WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 6: U.S. President Joe Biden embraces Gladys Sicknick, the mother of late Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, as she accepts a Presidential Citizens Medal on behalf of her late son during a ceremony to mark the two-year anniversary of the January 6th 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol in the East Room of the White House January 6, 2023. Biden awarded 12 Presidential Citizens Medals to police officers who defended the Capitol and state officials who resisted pressure to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — On the second anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, President Joe Biden on Friday awarded citizen medals to 14 Americans who protected democracy and law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol.
“Two years ago on Jan. 6 our democracy was attacked,” Biden said at the White House. “Our democracy held because ‘We the People’ did not flinch. ‘We the People’ endured. ‘We the People’ prevailed.”
This is Biden’s first time in his presidency awarding the Presidential Citizens Medal, which is the second-highest award an American citizen can receive, second to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Biden told the recipients that “history will remember your names, remember your courage, remember your bravery, remember your extraordinary commitments to your fellow Americans.”
Among recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal were Fulton County, Georgia, election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, a mother and daughter who were targeted by Trump administration officials and falsely accused of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“Ruby and Shaye, you don’t deserve what happened to you,” Biden said. “But you do deserve the nation’s eternal thanks for showing that dignity and grace of ‘We the People.’”
Other recipients included:
- Rusty Bowers, the former speaker of the Arizona House who resisted pressures to overturn 2020 election results
- Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan secretary of state who faced armed protesters outside her home when she resisted pressure over election results
- Al Schmidt, a former GOP commissioner in Philadelphia and member of the Philadelphia County Board of Elections who during the 2020 election faced threats for defending the integrity of the election
Jan. 6 attack
On Jan. 6, hundreds of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent members of Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump was impeached for a second time for his role in the insurrection, and a special investigative panel unanimously voted to refer him and others to the Justice Department for potential criminal charges, including inciting or aiding an insurrection.
The special House panel investigating Jan. 6 also found that Trump was directly involved in efforts to pressure state officials in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere to overturn the 2020 election results in their states.
Some of those officials who were pressured were awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say America owes you … a debt of gratitude, one we can never fully repay unless we live up to what you did,” Biden said to the recipients.
The president also posthumously awarded medals to law enforcement officers who died following the insurrection.
Those officers include the late Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was injured while responding to the Jan. 6 attack and later died, and two officers who died by suicide, Jeffrey Smith and Howard Liebengood.
Others receiving medals were:
- Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who defended the Capitol during the insurrection and experienced racist slurs and harassment from the rioters
- Caroline Edwards, who was the first law enforcement officer who was injured by the rioters and continued to defend the Capitol after suffering a traumatic brain injury
- Michael Fanone, who served as a Metropolitan Police Department officer and was injured as he defended the Capitol during the attack. He later resigned and has pushed for congressional Republicans to acknowledge their role in spreading the false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
- Aquilino Gonell, who served as a Capitol Police sergeant and was injured during the attack
- Eugene Goodman, the U.S. Capitol Police officer who is credited with diverting rioters from the Senate floor, allowing senators and staff to evacuate
- Daniel Hodges, a Metropolitan Police Department officer who was injured while defending the Capitol
Separately, U.S. House Democratic leaders and members held a ceremony earlier in the day to remember the five law enforcement officers who died following the Jan. 6 insurrection. Following the attack, four law enforcement officers died by suicide.
“The violent insurrectionists stormed the Capitol and attempted to halt the peaceful transfer of power,” House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said. “They failed because of the bravery and valor of the United States Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department officers who fought heroically to defend our democracy.”
Family members of the officers read their loved one’s name, followed by a bell to signify their remembrance.
Those officers included Sicknick, Gunther Hashida, Kyle DeFreytag, Smith and Liebengood.
The children of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans read their father’s name. Evans died in a second attack on the Capitol in April 2021 when a driver rammed his car into a barricade on the north complex of the Capitol, slamming into Evans and another officer.
Jeffries later called for 140 seconds of silence to acknowledge the 140 law enforcement officers who were injured on Jan. 6.
Former Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was inside the Capitol during the insurrection, thanked the family members of the officers “for considering us worthy to share your grief” and “to honor your loss.”
“We will always carry the memory of their families in our hearts,” the California Democrat said.
A handful of House Democrats and dozens of veterans the day before the second Jan. 6 anniversary held a press conference to call on the incoming House Republican leaders to condemn political violence and hold their members who supported the attack accountable for their actions.
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