Remember Her Name

Crowd of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, ultimately leading to the building being breached and the death of a rioter, Ashli Babbitt. Photo courtesy of The Commons
Crowd of Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, ultimately leading to the building being breached and the death of a rioter, Ashli Babbitt. Photo courtesy of The Commons

Unless you were a member of Ashli Babbitt’s family, it is easy to forget about the misguided woman who was shot to death during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Babbitt was shot directly in the left shoulder/chest area by an African American Capitol Hill police officer who prevented Babbitt from breaching the locked French glass doors that led to the haven where Congressional members retreated.

So, this answers the question about who killed Babbitt but does not answer the question, “Who is responsible for her death?” It is not that she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she was there, like thousands of others, for a rally called by the outgoing president, Donald Trump.

Trump sought to stop the Congressional certification of the incoming president, Joe Biden. Trump gave a stirring speech in which he claimed that the election was stolen from him.

For many liberals, this bogus claim was driven by a delusional, egotistical and deeply selfish mind. In his concluding remarks, Trump told his loyal supporters to go up to the Capitol certification proceedings “to fight like hell,” presumably to stop the certification so he could remain President.

Trump used the post-election mantra “Stop the Steal” when, according to a ranked White House Republican staffer, Alyssa Farah Griffin, “On the night of the final vote count, everyone in the White House knew that Trump had lost the presidential election.”

However, no one has ever taken responsibility and apologized for causing the death of Babbitt. Permit me to attempt an explanation.

Trump’s father, Fred Trump, asked Roy Cohn to mentor his young son. Cohn, a Joe McCarthy sycophant, instilled in Donald Trump his philosophy: “Never take a step back, never admit fault and never apologize.” Donald Trump did travel to the home of Babbitt’s mother to offer his condolences and to absolve his guilt, as if he had any.

As a historian, I try to place the Trump phenomenon in the milieu of the past as it is directly connected to the present. Therefore, my mind drifts back to Robert Koehler’s painting of 1886 entitled The Strike.

Social critics today seldom mention the class question as it pertains to the “haves and the have-nots.” Koehler, an immigrant from Germany, witnessed hundreds of labor strikes of poor workers against the wealthy owners of the factories in which they labored for low wages and in awful working and living conditions.

Teaching 20th century American history at Fresno State, I required students to examine Koehler’s painting, which features an owner of an industrial factory facing down angry workers crowded before him while he stands on his mansion’s front porch dressed in a bespoke black suit and an expensive beaver hat. In the left corner of the painting, one can see a young mother holding her infant daughter, and in the right center, one can see a ragged worker stooping down to pick up a brick. Yes, during the Gilded Age, violent strikes were the norm.

After my students viewed and studied the work of art, I asked them to consider analogically whether the owner could be a historical antecedent of Donald Trump. Of course, most students were confused because in their contemporary world, the closest thing they had witnessed to the class question might have been a teachers’ strike within their school district. However, we teach students critical-thinking skills and a strike by teachers certainly falls within the social hierarchy of the haves and have-nots.

Of course, the class struggle against the captains of industry in their beaver hats reached another apex in the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre. The massacre occurred when one thousand workers marched for unionization at the locked gates of Republic Steel in Chicago.

Owners of the plant called out the police to maintain law and order, which was achieved when the police opened fire on the peaceful marchers, killing 10, all shot in the back.

Artist Philip Evergood captured this incident in his 1937 painting, An American Tragedy. Evergood understood the gender question and its importance by placing women in the struggle at the center and on the left side of the canvas while police battled union men.

Yes, Donald Trump would drop a dime and call the police today if faced with a hotel workers’ strike at, let us say, Trump Towers. Trump’s historical predecessors in the Gilded Age did not expect the poor have-nots to support their political aspirations. But ironically, Trump does expect them to do so today, and far too many workers, betraying their history of class struggle, vote for him. Babbitt, sadly, was one of them.

Ashli Babbitt most definitely lived her life within the social category of the have-nots. She served in the Air Force and had a tour in Afghanistan and was married twice, and she voted for Barack Obama at least once. Ironically, she died at the behest of Donald Trump, a sworn adversary of Obama.

Her death was a tragic end to a life confused by her inability to understand that the man in the beaver hat did not have her interest at heart.

Author

  • Malik Simba

    Dr. Malik Simba is professor emeritus of history and Africana studies at Fresno State and has taught at the University of Minnesota, Binghamton University and Clarion University. His book, Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism: From the Colonial Background through the Ascendancy of Barack Obama and the Dilemma of Black Lives Matter, is used widely. Dr. Simba serves on the board of Blackpast.org, the Google of the Africana experience.

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Homer
Homer
13 days ago

An excellent and well written essay. Yes, MAGA proponents and non critical Trump follows are putting their lives and our democracy at risk.

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