January 6 Capitol riot anniversary highlights festering wounds at heart of US democracy

Republicans accuse Democrats of politicising attempt to overturn presidential election

A year after the January 6 assault on the heart of America's democracy, it is clearer than ever that the wounds of that day have not healed.

Commemorations of the attack — during which a mob of Donald Trump supporters, whipped into a frenzy by his lies and debunked claims about election fraud — highlighted the schism that has widened across the US over the past year.

In Washington, only a handful of Republicans — including Liz Cheney and her father Dick Cheney, the former US vice president — attended events at the Capitol, where Democrats recounted the riot of January 6 during which members of both parties fled for their lives.

Many Republicans accuse the Democrats of politicising the attack and have promulgated baseless conspiracy theories that it was led by left-wing activists.

Keith Scott, from Corpus Christi, Texas, was one of a smattering of pro-Trump supporters to show up at Thursday's events in Washington. He stood near the Capitol building clad in a stars-and-stripes jacket and an American flag hat.

Mr Scott, who was at the Capitol last year, but said he did not enter the building, said January 6 was “the greatest day of my life” and recalled feeling part of something momentous.

“I felt like I was one of the people there with the Founding Fathers, just before they spoke up against King George,” he told The National.

Thursday could not have unfolded more differently than a year earlier. There were no mobs and violent crowds traipsing through the halls of the US Capitol.

The sky was clear, the air brisk, with a winter’s bite. Joggers and journalists far outnumbered any protesters.

Outside the Capitol building, Richard, who only gave his first name, handed out roses to police officers, thanking them for their service.

The embattled Capitol Police force is still reeling from January 6. In the days and weeks after, five Capitol officers died, one from injuries and the others by suicide.

“It’s a small token of appreciation for what they went through,” Richard said.

As the sun set on Thursday, Democratic members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol building for a candlelit vigil to remember the trauma they endured exactly 365 days before.

It was a sombre event, apparently not attended by any Republicans.

Three kilometres away in south-east Washington, a handful of “Justice for J6" supporters gathered outside the metropolitan jail. The Washington Post reported that 39 people have been detained at the facility on charges stemming from January 6.

“It's cold out, it's night time and with all the lockdowns and the Covid and stuff, travel is not as readily easy as it was a year ago,” said John Balazek, who had come out to support those jailed.

To date, at least 725 people have been charged for their actions that day.

The rally was organised by Look Ahead America, an organisation founded by Trump acolyte Matt Braynard, who had attempted to organise rallies across the country.

Whatever the reason, Thursday's quiet from Trump supporters marked a stark contrast to 2021.

Heidi Beirich, who heads the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and is a leading expert on right-wing extremism, said the silence should not be misconstrued.

She pointed to several extreme-right groups, including the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters militia and hate-based groups like the Proud Boys.

Ms Beirich told The National that the groups all remain active, “even in the face of the [Department of Justice] prosecutions, which I think is kind of astounding".

Updated: January 7th 2022, 3:18 PM