Former President Donald Trump has spent the last few weeks full of regret about Jan. 6—but not because of the riot he inspired.
Instead, Trump has complained that he should have ordered the White House flag flown at half-staff for Ashli Babbitt, the U.S. Capitol rioter and QAnon believer who was fatally shot while attempting to break into a refuge for lawmakers fleeing a pro-Trump mob, according to a person with direct knowledge and another source familiar with the matter. As recently as in the past two weeks, Trump had mentioned that one reason Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, deserved such an honor was because of her nearly decade-and-a-half service in the military, the source with direct knowledge recalled.
Four days after the insurrection, Trump eventually did order the flag at the White House and other federal buildings lowered, in honor of Capitol Police officers who died after the riot, but only after pressure from lawmakers and other politicians.
Trump’s private comments mark the latest of his attempts to rewrite the history of Jan. 6, casting Babbitt in the role of a martyr unjustly slain by a rogue police officer—rather than the rioter captured on video trying to breach a secure area of the Capitol at the head of a mob.
A spokeswoman for Trump didn’t provide comment for this story on Wednesday.
Babbitt, 35, was shot and killed by an officer on Capitol Hill as she and other MAGA devotees attempted to break into the Speaker’s Lobby. A day before the riot, Babbitt tweeted that Jan. 6 would mark “the Storm”—the long-awaited day QAnon supporters imagined Trump would arrest or execute his political enemies and impose a fascist dictatorship.
"Nothing will stop us," Babbitt tweeted. "They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours."
In the months since the riot, Babbitt has become a cause célèbre in various conservative circles, with Trump and other prominent Republicans holding her up as a martyr and demanding to know the identity of the officer who shot Babbitt.
In a Sunday appearance on Fox News, Trump portrayed Babbitt as an innocent victim of a ruthless gunman, praising Babitt as “wonderful” and demanding the name of the officer who shot Babbitt.
“Who is the person that shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman, a military woman, right in the head?” Trump said. “And there’s no repercussions.”
Trump also claimed, without citing evidence, that the Capitol Police officer who shot Babbitt actually belonged to a high-ranking Democratic lawmaker’s security detail, a claim disputed by law enforcement officials.
“I will tell you they know who shot Ashli Babbitt,” Trump said. “They’re protecting that person. I have heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official, a Democrat.”
Like Trump, right-wing media outlets and personalities have attempted to out the officer who shot Babbitt. On July 7, Paul Sperry, a writer for Real Clear Investigations who also played a key role in attempting to out the CIA whistleblower who raised concerns about Trump’s 2019 Ukraine call, published an article claiming to name the officer who shot Babbitt. Sperry was followed by Charlie Kirk, the Turning Point USA founder and Trump ally, who claimed to name the officer who “murdered” Babbitt during a Fox News appearance on Sunday.
It is unclear where Trump first started getting his alleged intel on the supposed identity of the officer. In the past few days, the former president has privately groused about how major media outlets haven’t named the officer, claiming that journalists—“even Piers”— know who killed Babbitt, but are declining to print the name, the source familiar with the matter said.
“Piers” is apparently English broadcaster and on-and-off Trump pal Piers Morgan, who penned a July 7 Daily Mail column titled, “I know who killed Capitol Hill rioter Ashli Babbitt but you don’t, and neither does her family—and whether you think she's a traitor or a patriot, that is a shameful failure of public transparency and justice.”
Immediately after the riot, Babbitt’s image became hotly contested on the right. Some far-right groups tried to make her a martyr, creating a stylized logo of Babbitt with her face surrounded by drops of blood in front of the Capitol. But after her death, some QAnon promoters and other conspiracy theorists claimed she was an antifa plant, or a deep-state agent inserted to make the rioters look bad who later had faked her death.
Thanks to the efforts of Trump and right-wing media outlets, though, Babbitt has become seen by many Trump supporters as a heroine to Trumpism. The idea that Babbitt was an innocent victim has also been embraced by some members of Congress, with Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) claiming in June that she had been “executed.”
“The Capitol Police officer that did that shooting appeared to be hiding, lying in wait and then gave no warning before killing her,” Gosar alleged.