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When a single shot rang out during the Capitol riot and struck Ashli Babbitt, anti-abortion activist Tayler Hansen was filming.
“A young woman was just shot in the neck beside me in the Capitol Building,” he wrote on Twitter, where he appeared to be filming just steps away from the shooting inside the Capitol Building. Then he shared a second video showing Babbitt on the floor with blood streaming down her face, as panicked people attempted to save her.
“Ashli Babbitt was left to bleed out in a Red, White, and Blue Trump Flag,” Hansen wrote the next day about Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran who’d become an avid follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory. “She died wearing the same colors that she wore on her shoulder serving our Country bravely for 14 YEARS.”
Hansen, who made his name by painting “Baby Lives Matter” murals in cities across the country, just was one of several hardcore anti-abortion activists who showed up in Washington, D.C., last week to support President Trump’s baseless claims that the presidential election was stolen. According to their own social media posts, some of them even took part in the siege of the Capitol Building—an attack that led to five deaths and dozens of arrests.
Abby Johnson, one of the nation’s highest-profile anti-abortion activists, also showed up in D.C. that day. She tweeted an image of herself at the Trump rally that preceded the invasion of the heart of American democracy. Beaming at the camera, she wrote, “Front row with the most pro-life president of our country.”
“I was only mildly in the fray earlier,” she wrote in a Facebook post later that day. “Got a little bit of pepper spray in my lungs. (It’s not corona, it’s just pepper spray. Lol.)” Johnson, via her publicist, later told VICE News that she arrived at the Capitol steps after the “trespassing incident” and left soon afterward.
But it wasn’t just big names who showed up in D.C. People who’ve regularly protested at abortion clinics in Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio all said on social media that they were there to support Trump last week. One said in a video that she had made it all the way to the steps of the Capitol Building.
"Anti-abortion agitators have been calling and supporting the president’s call to storm Washington for some time.”
"Anti-abortion agitators have been calling and supporting the president’s call to storm Washington for some time,” said Erin Matson, executive director of Reproaction, which tracks anti-abortion activists. “I know and am confident that, as time goes on and more of those photos are analyzed, that we’ll see more and more overlap between the anti-abortion movement and the white supremacists who tried to overthrow the United States of America.”
John Brockhoeft, who was convicted of firebombing an Ohio abortion clinic and planning to bomb another in Florida in the 1980s, wrote on Facebook that he’d gone to D.C. on Jan. 6. After Trump released a video later that afternoon asking rioters to “go home,” Brockhoeft said he was “disgusted” with the president.
“I was there, and we showed him so much support that he could have stayed on as president no matter what [Mike] Pence or the Electoral College said,” Brockhoeft wrote in a comment on the page of another anti-abortion activist who’d also gone to D.C. “With Trump now telling us to go home and be peaceful, it's going to be a lot harder to win this war.”
VICE News could not independently confirm Brockhoeft’s claim to be in D.C. and he didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Then there was Derrick Evans, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, who live-streamed a video of himself, helmet-clad, urging the rioters to break into the building. Less than two years earlier, a court forbid Evans from having any contact with a woman who helped escort patients at West Virginia’s lone abortion clinic after she accused him of regularly standing outside and harassing her.
“We’re in! We’re in! Let’s go! Keep it moving, baby!” Evans can be heard shouting in the since-deleted video, segments of which were preserved online.
On Saturday, a day after the FBI picked up Evans for two misdemeanor charges, he resigned from the state Legislature. “I take full responsibility for my actions, and deeply regret any hurt, pain, or embarrassment I may have caused my family, friends, constituents and fellow West Virginians,” he wrote in a statement. (His lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Hansen, for his part, has spent the last several days tweeting about the evils of Big Tech and antifa, who he claimed “was primarily responsible for the vandalism of the Capitol and violence against the Police.” That claim has been widely debunked.
In a sense, anti-abortion activists have a clear reason to support Trump. Along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he has remade the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court, threatening the survival of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Over the course of his administration, state-level abortion restrictions have also grown steadily more extreme: While conservative legislators once pushed for regulations that hacked away at access, many now seek to cut it off entirely by passing bans on the procedure.
Still, it took anti-abortion true believers a while to embrace Trump, who once declared himself “pro-choice” but now likes to style himself “the most pro-life president in our nation’s history.” Over the last several weeks, leaders of even well-heeled, mainstream anti-abortion organizations backed Trump’s effort to overturn the presidential election.
Now, even after a deadly riot incited by the president, they’ve been reluctant to divorce themselves from Trump.
“Violence in pursuit of upholding justice and the dignity of the human being is nonsense at best,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the powerful Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “What is happening in the Capitol now is not reflective of pro-life Americans and Trump supporters who align with his call to support police today.” (No representatives of the group were at the rally on Wednesday.)
Other prominent abortion opponents found it more convenient to follow Hansen’s lead and spread the conspiracy theory that antifa was somehow behind the riot. Kristan Hawkins, head of Students for Life of America, the nation’s preeminent anti-abortion student group, blamed “ANTIFA members and other rioters” for storming the Capitol and denounced the attack. She said she’d been invited to attend the rally but declined because she feared violence would break out.
“Our nation was divided beyond repair before the election of Donald Trump. What has shocked me today wasn’t the ANTIFA members and other rioters who stormed the Capitol, it was that so many of you are just now realizing we have a major problem on our hands,” Hawkins tweeted, before comparing what happened Wednesday to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.
And it wasn’t until Friday that Johnson sent out a tweet that seemed to be on the cusp of a condemnation.
“Crazy people who bomb abortion clinics do not represent the pro-life movement,” she wrote. “Just like crazy people who bust into the Capitol do not represent conservatives. Common sense must prevail.”
“I don't support violence in any form, which is why I'm entirely against abortion,” she added to VICE News through her publicist.
Not every corner of the anti-abortion economy tried to run for cover after the Wednesday riot. The National Catholic Reporter published a fiery editorial demanding that Catholics “confess their complicity in the failed coup.”
The news outlet called out Johnson, newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and LifeSiteNews, a popular website that runs anti-abortion stories and published a warm interview with a man who confessed to entering the Capitol. LifeSiteNews added a subhead to the article that seemed to suggest that the man’s baseless claims of election fraud were credible: “There is enough 'illegal activity' being committed by elected officials, what are you supposed to do?” the outlet wrote.
“What frustrates me is that if you had been paying attention to the white supremacists and how they were attacking abortion clinics and treating people who spoke out in support of abortion,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, who runs WeTestify, an organization devoted to increasing the representation of people who’ve had abortions, “none of this would be a surprise to you.”