DREW ANGERER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
In a speech to mark the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, President Joe Biden denounced predecessor Donald Trump for, in his words, incensing supporters with lies about the election in order to have them attack the heart of American democracy as Congress gathered last year to certify Trump’s defeat.
Speaking at the Capitol on Thursday — and declining to refer to Trump by name — Biden called the attack an “armed insurrection” perpetrated by his predecessor and those who wanted to keep him in power, despite the will of the American people who voted him out of office on Nov. 3, 2020.
“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden, 79, said.
“Here’s the truth,” he said, “the former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important as his country’s interest and America’s interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost even though that’s what 93 U.S. senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said he lost.”
Biden described the grimmest moments of the Jan. 6 attack, in which five people died, saying that great nations must face even the most uncomfortable realities of their recent and distant past.
“The Bible tells us that we shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free,” he said. “Here is the god’s truth about Jan. 6, 2021.”
Samuel Corum/Getty Rioters at the U.S. Capitol
Biden asked Americans to close their eyes and remember what they saw a year ago as news networks played endless footage of “rioters, rampagers waving for the first time inside this Capitol the Confederate flag that symbolizes the cause to destroy America, to rip us apart.”
“Even during the Civil War that never ever happened,” he said. “But it happened here in 2021.”
“What else do you see?” he continued. “A mob breaking windows, kicking in doors, breaching the Capitol, American flags on poles being used as weapons, as spears. Fire extinguishers being thrown at the heads of police officers. A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers, dragged them, sprayed them, stomped on them.”
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty
Biden reminded Americans of the threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s life and the gallows erected and the calls to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence.
He challenged the growing counter-narrative among some conservatives that the rioting last year had been exaggerated.
“This wasn’t a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection,” he said. “They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people. They were looking to deny the will of the people. They weren’t looking to uphold a free and fair election; they were looking to overturn one. They weren’t looking to save the cause of America; they were looking to subvert the Constitution.”
Biden also praised the “courageous men and women in the Republican party” who are standing up against the lies that the election was stolen from their party and that the Jan. 6 attack was a valid response to that.
GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
“Too many others are transforming that party into something else,” he said of others, who fall in line to trumpet Trump’s mistruths. “They seem no longer to want to be the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes.”
“The former president and his supporters are trying to rewrite history,” Biden said. “They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection and the riot that took place here on Jan. 6 as the true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.”
The president also said that on the anniversary, the country faces a decision.
“What kind of nation are we going to be? Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies?” he asked. “We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.”
Biden said he was heartened by the resolve of the nation, nonetheless.
“They failed,” he said of those who tried to overturn the election. “And on this day of remembrance, we must make sure that such an attack never, never happens again.”
In a statement soon after Biden spoke, Trump — who has always said he did nothing wrong regarding the Jan. 6 rioting — reiterated some of his baseless theories of election fraud and claimed a “web of lies” had been told about him and his relationship to Russia. (U.S. officials broadly agree that Russians interfered in the 2016 election.) Trump also took aim at “Big Tech.”
“To watch Biden speaking is very hurtful to many people,” he said.
Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Before Biden’s speech, Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke, adding Jan. 6, 2021, to a list of historic “dates that occupy not only a place on our calendars, but a place in our collective memory,” including Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and Sept. 11, 2001, when New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked and a plane commandeered by terrorists crashed in Shanksville, Penn.
Harris called the men and women who infiltrated the Capitol building “extremists” who “sought to degrade and destroy” a hallowed building but also “the institutions, the values, the ideals that generations of Americans have marched, picketed, and shed blood to establish and defend.””On January 6th, we all saw what our nation would look like if the forces who seek to dismantle our democracy are successful,” she warned, “the lawlessness, the violence, the chaos.”
Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty U.S. Capitol building breached
Harris also framed the anniversary as a moment of choice. “How will January 6th come to be remembered in the years ahead?” she asked. “Will it be remembered as a moment that accelerated the unraveling of the oldest, greatest democracy in the world or a moment when we decided to secure and strengthen our democracy for generations to come?”
“The American spirit,” she said, “is being tested.”