President Biden on Friday honored “the heroes of January 6” at an emotional White House ceremony in which he awarded presidential medals to 14 people, including police officers who fought the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol two years ago and election workers who refused former President Donald Trump’s pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Three of the medals were awarded posthumously to the families of police officers who died in the days after the attack.
“History will remember your names, remember your courage, and remember your bravery,” Biden said, as the honorees sat behind him in the White House East Room.
Speaking on the second anniversary of the attack, Biden gave the honorees the Presidential Citizens Medal — the country’s second-highest honor. In the past, it has gone to a diverse group of distinguished Americans, including Edward Teller, the so-called father of the hydrogen bomb, Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox and sports legends Muhammed Ali and Henry "Hank" Aaron.
Biden never once mentioned Trump’s name or any of the ongoing criminal investigations into the former president’s conduct that day. Instead, he cast one of the country’s darkest moments as an occasion to celebrate how the actions of the largely anonymous police officers and election workers had helped to save American democracy.
“A violent mob of insurrectionists assaulted law enforcement, vandalized sacred halls, hunted down elected officials — all for the purpose of an attempt to overthrow the will of the people and usurp the peaceful transfer of power,” Biden said. “All of it was fueled by lies about the 2020 election.”
“But on this day, two years ago, our democracy held … because We the People did not flinch.”
Among those honored at the event were two Fulton County, Ga., election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss, who were falsely accused by Trump and his allies of counting fraudulent ballots on election night at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Freeman and Moss were subjected to what the House Jan. 6 committee described as “racist” attacks by Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who compared them to drug dealers passing around USB ports with ballots “as if they’re vials of heroin and cocaine” — an extraordinary and baseless claim that prompted Freeman to flee her home on the advice of the FBI.
And as if to underscore the indignities they were forced to suffer, Trump — who had called Freeman “a professional vote-scammer and hustler” in his Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — doubled down on his claims she had done something improper in a social media posting just this week. “What will the Great State of Georgia do with the Ruby Freeman MESS?” he asked in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Biden noted that Freeman and Moss, both of whom had testified last summer before the Jan. 6 committee, had volunteered as election workers because of their strong commitment to the decades-long battle by civil rights activists for voting rights in Georgia.
“Both of them are just doing their jobs until they were targeted and threatened by the same predators and peddlers of lies that would fuel the insurrection,” Biden said. “They were literally forced from their homes facing despicable racist taunts.”
“But despite it all, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ‘Shaye’ Moss, found the courage to testify openly and honestly to the whole country and the world, about their experiences,” Biden continued. “Ruby, you don't deserve what happened to you. But you do deserve the nation's eternal thanks for showing the dignity and grace of we the people. I'm so proud of you both.”
The White House event was a bipartisan affair. Among the honorees, in addition to Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, were two Republicans who refused pressure to alter the election results from Trump allies — Rusty Bowers, the former GOP speaker of the house in Arizona, and Albert Smith, a Republican former Philadelphia election commissioner who was just named as Pennsylvania’s secretary of state by the new Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.
But perhaps the most emotional moments came when Biden called out the police officers who were subjected to brutal attacks that day, as well as the widows of two police officers Howard Liebengood and Jeffrey Smith. The two officers committed suicide in the days after the attack.
Smith “was part of the first line of officers who entered when the Capitol was breached, [was] assaulted many times — the last time with a metal pipe,” Biden noted. The death of Smith and Liebengood prompted Congress to pass a new law, the Public Safety Officer Support Act, which, as Biden noted, will ensure that officers who die as a result of the trauma they face will “get the benefits they deserve.”