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Ashli Babbitt Cremation Request

Claim

Ashli Babbitt, who died during the Capitol insurrection, was hastily cremated by the government at its request.

Rating

Not True

Reporting

On August 3 2021, longtime disinformation purveyor Judicial Watch issued a “press release” provocatively titled, “New Documents reveal the DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Submitted a Request to Cremate Ashli Babbitt Two Days after Gaining Custody of Her Body.”

The “news” of Babbitt’s cremation predictably spread virally on social media platforms — often described as a “cover-up”:

Inferences by readers that Babbitt was cremated on government “orders” were understandable, as the Judicial Watch “press release” began in the following way:

Judicial Watch announced today [August 3 2021] that it received 1160 pages of documents from Washington, DC’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) related to Air Force veteran and San Diego native Ashli Babbitt. These new documents reveal that OCME submitted a request for permission to cremate Babbitt only two days after taking custody of her body [in January 2021] and that ‘due to the “high profile nature” of Babbitt’s case, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Francisco Diaz requested that a secure electronic file with limited access be created for Babbitt’s records.

On August 4 2021, Judicial Watch reiterated their claim in a shorter press release, “Medical examiner requested cremation of Babbitt’s body two days after Capitol breach, docs show.” Its title matched source material published to the website of another known and chronic far-right disinformation purveyor, JustTheNews.com; that material merely reiterated the Judicial Watch press release.

MediaBiasFactCheck.com’s entry for JustTheNews.com included the following preface:

Questionable Reasoning: Conspiracy Theories, Propaganda, Numerous Failed Fact Checks
Bias Rating: FAR RIGHT
Factual Reporting: MIXED
Country: USA (44/180 Press Freedom)
Media Type: Website
Traffic/Popularity: Medium Traffic
MBFC Credibility Rating: LOW CREDIBILITY

Both Judicial Watch and JustTheNews.com (and the tweets embedded above) described news of Babbitt’s cremation as “breaking,” unearthed in new documents, or as a “coverup.” But a July 30 2021 Washington Post profile of Babbitt (“How Ashli Babbitt went from Capitol rioter to Trump-embraced ‘martyr’”) devoted a section to her cremation and funeral.

That same article opened with a focus on Babbitt’s mother, Micki Witthoeft, and a July 2021 condolence call she had received from former United States President Donald Trump:

Her phone rang on that day in early July [2021], nearly six months after a police officer’s bullet killed her daughter as she and a mob of rioters seeking to overturn the election stormed a barricaded door deep inside the U.S. Capitol.

Micki Witthoeft answered the call and listened as former president Donald Trump expressed condolences over Ashli Babbitt’s violent death and acknowledged, she said, that her daughter had died Jan. 6 [2021] trying to salvage his lost presidency.

The article was lengthy and in-depth, encompassing details provided by Witthoeft and her bereavement. A section under “A bigger cause” included information about Babbitt’s funeral, information presumably supplied by her angry and grieving mother.

Further, the outlet explained that Babbitt’s body — not her ashes — “remained in Washington for weeks” following the January 6 2021 insurrection, after which she was cremated “in keeping with her wishes”:

After her death [on January 6 2021], Ashli Babbitt’s body remained in Washington for weeks while law enforcement completed investigations. Then she was cremated, in keeping with her wishes, and her remains were flown back to San Diego in February [2021], her mother said.

Not long after, her family boarded a boat and scattered her ashes in the waters off Dog Beach. A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

Witthoeft, during the hour-long telephone interview, said she has avoided watching footage of Jan. 6 [2021], including “the video of my daughter being murdered.”

“I just won’t do it,” she said, beginning to cry. “They carried my daughter out like a dying animal.”

That section continued by referencing lengthy and candid conversations with a grieving Witthoeft. The depth of her loss is evident in her words, but at no point in the article is her anger focused on any sort of premature cremation of her daughter’s body:

Since her daughter’s death, she has become politically active. On Saturday [in July 2021], she attended a Trump rally in Phoenix, where she received a standing ovation when [Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.)] introduced her.

