President Joe Biden praised the sacrifices of National Guard troops and law enforcement personnel on Capitol Hill one year ago as part of a fiery speech marking the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, and vowed that America would never forget either the violence or heroism of the day.
“In this sacred place, democracy was attacked,” Biden said in remarks delivered from Statuary Hall, which was filled with rioters supporting President Donald Trump a year earlier. “The will of the people was under assault. Our Constitution faced the greatest of threats.
“The Capitol Police, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard and other brave law enforcement officials saved the rule of law.”
A day earlier, the chief of the Capitol Police testified before senators that officials are coordinating with Defense Department officials on future threats and potential responses to make sure the campus is ready for similar events in the future.
“We will be tested again,” said chief Thomas Manger, who took over the police force after last year’s assault.
On Jan. 6, 2021, hundreds of supporters of Trump pushed past police barriers in an attempt to disrupt Congress’ certification of the November 2020 presidential election results. Some used flagpoles and barriers to knock down security personnel, and forced lawmakers to evacuate the House and Senate chambers for several hours.
Four rioters died during the attack, and three Capitol Hill police officers died in following days from medical complications and suicide believed to be connected to the violence.
Nearly 26,000 National Guard troops were deployed to Capitol Hill in the weeks that followed to help re-establish security on campus after the assault and before Biden’s inauguration.
Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recognized those military and civilian law enforcement efforts in speeches Thursday. But they also said that the country cannot forget the violence that prompted their brave response, and must learn from the “lies that led to the anger and madness we saw in this place” a year ago.
In his remarks, Biden referenced the testimony of Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell before a House committee last summer, who described the assault as “a medieval battle that [left him] more afraid than the time he was fighting in Iraq.” Gonell served with the Army during the Iraq War.
Biden laid blame for the event on Trump and his allies, saying they still refuse to accept the valid results of the 2020 presidential election.
“The former president tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed.”
Trump had planned his own speech for Thursday, but canceled the event earlier this week amid criticism from Republican officials. He has repeatedly suggested that Biden’s election win was invalid, despite numerous audits by state officials affirming the results.
In a statement shortly after Biden’s speech, he called the president’s remarks “a distraction for the fact that Biden has completely and totally failed” as commander-in-chief, citing the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and claiming that “our military is in chaos.”
Biden said he will continue to work to ensure that the “will of the people” is upheld, even in the face of political fighting.
“I did not seek this fight brought to this Capitol one year ago today,” he said. “But I will not shrink from it either. 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.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.