RIDGELAND — The death of Ashli Babbitt during last week’s insurrection in Washington was certainly tragic. It is always sad to see a young person’s life extinguished by violence.
Blame, however, must be cast where it rightly belongs in Babbitt’s death. The guilty party was Babbitt herself. Trump is responsible for fomenting the insurrection, but she chose to follow him. She chose to accept conspiracy theories advanced on social media by QAnon and other right-wing sources. Trump and his tragicomic legal team spewed the baseless claims that the election was stolen, but she chose to answer the call to violence without critically assessing whether those claims were true.
A video of Babbitt on YouTube, made in the weeks before her death, shows an unhinged woman engaging in political rants about Democrats putting their party ahead of the needs of the nation, while neglecting to find the fault when Republicans do the same. Another video, the stuff of reality TV, shows the last three minutes of her life as she attempted to break into the U.S. Capitol Building. Such a woman was easily susceptible to conspiracy theories and to a call to attempt an overthrow of the results of a free and fair election. She was determined that Trump should remain president. She chose Trump over truth.
Babbitt’s death reminds me of events in Mississippi during the late 1960s. In September 1967, the Beth Israel Temple in Jackson was firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan. It was later discovered that one of the participants in that terrorist act was a popular and attractive fifth grade teacher in the Jackson public school system. Her name was Kathy Ainsworth.
Like Babbitt, Ainsworth was influenced by conspiracy theories. During her childhood, she was introduced to the teachings of Dr. Gerald K. Smith, an anti-Semitic clergyman who founded the Christian Nationalist Crusade. Later Ainsworth entered Mississippi College and was taught of the necessity of segregation to preserve the white race and Mississippi’s security. She accepted the baseless claims made at the time that Jews were behind the communist conspiracy to force integration on America.
Ainsworth’s obsession with these conspiracies led her to participate in acts of Klan terrorism. Her fatal mission occurred at the end of June 1968. On the last night of her life, she drove Ku Klux Klan terrorist Tommy Tarrants to Meridian, where they planned to firebomb the home of Meyer Davidson, a Jewish leader. Tipped off by a Klan informant, FBI agents and police were waiting for them, and Ainsworth was killed by a bullet to the neck during the escape attempt
There are always questions asked when people are killed during the commission of a crime. Somehow there is greater pause when the victim is a white woman, and perhaps there is more second-guessing about police actions. The deaths of Ashli Babbitt and Kathy Ainsworth, separated by more than half a century, should elicit some contemplation. Let’s not, however, absolve them of blame for their deaths, for they chose to commit their final actions.
• Vincent J. Venturini is the retired associate provost at Mississippi Valley State University. He lives in Ridgeland.