The storm is here: the journey of Ashli Babbitt from the guardian capitol to the invader.
The politician she admired had lost an election over all others. She had suffered with crushing debt levels. Due to a virus she thought was fiction, her home state of California was locking down again.
Ashli Babbitt was elated as she walked east on Wednesday along the Mall, carrying a backpack emblazoned with the American flag.
"It was amazing to get to see the President's talk," Babbitt said, beaming in an early Wednesday afternoon video she streamed on Facebook that was later released by TMZ. "We are now walking down the inaugural path to the building of the Capitol. Three million more people."
There was no crowd of three million: only a mob, lawless and maskless, numbering in the thousands. The goal of Babbitt, as she had repeatedly proclaimed on social media, was to restore American democracy. But as one of the most significant assaults of that democracy, she was about to take part in a riot that would go down in history.
Babbitt, a 35-year-old Southern California Air Force veteran who once supported Barack Obama, believed she had found a cause that gave her life's meaning after a long but undistinguished military career and years of personal labor. Within hours, that cause would bring her life to a violent end.
Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol, killing one woman and firing tear gas
Hers was the first death announced on Jan. 6, when President Trump incited rioters to overwhelm the U.S. government seat. There would be more in the coming days. Brian D. Sicknick, a 42-year-old Capitol police officer who died while attempting to drive back the crowd after being injured. Rosanne Boyland, Kevin D. Greeson and Benjamin Phillips, who died during the confusion of medical emergencies.
But it was Babbitt, fatally shot by the police as she tried to jump through the broken door window inside the Capitol, whose name almost immediately became synonymous with the feverish campaign that had driven thousands of Americans to desecrate a pillar of their government.
She was a martyr to her comrades in the revolution. Back in California, Roger Witthoeft, the brother of Babbitt, didn't even realize that she had attended the protest until their father, distraught, called him with news of the shooting. He found a video online.
Witthoeft recalled, "There was no doubt that it was my beautiful sister."
The journey of Babbitt, highlighted by her extensive involvement in social media, court and military documents, and interviews with those who knew her, was one of paranoid commitment and passion that only grew as the fortunes of Trump deteriorated.
She pursued the theory of the QAnon conspiracy avidly, persuaded that Trump was doomed to defeat a cabal of child abusers and Democrats adoring Satan. She figured Wednesday would be "the storm," while the mythology of QAnon maintains that Trump would catch and execute his adversaries.
Babbitt was on a rocky path long before she accepted those ideals. She was obedient but defiant, loyal to her country but mostly unable to get along with those who shared it. She failed in her attempts to operate a small pool service business outside San Diego, a believer in American pluck and free enterprise.
She served in the armed forces for more than a decade, but under the military hierarchy, she was chafed. Six of those years were spent in an Air National Guard unit whose mandate is to protect the area of Washington and respond to civil unrest. The Capital Guardians are its nickname.
She hoped, like so many others, that Jan. 6 would not be a day of infamy, but an end to her troubles.
"Nothing is going to stop us," she tweeted Jan. 5. "They can try and try and try, but the storm is here and in less than 24 hours it's descending on DC....dark to light!"
This was the last thing she was going to publish.
She was fed up with her executive officer. It was 2014, and Babbitt detested him, according to a former staff sergeant in the unit who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears retaliation online, along with most of her Air National Guard unit, then stationed at the Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.
But she kept herself in check despite her reputation for being blunt. Then one day, just before quizzing service members on its contents, the executive officer slipped new papers into a briefing binder.
The former staff sergeant said, and the executive officer granted it, "which was a huge mistake for that captain." Babbitt asked for permission to speak openly.
"She "let him have it" for the next few minutes, said the former staff sergeant. He and other unit members watched, riveted, as Babbitt screamed and gesticulated, warning that the officer, who far outnumbered her, was sapping morale. He also observed the exchange, another former airman who worked with Babbitt said.
The former staff sergeant said, "She was like a dog with a bone." "No matter what her attention was on, she could never let go, and she was absolutely unafraid of anything."
Babbitt, who grew up in a small town in the foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains of Southern California, left equally powerful impressions on others who had crossed her path. "The staff sergeant said that she was a fast talker, whipping through sentences "like a chinchilla that had just made a cocaine line. According to the airmen who worked with her, she avoided punishment for questioning the officer in 2014, but it was not the only time her personality put her at odds with the military's culture and laws.
In 2014, an Air Force journalist wrote that she had served at least seven times and cherished the ability to tutor young airmen. But her career was stunted by disciplinary issues and insubordination, said two former airmen who worked with her. At least once, they said, she was demoted.
As a senior airman, Babbitt left the military in 2016, a comparatively low rank for someone who has spent more than a decade in uniform.
Babbitt spotted the ex of her husband, Aaron Babbitt, Celeste Norris, pulling out of a shopping center parking lot in southern Maryland the same year, according to a court petition filed later by Norris for a restraining order. According to the petition, Babbitt spun her white SUV in a U-turn and started chasing Norris, finally rear-ending the car of the other woman three times and forcing her to stop.
Then Babbitt left her own car, "screaming at me and threatening me verbally," wrote Norris, who refused to comment on this article. In early 2017, Norris filed a second petition for a restraining order, alleging Babbitt had driven her home from work and called her "all hours of day and night."
Any of those who worked with Babbitt stayed in contact with her, recalling how deeply she protected people for whom she cared. That meant other service members at one point in her life.
But within a few years of leaving the service, one of her fellow airmen said, "she had a new cause." "And QAnon was her reason."
'We Save America Today'
Eventually, Babbitt would post more than 8,600 tweets, offering a vivid account of her fall into a world of theories and illusion of conspiracy, but her first message was addressed to Trump, the man she thought was destined to rescue her country.
