The other revealing sentence came not from Trump but from Bartiromo. As has happened so often before, she offered no pushback on Trump’s claims, abdicating her responsibilities as a journalist and her network’s responsibility to inform its audience to instead bask in the energy of being Trump’s hypeman. But no utterance was more toxic and dishonest than her framing of the death of Ashli Babbitt, the rioter killed as she tried to enter a secure area that served as an escape route for members of Congress.
“I want to talk about that,” Bartiromo said when Trump raised the subject, “because Ashli Babbitt, a wonderful woman, fatally shot on January 6 as she tried to climb out of a broken window.” She continued by saying that Babbitt’s family wanted to know why this “wonderful woman, young woman who went to peaceful protests was shot.”
I can’t say with certainty what Bartiromo knows about Babbitt’s life. I suspect, given her broad incuriosity, that she knows little more than what’s been presented in the media, that Babbitt was a strong supporter of Trump and an Air Force veteran. She was also one of hundreds of thousands of Americans who’d chosen to believe the sprawling set of false claims central to the QAnon movement, a fervor that is likely to have contributed to her decision to come to Washington and, ultimately, to illegally enter the Capitol — the decision that cost her her life.
But I do know that Bartiromo’s framing of her death is false. Babbitt was climbing in a window, not out of one, when a security officer fired a single shot that struck her in the left shoulder. She was not at a peaceful protest when this happened but at the front of one of the clusters of protesters surging through the Capitol after breaking into the building at multiple points. Babbitt’s death, like every death and injury that day, was avoidable and tragic. But it was not a death for which it’s hard to identify causality.
This was the pattern for the entire interview. Trump offered obviously untrue claims casting himself and his followers as innocent victims of oppression, and a nodding Bartiromo set new subjects on the tee. Trump claimed both that a million people came to his rally in Washington on Jan. 6 (the real number was far lower) and that they heard a “mild-mannered” speech (“we’re going to have to fight much harder”), which, he implied, was unrelated to the events at the Capitol. Instead, the protesters were just there because they thought the election was stolen — an obviously false belief that of course flows directly from Trump. Bartiromo not only failed to object to this framing, she actively agreed with the false, debunked fraud claims and helped elevate new ones.
It was obvious on Jan. 6 that Trump was sympathetic to the rioters, as he made clear in his public comments on that day. Both because he was quickly muted by social media companies and, apparently, during a period of political temperature-taking, he largely didn’t wave away the rioters’ actions in the months that followed the violence. But he’s slowly been moving back to his original position, the one he reportedly articulated to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a mid-riot call that day: that the rioters simply loved their country.
From the start, Trump’s politics included an often explicit embrace of violence. His earliest rallies included comments about police or supporters attacking protesters. As president, he both publicly and privately endorsed the use of violence against people he saw as opponents, political and otherwise. The events of Jan. 6 were a natural consequence of his dishonest claims and his obvious approval of force — and of the failure of his allies to demand any accountability.
McCarthy, for example, has continually declined to comment publicly about his conversation with Trump. Trump told Bartiromo that he was “sure Kevin will be very good” when he did discuss the call — a fair assumption to make. Speaking at a Conservative Political Action Conference event in Texas on Sunday night, Trump joked that his second impeachment, the one for his role in inciting the violence on Jan. 6, had not moderated his behavior.
“I didn’t change,” he told the crowd, to raucous cheers. “I became worse. I became worse!”
The palpable danger is that Jan. 6 was not the endpoint of Trumpian political violence but merely a waypoint. Research published shortly after the events of that day found unexpectedly strong support for the use of violence on the right, including an obvious link between support for violence and belief in election-fraud conspiracy theories. A survey conducted last year found that most Republicans agreed that it might be necessary to “use force” to defend the “traditional American way of life.” Another conducted in February found that 4 in 10 Republicans condoned the use of political violence.
Those questions are abstract, but the threat is nonetheless real and the tension ongoing. On Sunday, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) held an outdoor town hall meeting in her district. A small group of Trump supporters, encouraged and joined by a far-right Republican candidate for her seat, showed up to berate her. The confrontation quickly devolved into a scuffle.
We’ve seen the pattern at play here many times before. Trump takes a contentious, questionable or dangerous position and sees the reaction. Often, his allies and his party go along with it, smoothing out the rougher spots. Trump then embraces it more explicitly, and even skeptical allies, perhaps now feeling complicit, sit in quiet agreement.
So now the Capitol rioters are tremendous, blue-collar folks battling an unfair system. They were simply in Washington to have their voices heard on the false belief that Trump and allies, including Bartiromo, fostered. They were the allies of law enforcement, not a mob that was seen on video attacking and abusing Capitol Police officers.
The message being sent from Trump is clear: Save some unstated exceptions, the events of Jan. 6 were, if not good, then justified. Those who participated were loyal Americans, doing their part. They’ve been treated unjustly, including Babbitt.
And there’s Bartiromo and her network, there’s the crowd at CPAC, nodding along.