January 6 US Capitol defenders receive Congressional Gold Medals

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls police officers 'heroes' for 'courageously answering the call to defend our democracy'

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Police officers who defended the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, were honoured on Tuesday with Congressional Gold Medals nearly two years after they fought supporters of then-president Donald Trump in a brutal and bloody attack.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the “heroes” as she opened the ceremony in the stately Capitol Rotunda, which was overrun the day Trump supporters roamed the halls trying to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

In bestowing Congress’s highest honour, Ms Pelosi praised the heroes for “courageously answering the call to defend our democracy in one of the nation’s darkest hours”.

To recognise the hundreds of officers who were at the Capitol on January 6, the medals will be placed in four locations — at US Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.

Mr Biden said when he signed the legislation to award the medals last year that one would be placed in the Smithsonian “so all visitors can understand what happened that day”.

The ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda comes as Democrats, weeks away from losing their majority in the House of Representatives, race to finish a nearly 18-month investigation into the insurrection.

Democrats and two Republicans conducting the investigation have vowed to uncover the details of the attack, which came as Mr Trump tried to overturn his election defeat and encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” in a rally right.

Awarding the medals is among Ms Pelosi’s last ceremonial acts as she prepares to step down from leadership.

When the bill passed the House more than a year ago, she said the law enforcement officers from across the city defended the Capitol because they were “the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it, putting country above self”.

“They enabled us to return to the Capitol” and certify Mr Biden’s presidency, she said then, “to that podium that night to show the world that our democracy had prevailed and that it had succeeded because of them”.

Dozens of the officers who fought off the rioters sustained serious injuries. Officers suffered physical wounds, including brain injuries and other lifelong effects, and many struggled to work afterward because they were so traumatised.

At least nine people who were at the Capitol that day died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies.

Two police officers died by suicide in the days that immediately followed and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after one of the rioters sprayed him with a chemical. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.

In August 2021, the Metropolitan Police announced that two more of their officers who had responded to the insurrection had died by suicide. The circumstances that led to their deaths were unknown.

The June 2021 House vote to award the medals won widespread support from both parties. But 21 House Republicans voted against it — representatives who had played down the violence and stayed loyal to Mr Trump. The Senate passed the legislation by voice vote, with no Republican objections.

Signing the bill at the White House last year, Mr Biden said the officers’ heroism cannot be forgotten.

The insurrection was a “violent attempt to overturn the will of the American people” and Americans have to understand what happened, he said.

“The honest and unvarnished truth. We have to face it.”

Updated: December 23, 2022, 4:27 AM