"Ashli Babbitt’s 'martyrdom' is tied up in her remaking as an innocent," Sharlet explained. "You realize that the gun and the fetus, it’s an innocence cult. It’s not a death cult, people misunderstand this. It’s an innocence cult, which is to say, it’s also the erasure of history. It says, 'No, no, no, there’s no original sin in American history. We were always good.'"
Sharlet noticed unsettling historical parallels right away about Babbitt's killing, which he compared to the plot of the infamous 1915 film, "Birth of a Nation," which inspired the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and justified racist terrorism against Black people by presenting them as sexually predatory against white women.
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"I remember sitting there at my kitchen table, watching Jan. 6 on the computer, texting furiously," Sharlet said. "We heard about a white woman being killed. It was very soon after that we knew the cop was Black, and I thought, 'Holy sh*t, it’s 'The Birth of a Nation.' They just did a live re-enactment of their fantasy!"
The innocence myth was built almost immediately around Babbitt, a disillusioned and indebted Air Force veteran in her mid-30s whom the right presented as smaller and meeker than her criminal past and actions during the riot would suggest.
"They would say Babbitt wore an American flag, but it’s not true," Sharlet said. "She wore a Trump cape, which is the new American flag. They would say she’s unarmed, but it’s not true. She was carrying a knife. There’s a photo of [Babbitt’s knife] on the cover of the book. You could say, well, it’s a small knife. Really? That knife is plenty big enough."