January 6 two years on: What does a new Republican Congress mean for justice?

New Republican-led House in chaos but pledges to change investigations into deadly US Capitol attack

An image of Republican Senator Josh Hawley encouraging the crowd outside the Capitol on January 6, 2021, at a hearing of the House select committee investigating the riots that day. EPA
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The US on Friday marks two years since Donald Trump supporters, fed by his false claims that the 2020 election had been "stolen", stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn Joe Biden's decisive victory.

The January 6, 2021, riot was led by several factions of the American far right in an attempt to block the congressional certification of the presidential election.

Two years later, Mr Trump's Republican Party will take control of the House of Representatives and is promising shifts in previous congressional efforts at accountability.

The legislative body is in chaos, with Trump-aligned factions blocking the election of Kevin McCarthy of California as the 53rd speaker.

Despite pandering to Mr Trump, Mr McCarthy has failed to earn crucial votes from his party's right-wing defectors, who view the would-be speaker as insufficiently conservative.

Until that gridlock is resolved, the new Congress will be unable to move forward with any substantive committee or legislative action. They are basically powerless and elected representatives can't even be sworn in.

But the more-conservative Congress has promised to try to change the narrative of January 6.

Unlike the now-disbanded Democrat-led panel that probed the riot and recommended criminal charges against Mr Trump, the Republicans will start their own investigations that will seek to blame security failings at the Capitol.

The party wasted no time in eliminating one visual symbol of January 6: Metal detectors that Democrats put in place to enhance security after the Capitol was ransacked were removed from outside the House chamber.

Dozens of officers who fought off the rioters sustained serious physical and psychological harm including brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many struggle to work because of the trauma, while others have quit.

At least nine people died during and after the rioting, including Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police as she tried to breach a secured corridor, and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies.

US authorities have so far arrested more than 950 people accused of playing roles in the insurrection.

In December, House Republicans published a 140-page report suggesting that former speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party should bear blame and that Democrats failed to properly secure the Capitol building.

“Leadership and law enforcement failures within the US Capitol left the complex vulnerable on January 6, 2021,” the report claimed, citing its investigation of texts and email exchanges as well as evidence from Capitol Police officers.

It also claimed that House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving “succumbed to political pressures from the Office of Speaker Pelosi and House Democrat leadership” and was “compromised by politics and did not adequately prepare for violence at the Capitol".

“The facts are clear: Pelosi and House Democrat leadership were more worried about 'optics' than securing our nation's Capitol,” Republican Representative Elise Stefanik said in a statement marking the report's release.

The report also fuelled Republican claims that the bipartisan congressional January 6 investigative committee was biased.

The months-long January 6 investigative committee documented the lead-up to the insurrection and provided a minute-by-minute account of that day.

It ultimately recommended barring Mr Trump from federal office over his role in the attempt to halt US democracy and referred four criminal charges to the Justice Department.

Republicans are now trying to pass a new House rule to block the January 6 source materials and findings from immediately going to the National Archives, where they could be locked away for 50 years, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The proposed rules package further indicates that Republicans are moving to rebut its findings.

It would instead mandate that those files be sent to the committee on House administration by January 17 and orders the National Archives to return any material it has already received.

“The Democrat-led investigation in the House of Representatives, however, has disregarded those institutional failings that exposed the Capitol to violence that day,” the Republican counter-report read.

The January 6 committee issued a sweeping, nearly-900-page report detailing its findings.

“That evidence has led to an overriding and straightforward conclusion: the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed," the report said.

"None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him."

The report includes allegations that Mr Trump “oversaw” attempts to push fake electors in seven states that he lost, with evidence showing the he tried to “transmit false Electoral College ballots to Congress and the National Archives”, despite advice that those actions would be illegal.

The White House hosted an East Room ceremony on Friday marking the second anniversary of the insurrection. Mr Biden awarded the Presidential Citizens Medals to 12 people for heroic action during the Capitol riot and during the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the Capitol, including Micki Witthoeft, the mother of Babbitt. Ms Witthoeft was arrested after refusing to leave the street during a demonstration.

She was released on Friday afternoon and given a citation to appear in court at a later date, police said.

January 6 riots second anniversary - in pictures

Updated: January 09, 2023, 3:14 PM
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