Joe Biden's January 6 speech blasts Trump's 'web of lies' for undermining US democracy

Biden accuses Trump and his supporters of holding a 'dagger at the throat of democracy'

President Joe Biden on Thursday painted a grim picture of the state of American democracy, saying that the nation stands at an inflection point as former president Donald Trump weaves a web of “lies” about the January 6 attack on Congress.

Speaking from Statuary Hall, a main location for the US Capitol riots where a pro-Trump mob a year earlier tried to stop the certification of Mr Biden's 2020 election win, the president skewered Mr Trump without ever mentioning him by name.

“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,” Mr Biden said.

“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. Here's the truth: a 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.”

Mr Biden contrasted the truth of what happened with the false narratives that have proliferated about the Capitol assault, including the continued refusal by many Republicans to even affirm that Mr Biden won the 2020 election.

“You and I and the whole world saw with our own eyes,” Mr Biden said.

“We saw with our own eyes. Rioters menace these halls, threatening life of the speaker of the house, literally erecting gallows to hang the vice president of the United States of America.”

A gallows erected by Trump supporters who threatened to hang former vice president Mike Pence outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. AFP

In an unusually fervent speech, Mr Biden went on to say that “we are in a battle for the soul of America” and called on Congress to pass voting rights bills that would counter a Republican push to restrict access to polls in some states.

Many Republicans skipped town for the day, preferring to stay out of Washington as the events of January 6 were revisited.

Republicans have repeatedly played down the seriousness of January 6, with at least one comparing the rioters to tourists who had come to visit their nation's capital.

“This wasn't a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection,” Mr Biden said.

The party's senior member in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, led a delegation to a funeral of a recently deceased senator 965 kilometres away in Atlanta, Georgia.

Liz Cheney, chairwoman of the House committee investigating the attack and one of the few Republicans attending the Capitol ceremonies, said that “the threat continues".

Mr Trump, she said, “continues to make the same claims that he knows caused violence on January 6".

“Unfortunately, too many in my own party are embracing the former president, are looking the other way or minimising the danger,” she told NBC.

“That’s how democracies die. We simply cannot let that happen.”

Her father, former vice president Dick Cheney, told reporters that current Republican leaders do not resemble “any of the folks I knew” when he served in Congress.

Mr Trump, who had initially planned an anniversary press conference in Florida, dismissed Mr Biden's speech as “political theatre [that] is all just a distraction for the fact Biden has completely and totally failed".

Mr Biden took office promising to bring old-fashioned decency and calm back to Washington and has mainly ignored Mr Trump, often referring to him as “the former guy".

But he took a far more forceful tone on Thursday, saying Mr Trump “sees his own interest is more important than his country's interest [whose] bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our constitution".

“At this moment, we must decide what kind of nation we are going to be,” Mr Biden said.

“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?”

Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke at the event, saying “democracy will not stand” unless America is vigilant.

On Wednesday, the Capitol Police chief, Thomas Manger, said his forces would never be caught unprepared again, as they were last year.

Outside the Capital building on Thursday, there was little evidence of the violence of that day — a solemn, candlelit vigil on the steps of the Capitol a contrast to the bloodshed of a year ago.

Warren, who wished only to be identified by his first name, drove all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The 65 year-old retired fireman, who was in Washington a year ago, looked back fondly on January 6.

“It was a great show of support for my American president and his cause of transparency,” he told The National, referring to Mr Trump.

A supporter of former president Donald Trump poses in front of the National Mall on January 6, 2022. Willy Lowry / The National

While Warren said he was not sure if the election was stolen, he remains convinced there were issues with it.

A few blocks away, a lone man with a loud hailer shouted profanities outside an office building housing several media outlets. He berated a television crew for not telling the “truth” about the election.

Far-right Trump loyalists Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conspiracy-theory pushing congresswoman whose personal Twitter account was banned this week, and fellow member of Congress Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation, held a press conference in front of the Capitol.

They stood by their refusal to certify Mr Biden’s election win and claimed the Capitol riot had been co-ordinated by federal authorities.

“I'm starting to think this was less of an insurrection and more of a 'fed-surrection',” said Mr Gaetz, referring to a right-wing claim that the riot was a “false flag” operation by federal agents.

Writing in The New York Times, former Democratic president Jimmy Carter said the US “teeters on the brink of a widening abyss”.

“Without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy. Americans must set aside differences and work together before it is too late,” Mr Carter wrote.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Wednesday that authorities have so far arrested and charged about 725 people across the country in connection with the attack.

Facing criticism that the Justice Department has moved too slowly to tackle the leaders and address accusations of a deeper plot to overthrow the election, Mr Garland pleaded for patience, suggesting that investigators are moving up the chain.

“We resolve more straightforward cases first because they provide the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases,” he said.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: January 07, 2022, 6:11 AM