For Far-Right Movements, Ashli Babbitt Is Now a ‘Rallying Cry’

“They will canonize her as someone who was merely standing up for her people, her country and her beliefs.”

— Seyward Darby, author of “Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism,” referring to Ashli Babbitt

On Wednesday, Ashli Babbitt, a relatively unknown, zealous supporter of President Trump became, in a matter of hours, a martyr-like figure for the far-right and white nationalist movements.

Ms. Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was part of the violent mob that besieged the Capitol in Washington, unleashing chaos and panic that disrupted the formal certification of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. In a pair of videos from inside the building, Ms. Babbitt, clad in a Make America Great Again flag that she wore like a cape, is seen trying to climb over a barrier and barge into the Speaker’s Lobby — where members of Congress were sheltering. “Go! Go!” she shouts, and then two men hoist her up to the ledge of a broken window.

At that point, a plainclothes Capitol Police officer fatally shoots her. She falls to the ground and is carried out of the building, bleeding around her mouth and neck.

Online, Ms. Babbitt’s name quickly ricocheted across social media platforms and turned into a rallying cry for far-right groups that now hold her up as proof that they had been wronged.

“Why don’t we know who shot and killed the unarmed young lady in the Capitol yet?” Buzz Patterson, a Republican congressional candidate from California, asked on Twitter. “Say her name,” he continued, appropriating a slogan used during the Black Lives Matter movement last summer against racial inequality.

The hashtag Justice For Ashli and related memes mushroomed on Parler, a social media site used by far-right groups, and other pro-Trump forums.

One meme on Parler shows a picture of the Senate back in session after the threat had been cleared with the caption: “No matter how evil you are, you’ll never be as evil as standing in the blood of a murdered patriot while voting to commit treason.”

The glorification of Ms. Babbitt, without mentioning that she had broken into federal property, isn’t surprising, said Seyward Darby, the author of “Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism.”

A white woman — specifically a wounded or a dead white woman — is a symbol that white nationalists and the far right have frequently relied on in the past to justify their actions, Ms. Darby wrote in a recent Op-Ed essay for The Times. It has always been “a rallying cry for people to stand up and act to preserve their contorted notions of honor, liberty and purity.”

In Her Words spoke with Ms. Darby to dig deeper into the role women have played in far-right and white nationalist movements, and how Ms. Babbitt’s story may end up galvanizing far-right networks for years to come.

Give us some context: What role have women traditionally played in white nationalist and far-right movements?

Let’s start with the Ku Klux Klan. In the late teens — around 1915 — a few people helped to revive the Klan, including a man and a woman who ran essentially a P.R. agency in Georgia. That woman, Elizabeth Tyler, was one of the most instrumental propagandists at the time, and she helped promote the idea of starting a women’s K.K.K. By the mid 1920s, the W.K.K.K. was its own, very powerful entity headquartered in Arkansas with branches all over the country. They did a lot of recruiting, they registered voters, they’d watch one another’s children so that they could cast ballots. But most important, they brought a sheen to this organization to make it look more dignified. The “we’re just concerned citizens” card, if you will.

Latest Updates

Fast forward to today, and the roles women of the far right play are more or less the same. They’re communicators and organizers and they’re there to put a soft face on the movement.

You have to remember the far right is a hyper-misogynistic space. But it’s not that they don’t care about women at all. They do — they care about them in both a practical and symbolic sense. And a lot of women in the movement buy into the misogyny, see it as being in their personal interest, because of the protection, privilege and value it provides them.

In a recent Op-Ed for The Times, you wrote that “a dead or injured white woman … has always been a powerful symbol on the far right.” Explain.

Going back to the initial version of the K.K.K., after the Civil War, the whole idea was that the Klan were “chivalrous.” They were there to protect and preserve the honor and purity of their women. You certainly saw so many lynchings justified because of reports — most of them false — of sexual violence against white women. You saw that manifest in the movie “Birth of a Nation,” and then you saw it just repeat itself over time in the language and iconography of various groups.

There are a couple of different reasons for that. One is just this appeal to white masculinity. And two, there’s the idea that a woman is like the embodiment of nation; a woman is the keeper of home and history, but she’s also the vessel for the future of the race, literally. So a woman then becomes a highly politicized and sexualized symbol in this space.

What about women who are on the frontlines of the movement, doing the fighting themselves? What should we make of them?

That’s where it gets a little more complicated. The general thinking in this movement has always been that, in an ideal situation, women wouldn’t have to be on the frontlines of anything. But because we’re in this so-called apocalyptic state — if you are a person that believes the far-right ideology, everything is apocalyptic at all times, by the way — it’s kind of like all hands on deck: People need to take risks, women need to step up and be soldiers because so much is at stake.

And then a woman being killed — I have to reiterate here that she [Ashli Babbitt] shouldn’t have been killed, but that aside — her dying sets her up to be a martyr for the movement. Probably the most well-known example of this is Vicki Weaver.

Remind us who she was.

The Weaver family were white separatists who lived in Idaho and, in 1992, the dad, Randy, was wanted on a weapons charge but didn’t appear in court. So, federal agents showed up to surveil the property, now known as Ruby Ridge, and that led to a shootout. The Weavers’ son was killed. Then the next day, the mom — Vicki — was shot and killed.

In my book, I quote a far-right pastor who said, at the time, that when the federal government shot this woman, they were waging war “against the American woman, the American mother, the American white wife,” and he said it was the start of a revolution.

She became a kind of rallying cry.

Exactly. Now when people think about Ruby Ridge, they don’t even think of Vicki’s name per se, they think, “Oh, that situation where the government was dealing with the separatists and they shot and killed a woman.” That’s what it gets boiled down to, and any normal person would hear that and think, “Oh, wow, that’s a really terrible thing.”

But it obviously strips important context. As I understand it, from my research, Vicki Weaver wasn’t a bystander. But the symbol gets simplified to just the blunt aspects of it.

We just don’t pay enough attention to the way an event like that ramifies through these networks of people who are skeptical of the government or are part of white supremacist groups.

And I think that we very well might see something similar happening here, with Ashli Babbitt. The symbolism of her death, I think, will have so many layers. They will canonize her as someone who was merely standing up for her people, her country and her beliefs.

In Her Words is written by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and edited by Francesca Donner. Our art director is Catherine Gilmore-Barnes, and our photo editor is Sandra Stevenson.

Sign up here to get future installments. Write to us at [email protected]. Follow us on Instagram at @nytgender.

Source: Read Full Article