WASHINGTON DC - JANUARY 6 A mob of Trump supporters stormed and breached the US Capitol to support the Presidents false and baseless claims that he won the election on January 6, 2021 in Washington DC. Trump has asked his supporters including members of the extremist male chauvinist group Proud Boys to protest the election results. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Opinion

WALSH: Media Says Capitol Riot Killed Five People. The Truth Is More Complicated.

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We have been reminded repeatedly that the riot in DC on January 6th was “deadly” and “fatal” and “lethal,” as it has been variously described. The point is being hammered with extra enthusiasm during the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump this week. It is a point the media has cemented in the public consciousness over the course of the last month. Five deaths. That is the number we’ve been given by The New York Times and other legacy outlets. In fact, all in all, a total of seven deaths — four civilians and three police officers — have been tied to the riot.

The odd thing, though, is that most of these deaths are discussed only in the most general and vague terms. We are told that people died, and we are given the approximate alleged context of their deaths, but very little is said about how it happened. But the “how” seems rather important. It is certainly important to the families, who have a right to know exactly how and why their loved ones perished. It is important to the American public, which ought to be given the full truth of an event that has already been used to justify the indefinite militarization of our capital and the impeachment of the former president. And it is important, most of all, because the truth simply matters — particularly about what results in the tragic loss of life. If we are going to be told so often and in such emphatic terms that the riot claimed the lives of five people — or even seven people — then we should also be told how, exactly, that occurred. If the people making the claim don’t themselves know how it occurred, then they should not be making the claim at all. If they do know, and they aren’t telling us, then a whole new realm of problems opens up. 

So, what do we actually know about the often cited body count? Out of seven deaths in some way tied back to the riot, we know that two were suicides in the days and weeks following the chaos. Acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said that officers Jeffrey Smith and Howard Liebengood “took their own lives in the aftermath of that battle.” Does that mean that the trauma of the event pushed them over the edge? Did they leave notes or make statements indicating that the riot itself had caused that kind of psychological damage? Or did they have other things going on internally, or in their personal lives, that led to this tragic conclusion? If anyone knows the answers to those questions, they aren’t telling us. All we can say for sure is that two men who were serving in the line of duty during the riot later went on to take their own lives. Anyone who connects these two facts is making an assumption.

As for the civilian deaths tied to the riot, we know their names are: Benjamin Philips, Ashli Babbit, Rosanne Boyland and Kevin Greeson. It was reported by Chief Contee immediately after the riot that three of the victims — Philips, Boyland and Greeson — died from “separate medical emergencies.” Kevin Greeson’s family later confirmed that he had high blood pressure and died of a heart attack “in the midst of the excitement.” Even fewer details have been given about Benjamin Phillips’s death, but we do know that he suffered a stroke at some point on January 6th and later died in the hospital. 

For Rosanne Boyland, the story is murkier. It was initially reported by the media that Boyland was “trampled to death.” This would certainly qualify, unquestionably, as a death caused directly by the riot. Yet a more in-depth examination of her death in the New York Times shows that she collapsed while amid a flood of people near the Capitol building. Others in the crowd tried to revive her with CPR, but their efforts were unsuccessful. The chief medical examiner of Washington DC — as of January 21st anyway — said that her cause of death is “pending.” Was she indeed trampled to death? Did she suffer some other medical emergency? Did she have trouble breathing because of the crush of people? Thus far, we are left only to speculate.

Ashli Babbit is the clearest case of all. She was certainly killed by violence during the riot. But her death was caused by a police officer who fatally shot her while she was trying to climb through a broken door inside the Capitol building. Babbit was unarmed.

That leaves Officer Brian Sicknick. In many ways, the circumstances surrounding his death are the murkiest of all. Immediately following the riot, the Capitol Police issued a statement saying that an officer had “passed away due to injuries sustained while on duty.” We were told that “he returned to his division office and collapsed,” and then was taken to a hospital where he died. The Times and others reported that the officer, soon identified as Brian Sicknick, was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher by someone — or multiple people — in the crowd. This is the story that stuck. As prominent “human rights lawyer” Qassim Rashid put it on January 8, Sicknick “was beat to death by a fire extinguisher to his skull by right wing terrorists.” 

The problem with this established narrative is that it doesn’t appear to be true. Little has been officially revealed about Sicknick’s cause of death, and the autopsy results, for whatever reason, have not been made available to the public. But in a report that did not receive much attention or emphasis last week, CNN revealed:

Investigators are struggling to build a federal murder case regarding fallen US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, vexed by a lack of evidence that could prove someone caused his death as he defended the Capitol during last month’s insurrection.

Authorities have reviewed video and photographs that show Sicknick engaging with rioters amid the siege but have yet to identify a moment in which he suffered his fatal injuries, law enforcement officials familiar with the matter said…. To date, little information has been shared publicly about the circumstances of the death of the 13-year veteran of the police force, including any findings from an autopsy that was conducted by DC’s medical examiner…

Findings from a medical examiner’s review have not yet been released and authorities have not made any announcements about that ongoing process. According to one law enforcement official, medical examiners did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma, so investigators believe that early reports that he was fatally struck by a fire extinguisher are not true. One possibility being considered by investigators is that Sicknick became ill after interacting with a chemical irritant like pepper spray or bear spray that was deployed in the crowd. But investigators reviewing video of the officer’s time around the Capitol haven’t been able to confirm that in tape that has been recovered so far, the official said.

The case could also be complicated if Sicknick had a preexisting medical condition. It could not be learned if he did.

What this all means is that we do not yet know if Sicknick’s death, while obviously tragic no matter what caused it, was the result of any direct action taken by anyone in the crowd. There is, to date, according to these reports, no evidence at all that Sicknick was murdered. There is no evidence — at least none provided to the public — that his death was caused by the riot, even indirectly. All we actually know, all we have been told, is that Officer Sicknick was at the riot and then later died. That is the full extent of the information officially given to the public.

Overall, based on the available evidence, we can say conclusively that one person, Ashli Babbit, was directly killed by violence in the riot. We can say with relative certainly that two others died of medical emergencies stemming from underlying health concerns. That leaves two, Sicknick and Boyland, whose deaths are still a relative mystery — to the public, anyway. Presumably the autopsy results could lend quite a bit of clarity, but those results are being withheld, for whatever reason. At this point, any claim that five people died because of the riot, or were killed by the riot, or even that five people died in the riot, is based more on speculation than evidence. It is what the social media company and the news media itself would normally call “misinformation.” Yet in this case the misinformation is repeated, and allowed to be spread, and hardly anyone stops to question it.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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