The president of the United States called out predecessor Donald Trump not by name but by reputation Thursday, marking one year since the Capitol Hill riots with a remarkably simple exhortation to his fellow Americans: to tell and spread and embrace the truth about the 2020 election.
Here is the truth: The former president of the United States has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.— President Biden (@POTUS) January 6, 2022
He’s done so because he values power over principle. Because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or Constitution.
At a podium in Statuary Hall in the heart of the Capitol, Joe Biden acknowledged behind him the archway statue of Clio, the muse of history, whose stenographic pose depicts her documenting the proceedings of the House of Representatives, which met in the hall in the half-century before the Civil War.
Clio also bore witness to what happened a year ago, Biden said — "the real history, the real facts, the real truth" — as a violent, angry mob stormed through the building, attacking police officers and menacing lawmakers, fuelled not by a belief in democracy but by a misguided attempt to subvert it.
"I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year ago today, but I will not shrink from it either," he said.
"I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy. We will make sure the will of the people is heard, that the ballot prevails — not violence."
Holding that dagger, Biden said unequivocally, was one Donald J. Trump, even though the current commander-in-chief would only and repeatedly refer to him as the "former president."
"The former president, who lies about this election, and the mob that attacked this Capitol could not be further away from the core American values," he said. "They want to rule, or they will ruin."
The riot — Biden himself called it an "armed insurrection" — erupted after thousands of Trump supporters, fresh from the angry rhetoric of a speech from the man himself in the shadow of the Washington Monument, flooded the Capitol grounds on the very day Congress was to certify the election results.
Factions of them pushed past a meagre and overmatched security perimeter and stormed the building, Trump flags and Confederate symbols on full display as they attacked Capitol Police officers, smashed windows and hammered on barricaded doors, some with terrified staffers cowering on the other side.
Outside, hordes of angry protesters, some wielding flagpoles still adorned with American flags as clubs and spears, turned their rage to the police officers trying to turn them back. Inside, chants of "Hang Mike Pence" could be heard as rioters, believing the vice-president to have betrayed their leader, sought out the man whose responsibility that day was to certify Biden's victory. A makeshift gallows awaited outside.
With lawmakers, including Pence, having been spirited away to safety just moments earlier, many of the rioters — some equipped with handcuffs and ziptie restraints — found their way to the very chambers where on Thursday, members of Congress publicly remembered the day and paid tribute to the law enforcement officers who protected them.
"The warnings of history are clear: when democracies are in danger, it often starts with a mob," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the chamber.
"And for mob violence to win the day, it doesn't need everyone to join in. It just needs a critical mass of people to stay out of the way — to ignore it, to underestimate it, to excuse it, and even condone it."
Five people died either in or as a direct result of last year's hours-long melee on Capitol Hill, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who succumbed to his injuries the following day after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher and hit in the face with pepper spray.
Protester and Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by police as she and several others tried to smash their way through the doors leading to the speaker's lobby. Three other Trump supporters — Kevin Gleeson, Rosanne Boyland and Benjamin Philips — also lost their lives.
Trump, for his part, had been planning a news conference from the confines of his country-club compound in Florida, but cancelled at the last minute, opting instead to air his grievances during one of his trademark rallies next week in Arizona.
His reluctance to publicly urge rioters to retreat from the Capitol and go home, despite the now-public pleas to do so from some of his closest advisers and confidantes, has become the central focus of a special Senate committee that is examining the events of that day and what led up to it.
On Wednesday, the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the U.S. vowed to leave no stone unturned in the ongoing investigation into the riots. Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department has come under partisan fire for its deliberate, slow-moving work on the case, pleaded for patience.
Garland said more than 725 people have been arrested and charged in relation to the Jan. 6 attack, with those involved in assaulting police officers facing the most serious counts.
He said the investigation has issued more than 5,000 subpoenas and search warrants, seized 2,000 electronic devices and examined 20,000 hours of video footage and 15 terabytes of data.
"The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy," Garland said.
"We will follow the facts wherever they lead."
Investigating an event like Jan. 6 is a complex and challenging endeavour that doesn't instantly reveal all the necessary facts and evidence, he added.
"We follow the physical evidence, we follow the digital evidence, we follow the money," Garland said. "But most important, we follow the facts, not an agenda or an assumption. The facts tell us where to go next."
Unlike the show of national unity that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. body politic remains more fractured then ever, particularly on the question of the events of last January, a new poll by USA Today and Suffolk University suggests.
While 83 per cent of respondents said they were worried about the future of democracy in the U.S., they part ways along political lines over why: 58 per cent of Republicans who took part in the survey still say Biden is not the legitimate president, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.
Only a narrow majority of all respondents, 53 per cent, said the select committee is doing important work, including 88 per cent of Democrats, while 42 per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed dismissed the committee as a waste of time, including 78 per cent of Republicans.