Reject false narratives, political violence, Biden urges on riot's anniversary

·5 min read

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is urging his fellow Americans to reject the lies and political violence fuelled by his predecessor and to instead acknowledge and live by the truth.

Biden is on Capitol Hill, the scene of violent and deadly rioting one year ago at the height of Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

In his speech, excerpts of which were released early today, Biden says the U.S. needs to decide what kind of country it wants to be in the future.

The choice, he says, is between living by the light of the truth, or in the shadow of lies.

To do the latter, Biden continues, would be to accept political violence as the norm and to allow partisan actors to overturn legitimate and legal election results.

Trump, for his part, has cancelled plans for a news conference today in Florida, choosing instead to focus on a rally in Arizona next week.

Members of Congress are expected to mark the anniversary later in the day with public recollections of the panic and fear that permeated the Capitol as rioters roamed the halls, hoping to disrupt the certification of Biden's election victory.

"At this moment, we must decide what kind of nation we are going to be," Biden says in prepared remarks. "Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth, but in the shadow of lies?

"We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation."

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 says 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 says 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."

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.

But countless other Capitol Police officers remain scarred, physically and emotionally, not only from the events of that day but also what they describe as the political efforts since then to shrug off Jan. 6 as a legitimate and non-violent public protest.

Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a decorated U.S. Army veteran and Capitol Police officer, was among several who testified before Congress last year about the experience. An opinion piece published Wednesday in the Washington Post drove home his lingering sense of betrayal.

"We grieve for an America somehow divided over what really transpired on Jan. 6, and we are deeply concerned about the threat of future political violence that continues to hover over our democracy," Gonell and colleague Harry Dunn wrote.

"What we want — indeed, what we demand for ourselves and our fellow officers — is accountability for Jan. 6."

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.

With Trump cancelling his plans, two of the former president's staunchest congressional defenders — Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz — have scheduled a counter-programming news conference for today in D.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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