"#love," she posted Oct. 31, 2016, a picture of three signs nailed to a tree next to his name and above: "Make America Great Again," "H FOR PRISON" and "CHRISTIAN DEPLORABLES LIVE HERE."
A week later, on Election Day, she wrote again to Trump, "We're saving America today from tyranny, collusion, and corruption." Babbitt cried when he won.
She was an avid Fox News fan, praising Tucker Carlson on the network and other far-right media figures as she derided their liberal aims. A registered Libertarian, she didn't always hate the Democrats, announcing that she had voted for Obama at least three times in recent years.
"She wrote in November 2018, "I think Obama did nice things... I think he jacked some s——up," but I think he did a lot of good... at a time when we needed him."
But she had determined that Trump was the man we wanted now and for years to come, and her loyalty only grew as she became more consumed with baseless online propaganda, all while her professional life collapsed.
On July 1, 2019, because she had evidently failed to repay a loan, a judge imposed a $71,000 judgment against her pool company. Babbitt had proposed the day before to launch a GoFundMe to pay for Trump's Mount Rushmore extension, and the day after, she lodged an angry tirade at the U.S. Sen. Ocasio Alexandria-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
"You're losing it," wrote Babbitt, "seriously."
She spread far-right lies about the kidnapping of children by Hillary Clinton and portrayed the left as modern-day enslavers. For the first time, early last year, she appeared to use the QAnon hashtag, parroting the enigmatic jargon advocated by her most ardent supporters.
The best," she wrote on Feb. 24, "is yet to come.
It will come to light what is dark! "A month later, she said.
We have to #SaveTheChildren," she requested in one post, using a humanitarian hashtag hijacked by conspiracy theorists to encourage their claim that a secret elite group runs a pedophilia ring."
Witthoeft, her brother, had little understanding of his sister's side of things, he said. As millions of people do now, he knew that she was an emotional woman intensely committed to Trump, but she didn't press Witthoeft's politics, preferring to talk to her about sailing, hockey or comedy.
"She was passionate, yes, but also very compassionate," he wrote to a Washington Post reporter, remembering a dark time about a decade ago in his own life. He was in California, where they had grown up, but the East Coast was where she lived. During a phone call, he confided in her and the next day, when he got home from work, she was waiting for him.
To him, she was an optimist who had seldom been frustrated, except by her business troubles.
"He recalled her saying, "I'm healthy, I have people who love me and live in the best country in the world. "Every other issue is small."
Yet online, she argued that the issues in the world were greater than they had ever been.
In the midst of the pandemic, which she insisted was overblown, her rage seemed to escalate, calling it the power virus and the F—-ING JOKE.
"She wrote in July, "We are being hoodwinked." "The sheep need to wake up.
She found a tweet from Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris on Dec. 29, eight days before her death, promising to deliver more vaccinations, encourage mask-wearing, and bring students back to school.
"No f——you won't!" answered Babbitt.
However, her online indignation receded, replaced with glee and a new sense of mission in the week leading up to her trip to Washington for the Trump demonstration. She retweeted hundreds of people endorsing Trump's demands that his supporters gather to reverse the election, including Trump supporter Jack Posobiec, QAnon activists, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump Jr.
"Tomorrow I'll be there!" she wrote Jan. 4 in answer to another supporter going to the capital of the country. "Speed of Gods!"
The next morning, she boarded a plane in San Diego and sat next to Will Carless, a USA Today journalist who would later film the moment right before the pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol. He called her "gregarious and chatty" and said they spoke about a beach town in California that every one of them enjoyed.
In the District, it was overcast and cold the next day. Babbitt dressed in a hooded jacket and put on her shoulders an American flag backpack. She listened to the president tell her and several others that the country could only be taken back with determination, not weakness. Then she marched surrounded by fellow "patriots" to the Capitol, she said in her final Facebook video.
Her husband told Fox-5 San Diego, "She loved her country, and she was doing what she thought was right to support her country, joining similar-minded people who also love their president and their country."
He said, not long after 2 p.m., he sent a message to her to ask her how she was doing. She never wrote back.
A fact that is affirmed
Babbitt was with the crowd that swarmed the lightly staffed barricades surrounding their national legislature while her husband was waiting. They bashed through the windows of the U.S. Capitol in a scene unlike any in American history. They clashed with the police, shouting and waving flags of the Trump campaign and flags of the Confederate battle. They wandered through the Capitol halls and chambers as hysteria
And they shot a round.
Exactly how and when Babbitt reached the Capitol remains unknown. She certainly knew that law enforcement could use lethal force in response to the breach. Airmen once occupied in the D.C. in the role of Babbitt. The 113th Air Wing of the Air National Guard receives riot-control training, and on Wednesday her former unit was activated to defend the Capitol.
But what happened inside has since become clear: the angry crowd that bashed in the windows of a barricaded door to the Speaker's Lobby, with a small tanned woman at the front of its ranks in an American backpack. Her attempt to climb through one of those windows, leading the way, despite a Capitol Police officer pointing a pistol in her direction. The sudden way she fell backwards after a
And how she left was easy.
A paramedic team rushed a gurney to an ambulance parked at the southeast corner of the building at around 3 p.m. On it was Babbitt, looking relentlessly in the direction of the building she had just tried to occupy, the location where her hopes of a revitalizing 'storm' were meant to come true.
Blood ran from her nose and engulfed half of her face. Her eyes were on the verge of closing. When the doors closed and it pulled away, Riot police guarded the ambulance. And that night, Babbitt died far from her home and family, Congress affirmed what she had died denying as true: Donald Trump will not remain president.