President Joe Biden has accused Donald Trump and his supporters of holding a “dagger at the throat of democracy” in a forceful speech marking the anniversary of the deadly breach of the US Capitol.
He warned that though it did not succeed, the insurrection remains a serious threat to America’s system of government.
Mr Biden’s criticism was blistering of the defeated president, whom he blamed for the attack that has fundamentally changed Congress and the nation, and raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.
“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Mr Biden said.
“You can’t love your country only when you win.”
His voice booming at times, filling the ornate Statuary Hall where rioters had laid siege, the president called on Americans to remember what they saw on January 6 with their own eyes: the mob attacking police, breaking windows, a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, gallows erected outside threatening to hang the vice president – all while Mr Trump sat at the White House watching it on TV.
Mr Biden said: “The former president’s supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection, and the riot that took place here on January 6 as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.”
The president’s remarks launched the start of a day-long remembrance, drawing a contrast between the truth of what happened and the false narratives that persist about the Capitol assault, including the continued refusal by many Republicans to affirm that Mr Biden won the 2020 election.
“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie,” he said.
“The former president of the United States of America has spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.”
Mr Biden said: “We are in a battle for the soul of America.
“I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year from today. But I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation. I will allow no-one to place a dagger at the throat of this democracy.”
Republican leaders and legislators are largely staying away from the day’s remembrance events, viewing them as overly politicised.
From Florida, Mr Trump dashed off a statement claiming Mr Biden was trying to “further divide America. This political theatre is all just a distraction”.
Even among congressional Republicans who condemned the attack in the days afterwards, most have stayed loyal to the former president.
“What brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden,” tweeted Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina), a sometimes Trump confidant.
Others, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, were absent, with a contingent attending the funeral for a former colleague in Georgia.
The division is a stark reminder of the rupture between the two parties, worsening since hundreds of Mr Trump’s supporters violently pushed past police, used their fists and flagpoles to break through the windows of the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Mr Biden’s victory.
Representative Liz Cheney, chairwoman of the House committee investigating the attack and one of the few Republican legislators attending the Capitol ceremonies, warned 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’s Today.
“That’s how democracies die. We simply cannot let that happen.”