She said she received no response from the offices of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) despite having left “at least 20 messages.” When she called the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Witthoeft said an aide told her that “ ‘although this incident is unfortunate, your daughter should not have stormed the Capitol.'”

Asked about Trump, whose call to her occurred six months after her daughter’s death, Witthoeft laughed nervously and said, “It’s a tricky question. This is such a roller coaster. I feel different things depending on the day.

“If I were to say something negative about Donald Trump,” she said, “my daughter would roll over in the grave, or on her seabed. Out of respect for my daughter, I shouldn’t ever say anything negative about him. She felt strongly enough about him to lay down her life for him and, in death, I believe she loves him still. I know she loves him still.”

At times, Witthoeft hinted at frustration with Donald Trump and the manner in which her daughter died; she also disclosed that a senator’s office rebuffed her attempts at contact. Witthoeft would likely be the first and most vocal advocate had her daughter’s body been hastily cremated, but she did not appear to reference it at all.

The article concluded with no mention of Babbitt’s relatives objecting to the handling of her remains:

These days, Michelle [Micki] Witthoeft [sic] said, she writes letters to Jan. 6 [2021] arrestees.

“I plan on writing them all — not because I’m Ashli’s mom — I love and support what they did,” she said. “They’re in jail because they are Trump supporters.”

Referring to her daughter, she said, “She made the ultimate sacrifice to bring attention to a stolen election.”

“Half the country loves her and half the country hates her,” she said. “It’s weird to have your child belong to the world.”

Babbitt’s cremation was mentioned in passing by CNN on June 18 2021, in an article where Witthoeft was paraphrased as saying she “didn’t appreciate the way the former President has behaved in the wake of her daughter’s death.” Witthoeft also provided an interview to a partisan outlet, published on July 29 2021.

Once again, Witthoeft didn’t temper her grief or anger and spoke openly, mentioning “that son-of-a-bitch [who] shot her.” That piece, published less than a week before Judicial Watch’s “press release,” included information about Babbitt’s cremation in February 2021; she died on January 6 2021:

Witthoeft said “red tape” and the military-style lockdown in the capital caused a long delay in getting Babbitt’s body back home. In February [2021], Babbitt was cremated and her remains scattered into the Pacific Ocean near her favorite dog park.

[…]

Donald Trump called Witthoeft on July 1 [2021]. He spoke very warmly about Ashli and talked about the political prisoners held without bond in a D.C. jail for months awaiting trial or plea offers. The people who went to Washington on January 6 [2021], Witthoeft said, were “true patriots doing what [the president] told them to do. They believed this was a stolen election.”

In May 2021, CBS News reported that Babbitt’s family planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Capitol Police; the handling of Babbitt’s body was never mentioned. A GoFundMe campaign for Babbitt’s family was created in January 2021 (archived here), and it indicated that as of January 10 2021, Babbitt’s family was financially unprepared for the costs of her final arrangements:

Ashli’s family would like to give her the memorial she deserves, to honor her memory, and say our last goodbyes. As Ashli’s sister-in-law and best friend of 22 years, I am currently asking for donations to help cover the cost of Ashli’s services. Due to the circumstances of her passing, the expenses of a memorial have become insurmountable for her family. Because of this devastation, her family, business and friends are being financially threatened.

CBS News linked to a Twitter account, @ForAshli, created and maintained by her surviving family; on August 4 2021, that account confirmed the Judicial Watch story was false:

Judicial Watch has a long history of creating and spreading disinformation, including an August 3 2021 press release heavily implying that Ashli Babbit, who was shot and killed by a U.S. Capitol Police officer while participating in the January 6 2021 insurrection attempt, was cremated improperly and almost immediately after her death. Babbitt’s mother Witthoeft provided numerous interviews during which she expressed raw grief, but never alleged anything of the sort. On August 4 2021, @ForAshli corrected the Judicial Watch report, stating nothing “nefarious occurred,” and the medical examiner had made a notation that the final disposition for Babbitt would be cremation, in accordance with the family’s wishes.

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