It was just a random date. To most Americans, an unremarkable date. Simply the sixth day of the first calendar month.
Then came Jan. 6, 2021.
The events at the U.S. Capitol a year ago changed a lot, including the significance of a once-unremarkable date. It’s a date you can’t say now without conjuring up certain emotions and images. It is shorthand for the violence, the fear and the heavy shame that was displayed. Jan. 6 is etched into American history.
One year ago today, thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump descended on the U.S. Capitol as members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate and former Vice President Mike Pence were certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election and formalizing then President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Armed with Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen, as well as baseball bats, pepper spray and the metal poles of their American flags, his supporters violently attacked the Capitol, beating police officers, breaching the halls of Congress, desecrating the building and sending the elected officials running for their lives.
The insurrection resulted in approximately 150 injured members of law enforcement, which included brain damage and crushed spinal discs. Five people also died either during or soon after the riots, including Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter who was shot inside the Capitol by a police officer. And more than a million dollars of damage was done to the national landmark.
It also resulted in hundreds of arrests, Biden still becoming president, the second impeachment of Trump, a sharper political divide in this country and more.
On the one-year anniversary, we take a look at where the United States stands after Jan. 6, 2021.
What’s changed, what’s stayed the same and where do we go from here?
The Congressional Committee
On July 1, a House select committee was formed to investigate the riot at the U.S. Capitol and the Trump administration’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
Led by Rep. Bennie Thompson, of Mississippi, the majority of the committee is filled by Democrats, though two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, hold seats on the nine-person panel as well. Cheney is the vice chair.
As of December 2021, the committee had interviewed over 250 people, subpoenaing at least 52 for phone and written records for the investigation.
Two witnesses — former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — have been held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate in the investigation. So far, only Bannon has been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Most recently, the committee requested that Pence voluntarily testify and give his recollection of the events leading up to the riot and the administration’s response as the attack played out.
One year later, Trump is still banned from most social media platforms for his role in inciting the violence on Jan. 6.
Trump also still maintains the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” repeating debunked claims about voter fraud and rigged machines.
His rhetoric has sharply influenced the beliefs of a majority of the GOP, illustrated by polling that consistently shows roughly 70% of Republicans believe the past election was “illegitimate.”
Trump has not indicated yet whether he will run again in 2024. However, despite the social media blackout and investigations into his business dealings, the former president has largely remained in the spotlight, making numerous public appearances and constantly issuing press releases that comment on current affairs.
Current polling shows Trump still is the overwhelming favorite to grab the GOP nomination and set up a potential rematch against President Joe Biden.
More than 700 people in at least 45 states have been charged for their involvement in the Capitol riot.
A majority of them face charges for disorderly conduct and unlawful entry, though many others have been charged with assault on law enforcement officers, trespassing, disrupting Congress, theft or other property crimes, possession of weapons, making threats and conspiracy.
Tangentially, in October, Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice for advising a rioter to remove incriminating posts from social media.
According to NPR, around 17% of those charged have connections to far-right extremist organizations, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Perecenters and Patriot Front. Even more expressed an interest in the QAnon conspiracy theory.
At least 15% had ties to the military or law enforcement and about 40% were business owners or white-collar workers. Only 9% were unemployed.
An overwhelming majority of defendants are male, though more than 70 women have been charged. The average age among those whose ages are known is 41, with the youngest being 18-year-old Bruno Joseph Cua, who is accused of assaulting a police officer, and the oldest being Gary Wickersham, an 80-year-old Army veteran.
So far, more than 160 defendants have pleaded guilty to one or more charges related to Jan. 6. Of those, 70 have been sentenced, and only 30 have received prison time, with the median prison sentence being 45 days.
In December, Robert Palmer was sentenced to five years in prison for swinging a pole and throwing a fire extinguisher and wooden plank at police, which is the longest Jan. 6-related sentence so far. Palmer’s punishment, experts say, is an indication that those still awaiting sentencing who also face assault charges will not be treated lightly.
Many of those arrested were the result of a cooperative digital media investigation between the public and the FBI, as law enforcement and internet sleuths spent hours and hours analyzing photos and videos taken at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and posted online. The FBI estimates that 2,000 people were involved in the violent events of that day. The bureau says that its investigation into a number of individuals is ongoing.
Over the past year, the U.S. Capitol Police's Office of Inspector General released a series of reports detailing what went wrong on Jan. 6 and how to improve security moving forward.
In its eighth and final report issued last month, the IG stated that of the 104 recommendations it made, only 30 have been fully implemented by the department.
Jan. 6 laid bare the issues within the Capitol Police. Ultimately, it was a failure of leadership; officers were not supplied enough riot gear, managers overlooked, and even ignored, intelligence reports, and plans were not in place.
The failures of the force, in part, led to more than 80 of its officers being injured and the death of at least one.
Officer Brian Sicknick suffered two strokes nearly eight hours after being sprayed with a chemical irritant during the clash with protesters. District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner Francisco J. Diaz ruled that Sicknick died of natural causes, though adding, “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”
The Capitol Police ruled that Sicknick died in the line of duty.
The family of Officer Howard Liebengood has also lobbied for his death to be ruled, “in the line of duty.”
Liebengood died by suicide on Jan. 9, 2021. His wife said he had worked three straight 24-hour shifts between Jan. 6 and Jan. 9, and that he was severely sleep deprived at the time of his death. She said she believes that if it wasn’t for the events at the Capitol, her husband would still be here today.
Three other D.C. metro police officers have also taken their lives since Jan. 6, including Officer Jeffrey Smith, who died on Jan. 15, 2021 and whose family also believes his death is attributable to the riots.
In the immediate aftermath, large metal fencing was placed around the perimeter of the Capitol, fortifying the premises.
It was an unusual sight for the Capitol as it’s one of the more accessible federal government buildings in D.C.
However, that fencing was eventually taken down, and the grounds around the Capitol have basically returned to normal.
The damage to the building was extensive; broken windows, unhinged doors, smashed furniture, ruined artwork, discarded railings, cracks in the interior and exterior.
The Justice Department estimates the riots caused about $1.5 million in damage.
On Jan. 6, 2021, the violent efforts to stop the certification of the presidential election were seen by many Americans — and many people around the world — as an attack on democracy.
A year later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that ultimately, “democracy won.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Democratic leader added, “Make no mistake, our democracy was on the brink of catastrophe… [The rioters], because of the courageous work of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police and others, they were deterred in their action to stop the peaceful transfer of power. They lost.”
The cracks are there, though. And American leaders know that.
Last month, Biden held a Summit for Democracy, gathering over 100 international leaders virtually to discuss the future of democracy around the world and the importance of protecting it.
“Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to renew it with each generation. And this is an urgent matter on all our parts, in my view,” Biden said at his summit in December 2021. “In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time.”
In their speeches on the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, Biden and Harris focused heavily on the topic of democracy.
“On January 6th, we all saw what our nation would look like if the forces who seek to dismantle our democracy are successful: The lawlessness, the violence, the chaos,” Harris said Thursday.
“The fragility of democracy is this, that if we are not vigilant, if we do not defend it, democracy simply will not stand. It will falter and fail.”
With respect to Speaker Pelosi, Democracy has not won. But it also hasn’t lost.
Democracy, a year after the events of Jan. 6, still hangs in the balance.