplify her views, including false allegations that November’s election was riddled with fraud.
“Nothing will stop us….they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours….dark to light!” Ashli Babbitt wrote Tuesday, a day before she and thousands of other Trump supporters took part in the siege in Washington, D.C., to try to keep the president in power.
Capitol Police on Thursday identified Babbitt, 35, as the woman who was fatally shot by an unidentified officer. Bystander video shows she was trying to climb through the broken window of a barricaded doorway inside the Capitol when the officer fired.
While some who support debunked views on everything from the coronavirus to the election are likely to view her as martyr, Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund said the mob was involved in “criminal riotous behavior,” not free speech.
On social media, Babbitt often ranted against the president’s frequent targets — illegal immigration, government mandates to contain the coronavirus and, most of all, Trump’s critics.
Her Twitter account promoted mainstream conservative views but also included references to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which centers on the baseless belief that Trump has been secretly fighting deep state enemies and a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibals operating a child sex trafficking ring.
“Whatever people are saying about her, I just want them to know, she was a beloved woman and brave and she walks the walk,” Babbitt’s mother Michell Witthoeft told FOX 5.
Witthoeft said the family is heartbroken with the loss of her daughter. She still has not seen the videos taken from inside the Capitol on Wednesday.
“I remember thinking it can’t be possible that you serve your country three times in the Middle East and get shot down by your own people,” Witthoeft said.
Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who identified as a Libertarian and supporter of the Second Amendment, frequently posted unsubstantiated views about election fraud by the president and his most extreme supporters — activists whose conspiracy theories and unflinching support for Trump have attracted large online followings.
Videos she posted online show her fulminating against illegal immigration. Her posts were sometimes profane.
Babbitt appeared to view pleas to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as an affront to her personal freedoms. She backed a recall drive against California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has imposed strict stay-at-home orders.
“Mask Free Autonomous Zone Better Known as America,” read a large sign on the front door of a pool service business she ran with her husband in Spring Valley, near San Diego. No one answered the door Thursday at the business or the couple’s home, a modest duplex in San Diego.
In August 2016, Babbitt was charged with reckless endangerment for hitting a woman’s car three times in Calvert County, Maryland, and pursuing her through the streets in what’s described as “road rage.” She was acquitted months later.
Babbitt was among the rioters who smashed their way into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, forcing members of Congress to hide, Sund said. Rioters “actively attacked” law enforcement with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants and “took up other weapons against our officers,” he said.
Babbitt’s husband, Aaron Babbitt, told FOX 5 that he sent his wife a message about 30 minutes before the shooting and never heard back.
“She loved her country and she was doing what she thought was right to support her country, joining up with like-minded people that also love their president and their country,” he said.
“She was voicing her opinion and she got killed for it,” he said.
Videos posted by bystanders show a crowd in a corridor massed against a set of barricaded, glass-paneled doors. Some beat at them with sticks and poles as people yell, “Bust it down!”
A gloved hand with a gun is visible, pointing it diagonally at the doors. Someone yells, “He’s got a gun!”
Babbitt appears to be hoisted up against one of the glass panes. An officer points a gun at her, fires and she falls to the ground.
“Shots fired!” someone yells.
A bystander says, “Ladies and gentlemen, a lady was just shot. She might be dying right now.”
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said Babbitt will be remembered as a martyr by people with a range of grievances spanning from disbelief in the seriousness of the pandemic to beliefs in QAnon conspiracy theories.
“When you have people in an alternate universe, they will take a catalytic event and spin it in a way that is most appealing to their emotions and fears, irrespective of what the facts may end up showing,” he said.
Babbitt’s ex-husband, Timothy McEntee, called her a “wonderful woman with a big heart and a strong mind” in an email to The San Diego Union-Tribune. McEntee said he and Babbitt were married from April 2005 to May 2019.
A Facebook account with Babbitt’s name says she married Aaron Babbitt on June 25, 2019.
The Air Force said Thursday that Ashli Elizabeth McEntee was on active duty from 2004 to 2008, most recently at Dyes Air Force Base near Abilene, Texas. She was also member of the Air Force Reserve from 2008 to 2010 and the Air National Guard from 2010 to 2016.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Jennifer Peltz in New York and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.