A Capitol police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt during the Jan. 6 riot bravely stepped forward and revealed his identity on Thursday in an interview on NBC Nightly News. After the attempted insurrection, Lt. Michael Leroy Byrd, a 28-year-veteran of the force, had faced threats and intimidation, as his name traveled in various circles. Russian state television besmirched Byrd for months and revealed his ethnicity long before he was publicly identified. State TV hosts and pundits repeatedly described him as a “Black officer” and outrageously attributed his motives for shooting Babbitt to reverse racism against white people.
Thursday’s broadcast of the Russian state TV show 60 Minutes went all in on that demented line of attack with a segment entitled “Black Racism.” During the episode, host Olga Skabeeva claimed: “Sensation in the case of the Capitol riot! Today, during primetime, the most liberal American television channel will air the interview with the black policeman who shot an unarmed white woman, a follower of [former U.S. President] Donald Trump, Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt. Ashli tried to walk from one room to the next, through the door broken by somebody else, but instead was struck by the bullet.”
Skabeeva continued her diatribe: “The American justice system somehow managed to clear the officer of all charges… In case you didn’t know, the policeman got away with it because he is Black—and Blacks are permitted to kill white people. I will remind you that when the dark-skinned criminal George Floyd was accidentally choked during his apprehension, a white policeman was sentenced to prison for more than 22 1/2 years.”
The comparisons between George Floyd and Ashli Babbitt have been featured on Russian state TV since January, with detailed compilations of bullet points that smeared Floyd and extolled Babbitt. State TV show The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev compared the list of George Floyd’s alleged crimes against Ashli Babbitt’s achievements. The host, Vladimir Soloviev, described Babbitt as “the icon of neocons” and claimed: “Only white America cares about her death, but not the democratic press.”
During a July broadcast of 60 Minutes, Skabeeva repeatedly emphasized that Babbitt was a white woman and claimed that she was suddenly shot at point-blank range for no good reason. Partial footage depicting the events on Jan. 6 was repeatedly played on the screen, but Skabeeva didn’t seem to notice the discrepancy between the images of the violence that ensued in the Capitol and her description of what happened. On Aug. 4, Skabeeva described Babbitt’s death as an instance of “a negro who offed a white protester.” She proceeded to repeat her mantra that the policeman who killed Ashli Babbitt got away with it by virtue of being Black, and ludicrously claimed that in America, “Negroes are starting to lynch the whites.”
On Aug. 21, the state TV channel Rossiya-24 also claimed that the case against Byrd was “simply squashed,” when in fact Byrd had been cleared of wrongdoing. Three days earlier, U.S. correspondent for the state TV channel Rossiya-1 Valentin Bogdanov condemned the quality of the inquiry into Babbitt’s killing and complained that the officer who shot her “is still walking free.”
Racism on Russian state television continually raises its ugly head, from the coverage of the Olympics to smearing Capitol officers who testified about the events of Jan. 6. Stoking racial divisions in the United States is one of the Kremlin’s favored instruments of influence and the coverage of Ashli Babbitt’s case is no exception.
Vladimir Putin personally capitalized on this case by bringing up Babbitt’s name and publicly questioning her death, with supportive coverage by Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
In late January, Russian pundits and government officials even pondered how to use the matter to Russia’s advantage, as a countermeasure to the Global Magnitsky Act. State TV host Vladimir Soloviev suggested to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova: “Americans are constantly making lists. A woman named Babbitt, who was a supporter of Trump, was killed. Should we create a Babbitt list?”