President Joe Biden marks the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the White House in Washington on Friday, awarding Presidential Citizens Medal to the officers who fought to protect Congress and local elections officials who defied extreme pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 ballot. Photo by Chris Kleponis/ UPI | License Photo
Jan. 6 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden commemorated the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by presenting one of the nation's highest civilian honors to the officers who fought to protect Congress and local elections officials who defied extreme pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 ballot.
Biden presented the Presidential Citizens Medals on Friday during a special White House ceremony.
"For the first time in my presidency, I am bestowing the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of our nation's highest civilian honors. It recognizes citizens of the United States of America who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens," Biden said during his opening remarks.
The president opened by taking direct aim at those who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
"Two years ago, on January the 6th, our democracy was attacked. There's no other way of saying it," Biden said in his speech.
"A violent mob of insurrectionists assaulted law enforcement, vandalized sacred halls, hunted down elected officials, all for the purpose to attempt to overthrow the will of the people and usurp the peaceful transfer of power."
The ceremony comes two years after a violent mob stormed Congress in an effort to disrupt certification of Biden's 2020 election win, believing the uprising would somehow result in a second term for then-President Donald Trump, who lost the electoral vote but falsely claimed to his followers that the process was rigged.
"But on this day two years ago, our democracy held. Because we the people did not flinch. We the people endured. We the people prevailed. And on this day of remembrance ... we honor a remarkable group of Americans, who embodied the best before, during and after January 6th, 2021," the president said, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris.
"You held the line that day, and what was on the line was our democracy. And history will remember your names," Biden said, quoting Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
"It's not an exaggeration to say, America owes you, owes you all, I really mean this, a debt of gratitude, one we can never fully repay unless we live up to what you did. And what you did was consequential," Biden said, before presenting the medals for the first time in his presidency.
"What these people and the people representing those that couldn't be here because they gave their lives for this, did is incredibly consequential. That's not political talk; that's historical fact," he said.
The group of medal recipients includes seven police officers who protected Congress during the riot, among them Brian Sicknick, who died of a stroke a day after trying to fend off Trump's most radical supporters.
"He lost his life protecting the citadel of democracy," Biden said of Sicknick, paying recognition to his wife and family members present at the ceremony.
"Thank you for being here and thank you for letting us remember Brian."
Also among the honorees was Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan who presided over a lengthy vote count in Detroit; and Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, election workers in Fulton County, Ga., who were falsely accused by Trump of vote tampering.
Recipients also included several notable Republicans -- among them, former Arizona House speaker Rusty Bowers; and Al Schmidt, a Pennsylvania city commissioner whose insistence on counting all absentee ballots all but sealed Trump's defeat in the crucial battleground state.
Several medal recipients previously testified before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which has since recommended that the Justice Department bring four criminal charges against the former president -- including obstruction of an official proceeding of the U.S. government; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make false statements; and to "incite," "assist" or "aid or comfort" an insurrection.
Since taking office, Biden has warned the attack was a sign of rising extremism in the United States, which poses a serious threat to democracy.
Others receiving a medal Friday included Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who also faced down the rioters on Jan. 6; Caroline Edwards, who was the first officer injured during the melee; and former Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone, who has since become one of the most vocal advocates for victims of the attack.
Fanone has testified the crowd chanted "kill him with his own gun," which Biden also mentioned Friday during his speech.
Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant who was injured that day also received the honor, along with fellow officer Eugene Goodman, who strategically led the mob along a flight of stairs and away from the Senate chamber during the attack.
Daniel Hodges, a Washington police officer who was injured in the attack also received the recognition. The day of the riot was Hodges' first time inside the U.S. Capital.
"As we see in today's honorees, we're a nation of we the people, that toughen our fiber. ... We are the United States of America," said Biden, immediately before the recipients were each awarded a medal in a formal ceremony.
"There is nothing beyond our capacity."
Earlier Friday, the U.S. House members held a moment of silence on the chamber floor in honor of those who were injured or killed in the attack.
A video of former President Donald Trump is shown as the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final public hearing to discuss the findings of an 18-month investigation on December 19, 2022. Pool photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo