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Capitol riot: Third anniversary shines light on a divided America

Rioters walk on the West Front at the U.S. Capitol on 6 January, 2021, in Washington DC
Rioters walk on the West Front at the U.S. Capitol on 6 January, 2021, in Washington DC Copyright Julio Cortez/The AP/File
Copyright Julio Cortez/The AP/File
By Saskia O'Donoghue with AP
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Three years on from the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, president Joe Biden warns Donald Trump is trying to stop democracy in its tracks.


Saturday marks the third anniversary of the Capitol riot in Washington DC, a day President Joe Biden calls the day “we nearly lost America”.

The Capitol riot saw a mob of Trump supporters overrun the iconic building on 6 January 2021.

Fueled by Trump’s false claims of a stolen vote in the 2020 US Presidential election, more than 2,000 people assaulted police and smashed their way into the Capitol. 

They interrupted the certification of Democrat victory - forcing politicians, busy counting Electoral College votes that certified Joe Biden's win into hiding. 

Police stand outside the Capitol after a day of rioting protesters on 6 January, 2021
Police stand outside the Capitol after a day of rioting protesters on 6 January, 2021Julio Cortez/The AP

Most of the rioters had come from a nearby rally where Trump had urged them to “fight like hell.”

More than 100 police officers were bloodied, beaten and attacked by the rioters who overwhelmed authorities to break into the building.

Trump infamously called the insurrectionists "patriots" and has, according to Biden, “promised to pardon them if he returns to office.”

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

Trump is running for a second term as president in 2024. Although he still has support from die-hard fans, both Maine and Colorado have removed his name from the presidential ballot over his role in the Capitol incident.

He faces some 91 criminal charges stemming from his efforts to overturn his loss to Biden and three other felony cases.

Trump denies all charges and, instead, is arguing that Biden and top Democrats are themselves seeking to undermine democracy by using the legal system to thwart the Republican’s campaign.

The anniversary of the insurgency comes at a time when the US is deeply divided.

Fighting between the Republican and Democrat parties is frustrating many key decisions including government spending and assistance for Ukraine.

What do Americans think about the riot three years on?

In the days after the attack, some 52% of US adults said Trump bore a lot of responsibility for the 6 January attack, according to the Pew Research Center. 

By early 2022, that had declined to 43%. The number of Americans who said Trump bore no responsibility increased from 24% in 2021 to 32% in 2022.


A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released this week found that about 7 in 10 Republicans say too much is being made of the attack. 

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether Trump could be kept off the ballot due to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Speaking in Iowa on Friday, Trump repeated his false claims that he won the 2020 election and his assertion that the Capitol rioters were patriotic.

He also called the long prison sentences handed down for some offenders - whom Trump calls “hostages” and were convicted of crimes like assaulting police officers on 6 January or seditious conspiracy - “one of the saddest things.”

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania
President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at Montgomery County Community College in PennsylvaniaStephanie Scarbrough/The AP

Also on Friday, Biden warned that Trump's efforts to retake the White House in 2024 pose a grave threat to the country.

Speaking in Pennsylvania, Biden called the Capitol riot a moment where “we nearly lost America - lost it all.”

He said the presidential race - a potential rematch with Trump, who is the far and away GOP frontrunner - is “all about” whether American democracy will survive.

The speech, the president's first political event of the election year, was intended to clarify the expected choice for voters come November.


Biden, who reentered political life because he felt he was the most capable of defeating Trump in 2020, believes focusing on defending democracy to be central to persuading voters to reject Trump once again.

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