President Joe Biden marked the second anniversary of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol on Friday by awarding more than a dozen people the Presidential Citizens Medal for “exemplary contributions to our democracy”, while warning of the continued threats against it.
“On this day two years ago, our democracy held … We the people did not flinch,” Mr Biden said.
“You held the line that day. And what was on the line was our democracy, and history will remember your names.”
The award is one of America's highest civilian honours, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Before the event, the White House called the recipients "heroes" who demonstrated courage and selflessness during a moment of peril for the nation.
The East Room ceremony was both celebratory and sombre, marking the day right-wing rioters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election of Mr Biden in favour of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Many of the medal recipients were police officers who serve at the US Capitol or in Washington.
Others awarded were three state and local officials who resisted pressure to overturn election results, and mother-and-daughter election workers in Georgia who faced threats and harassment.
Officers Brian Sicknick, Gunther Hashida, Howard Liebengood, Jeffrey Smith and Kyle DeFreytag were also posthumously awarded the honour, after they died from injuries or trauma sustained during the insurrection. Their families accepted the awards on their behalf.
“To all the families here who lost someone, this country thanks you,” Mr Biden said.
Other officers honoured in the ceremony shook their heads in disgust as Mr Biden described the violence that day that ultimately led to their colleagues' deaths.
Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the mother-daughter honorees, were seen holding back tears as the President extended his gratitude, saying the country “owes you all a debt, one we could never fully repay”.
Despite the celebration of the recipients' “exemplary contributions to democracy”, Mr Biden also emphasised the continuation of the threats they faced.
Dozens of officers who fought off the rioters sustained serious physical and psychological harm, including brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
At least nine people died during and after the rioting, including Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was fatally shot by police as she tried to breach a secured corridor, and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies.
Mr Biden warned that the political sentiments that fuelled the violence remain a threat.
“We face an inflection point in the nation's history. January 6 is a reminder that there's nothing guaranteed about our democracy,” he said.
The US President has previously accused Mr Trump and his supporters of threatening the very fabric of America, saying their aim is to destroy democracy.
January 6, US Capitol riot — in pictures
In September, Mr Biden gave a primetime speech warning Americans that far right groups “promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country”.
Rights watchers in the US agree.
“Anti-democratic and anti-rights forces, including those that align with increasingly visible far-right nationalists, are harnessing racist and fear-based policies and sentiments to weaken US democracy,” Amanda Klasing, director of Human Rights Watch's US Democracy Initiative, told The National.
According to a 2021 poll, 30 per cent of Republicans agreed with the statement: “Because things have got so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”
That sentiment is especially high among those who believe Mr Trump’s baseless claim that Mr Biden and the Democrats stole the 2020 election, results showed.
“Democracy in the US has some cracks,” Ms Klasing said.
“It has always been an evolving experiment, but in recent years, we have seen increased attempts by state and local officials to silence or limit the work of civil society groups.”