President Joe Biden on Friday marked the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots by presenting one of the country’s highest civilian honors to 14 people who have shown courage and selflessness during events surrounding the deadly riot.
At the White House ceremony, Biden presented the first Presidential Citizens Medal, awarded to Americans “who have rendered exemplary service to their country or their fellow citizens.”
The group included law enforcement officials, current and former politicians and campaign workers who were threatened after the 2020 presidential campaign. Three of the medals were posthumously awarded to officers who defended the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and died of injuries or suicide afterwards.
“America owes you everything, I mean it, a debt of gratitude,” Biden said during the impassioned remarks at Friday afternoon’s ceremony.
Recipients were honored for their actions before, during and after the riots, when a violent mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol, fighting with officers, vandalizing and stealing property and threatening lawmakers. The attack came shortly after a joint session of Congress called to confirm Biden’s presidential victory over Trump, who had falsely claimed he won the 2020 election.
The mob forced lawmakers to flee their chambers for several hours, hampering the transfer of power. More than 100 officers were injured in the attack, and federal officials estimate the riot caused millions of dollars in damage.
“All of this was fueled by lies about the 2020 election,” Biden said Friday, without naming Trump. The former president, who remains a key force in the Republican Party, has already launched a campaign for the 2024 White House.
Democracy held up after Jan. 6 only because “we the people didn’t flinch, we the people persevered, we the people prevailed,” Biden said.
Among the honorees was Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who distracted a group of rioters who were racing toward the Senate chamber, which had not yet been fully evacuated. Several officers injured during the riot – Aquilino Gonell, Michael Fanone, Caroline Edwards and Daniel Hodges – also received awards, as did Officer Harry Dunn, who testified that he faced racial slurs and mob harassment.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers were honored for resisting pressure from Trump’s allies to overturn their state election results. Bowers, a Republican, lost a state Senate bid to a Trump-backed opponent in 2022.
Biden also honored Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss, two poll workers in Fulton County, Georgia, who have faced waves of harassment and threats related to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of voter fraud in the state.
Officers Brian Sicknick, Howard Liebengood, and Jeffrey Smith received awards posthumously. Sicknick died a day after confronting rioters in the Capitol. His manner of death was determined to be of natural causes, but Washington Chief Medical Officer Francisco Diaz said at the time, “Everything that transpired played a role in his condition.” Liebengood and Smith both committed suicide after defending the Capitol.
Biden’s speech marking the anniversary of the uprising followed other ceremonies and commemorations on Capitol Hill, mostly by Democratic lawmakers.
“Today marks two years since a violent mob of insurgents — sanctioned by the former President — descended on the Capitol in an armed and deadly attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power and reverse the outcome of a free and fair election,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said in a statement Friday morning. “To this day, Donald Trump continues his attempt to poison American democracy with his Big Lie.”
In a brief ceremony on the steps of the house, lawmakers gathered for a moment of silence with the families of officers who died in connection with the riots. Many others were injured or traumatized by the mob, noted Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the incoming Democratic House Speaker. “Because of these officials, we are here today with our democracy intact,” Jeffries said.
According to one report, only one Republican representative, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, attended the event.
The anniversary came as Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy of California continued his fight to become Speaker of the House after failing to get enough votes from his party for three straight days. In the days following the Jan. 6 riots, McCarthy initially blamed Trump for the attack, saying the president “takes responsibility,” though he resisted Democrat efforts to impeach Trump a second time. But McCarthy soon backed down on this criticism.
The somber event at the White House was punctuated by a few moments of hilarity. After Biden fumbled with the pronunciation of Gonell’s name, the former USCP sergeant corrected him, prompting the president to shake the officer’s hand and joke, “He can call me President Bidden from now on.”
In another instance, Biden caused laughter when he acknowledged a technical difficulty that caused an echo in his audio.