On the morning of January 6th, 2021, outgoing President Donald Trump addressed a crowd of thousands of his supporters outside the White House. “These people are not going to take it any longer. They’re not going to take it any longer”, he said, addressing his favorite foes in the media. “And we fight. We fight like hell. If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore”. What followed was unprecedented.
The crowd, made up of everyday Trump supporters, militant QAnon adherents, American nationalists, and avowed violent neo-Nazis, made their way up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the US Capitol Building where they soon overwhelmed the lackluster – and at times seemingly ideologically sympathetic – security detail and occupied the grounds of the United States’ heart of government. Before long, the more enthusiastic members of the crowd had forced their way into the building itself, where the US Senate and Vice-President Mike Pence were certifying the results of the presidential election and confirming Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States.
The ‘vanguard’ of wannabe revolutionaries made their way through the halls of the Capitol building towards the Senate chamber, some stopping in congressional offices to take tokens and mementos of their treasonous incursion into the halls of government, some taking incriminating selfies alongside busts of former presidents. A small group, made up of hardcore QAnon radicals and militiamen carrying flexicuffs, made their way into the recently evacuated Senate chamber, with Jacob Chansley – also known as the Q Shaman – making his way directly to the speaker’s podium in a symbolic gesture of fascist rebellion.
In the hallways, the growing crowd continued to push toward the House of Representatives’ Chamber. Capitol police officers and Secret Service agents had barricaded a closed door that led into the corridor through which congresspeople were being evacuated, guns drawn on the violent crowd. Ashli Babbitt, a radicalized thirty-five-year-old Air Force veteran and ardent Trump supporter with a ‘Stop the Steal’ flag draped over her shoulders, climbed towards the smashed windows of the door, briefly breaching the barricade. A police officer fired a shot, striking Babbitt in the chest and sending her falling backwards into the crowd. Babbitt was rushed to an ambulance after police and paramedics had been able to push their way through the rioters clogging the hallways, however, she soon died.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Babbitt has been turned into a martyr for extreme-right groups across the country. Her death is being used widely as a rallying call by fascist, neo-Nazi and pro-Trump groups on alt-social media sites such as Gab, Parler and Telegram, which have all seen an influx of new users since the purge of Trumpist and QAnon-aligned accounts from traditional social media sites towards the end of 2020. Groups such as the Proud Boys and their more openly fascist splinter groups have been circulating the ‘Martyr Flag’, a black flag depicting the Capitol, Babbitt, and four stars representing the four insurrectionists killed in the January 6th riot.
On TheDonald – an online forum home to many of Trump’s more radical base – a painting of Babbitt’s death reminiscent of the great American war paintings entitled ‘Daughter of Liberty’ has garnered significant attention, attracting ominous comments such as “someone needs to pay for this poor woman’s death” and “let’s turn this against them”. Perhaps most concerningly, the membership levels of many of these online groups and forums has been rising exponentially in the wake of the January 6th riot and the mass deplatforming from mainstream social media sites which followed.
The Western Chauvinist Telegram channel – a channel formerly known as ProudBoys: Uncensored, which regularly calls for violence and uses Turner Diaries-inspired language such as ‘the Day of the Rope’ to do so, saw its membership double from 12,000 to 28,000 between November 2020 and January 2021, and as of March 2021 stands at over 45,000 subscribers. The channel is acting as a gateway to the most extreme, neo-Nazi corners of alternate social media, and is now using the death of Ashli Babbitt to radicalize and mobilize its new membership.
It’s not just the fringes pushing this narrative. In a hearing about the January 6 insurrection on May 12, 2021, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and other Republicans joined conservative media in delivering a full-throated defense of the insurrectionists and Ashli Babbitt in particular:
Her status as a white woman and a ‘patriot’ who was, in the eyes of the extreme right. unjustly killed by overzealous law enforcement in defense of an illegitimate state naturally drew comparisons with Vicki Weaver, an antigovernment extremist killed during the Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho in August 1992.
Weaver’s husband, former Green Beret and ardent separatist Randy, was caught up in a sting operation when he procured an illegally modified shotgun for an undercover ATF agent. After failing to show up for his court date, the United States Marshalls Service was deployed to bring him in. The Weavers, however, were heavily armed and not willing to go quietly. When an USMS agent shot the family dog, who he believed was going to give their position away, the Weavers and their family friend Kevin Harris opened fire on the agents, leading to an initial gunfight in which fourteen-year-old Sammy Weaver and Deputy Marshall Bill Degan were both shot and killed. Vicki was killed a day later, when Lon Horiuchi, an FBI Hostage Rescue Team sniper, fired two shots at Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris respectively. The second shot glanced off Harris, going through the front door of the Weavers’ Idaho cabin and fatally striking Vicki.
Like Babbitt, Weaver quickly became a martyr for both the anti-government and white supremacists. Her perceived status as an innocent, white, female victim of ‘state aggression’ instantly placed her on a pedestal, and was used to justify tax protests, demonstrations and even violent action by far-right groups in the years that followed. Her name became a rallying call of militias, the Aryan Nations, Klan groups and neo-Nazis across America, and her death has been held up as a symbol of a violent, anti-white, anti-democratic government that would kill even an innocent woman in their campaign to crush dissent and confiscate firearms from the right-wing man.
Vicki Weaver’s death unified the far-right in America, and began a process of collective radicalization that would culminate in the worst act of domestic terrorism in United States history. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, co-conspirators in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, cited the events at Ruby Ridge as the first in a line of key events that radicalized them and convinced them that catastrophic violence against the state was the only viable solution.
McVeigh’s radicalization, and the role that Vicki Weaver’s death played in it, should stand as a warning for researchers, activists, and policymakers dealing with the far right. The symbolic use of the death of white women is used by the far-right to promote and justify their most heinous and devastating acts of violence.
The narratives of white feminine ‘purity’ and a violent, oppressive society hell-bent on destroying it has been consistently mobilized by propagandists, recruiters, and leaders to radicalize men towards violence, tapping into the deep-seated hero complex that undergirds far-right masculinities. The framing of women like Weaver and Babbitt as innocent martyrs for a greater cause are used to push men towards becoming more violent, active martyrs themselves, making the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect white femininity and by extension the white race.
As the dust of January 6th continues to settle, we need to be acutely aware of the narratives being pushed by far-right groups both online and in-person, and the self-radicalization processes that are being carefully guided and mentored so as to encourage and facilitate ‘lone wolf’ violence. Gender has always played a central role in far-right organization, radicalization, mobilization, and violence. Only by understanding the ways in which gender, masculinity and femininity are used within the far-right sphere today can we begin to challenge this hateful ideology which has cost so many lives over the last century. Hate is intersectional, our response to it needs to be intersectional too.
Simon Purdue is a Doctoral Fellow at Doctoral candidate in World History, Northeastern University. See full profile here.
© Simon Purdue. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This article was originally published at CARR’s media partner, Rantt Media. See the original article here.