Jan. 6 ‘heroes’ honored for defending Capitol from Trump mob

Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges arrives at the Cannon Building, June 9, 2022, in Washington. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - Police with guns drawn watch as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - Police keep a watch as insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - From left, Serena Liebengood, widow of U.S. Capitol Police officer Howie Liebengood, former Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges, U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn listen as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 13, 2022. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 1, 2022. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - A police officer has eyes flushed with water after a confrontation with violent insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medals FILE - Former Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone listens as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, July 21, 2022. Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Congressional Gold Medals on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, awarding them Congress's highest honor nearly two years after they fought with former President Donald Trump’s supporters in a brutal and bloody attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Law enforcement officers salute during the playing of the national anthem during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal
Capitol Riot Gold Medal
Capitol Riot Gold Medal
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applauds U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal From left, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert J. Contee, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pray during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
APTOPIX Capitol Riot Gold Medal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., embraces former Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone before the start of a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Speak of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., steps on stage during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Charles and Gladys Sicknick, father and mother of slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, are greeted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., center, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., at right, during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. The members of the Sicknick family declined to shake hands with McConnell and McCarthy. At left is U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Congressional Gold Medals are placed before a ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Congressional Gold Medals are placed before a ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Capitol Riot Gold Medal
Capitol Riot Gold Medal Craig Sicknick, left, brother of slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, is greeted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and Gladys Sicnick, right, the mother of slain U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. The members of the Sicknick family declined to shake hands with McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Hailed as heroes, the law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were honored Tuesday with Congressional Gold Medals and praised for securing democracy when they fought off a brutal and bloody attack by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened the emotional ceremony, tensions still raw in the stately Capitol Rotunda, which was overrun that day when Trump supporters battled police, broke into the building and stormed the halls trying to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election.

“January 6 was a day of horror and heartbreak; it is also a moment of extraordinary heroism —staring down deadly violence and despicable bigotry,” Pelosi said.

In bestowing Congress’ highest honor, Pelosi praised the heroes for “courageously answering the call to defend our democracy in one of the nation’s darkest hours.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said: “Thank you for having our backs. Thank you for saving our country.”

But showing the raw political and emotional fallout from the violent insurrection and its aftermath, representatives of the family of fallen officer Brian Sicknick declined to shake hands with the Republican leaders, snubbing McConnell’s outstretched palm.

Sicknick’s mother had personally lobbied House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican leaders for the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Capitol attack, or when that failed, to support the House investigative panel. Both McConnell and McCarthy voted against the independent commission, and McCarthy has railed against the House panel as a partisan political exercise.

To recognize the hundreds of officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the medals will be placed in four locations — at U.S. Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution. In signing the legislation last year, Biden said that one will be placed at the Smithsonian museum “so all visitors can understand what happened that day.”

Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said for some officers Tuesday was their first visit to the Capitol since that horrific day, a scene filled with the clanking sound of metal poles being wielded as weapons, “the air still thick” with chemical sprays as officers were assaulted by the mob of Trump supporters.

“Many of us still carry the mental, physical and emotional scars,” Contee said of the city police officers who rushed in as the U.S. Capitol Police were overrun by the mob.

“Exhausted and injured, it was your blood, your sweat and your tears that marked these grounds,” he said.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger called it “a day unlike any other in our nation’s history. And for us, it was a day defined by chaos, courage and tragic loss.”

The ceremony at the Capitol comes as Democrats, just weeks away from losing their House majority, race to finish a nearly 18-month investigation of the insurrection.

Without support from GOP leadership, Democrats led the bipartisan probe with two Republicans and vowed to uncover the details of the attack, which came as Trump tried to overturn his election defeat and encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” in a rally just before the congressional certification.

Awarding the medals is among Pelosi’s last ceremonial acts as she prepares to step down from leadership.

“Your valor that day is the stuff of legend,” Pelosi told those officers gathered Tuesday.

More than 100 officers who fought off the rioters sustained serious injuries. As the mob of Trump’s supporters pushed past them and into the Capitol, police were beaten with American flags and their own guns, dragged down stairs, sprayed with chemicals and trampled and crushed by the crowd. Officers suffered physical wounds, including brain injuries with lifelong effects, and many struggled to work afterward because they were so traumatized.

Four officers who testified at a House hearing last year spoke openly about the lasting mental and physical scars, and some detailed near-death experiences.

Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges described foaming at the mouth, bleeding and screaming as the rioters tried to gouge out his eye and crush him between two heavy doors.

Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who rushed to the scene, said he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.”

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said a large group of people shouted the N-word at him as he was trying to keep them from breaching the House chamber.

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

Sicknick collapsed and later died after one of the rioters sprayed him with a chemical. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes.

Several months after the attack, in August 2021, the Metropolitan Police announced that two more of their officers who had responded to the insurrection had died by suicide. The circumstances that led to their deaths were unknown.

The June 2021 House vote to award the medals won widespread support from both parties. But 21 House Republicans voted against it — lawmakers who had downplayed the violence and stayed loyal to Trump. The Senate passed the legislation by voice vote, with no Republican objections.

With the U.S. Army Band singing “God Bless America,” the ceremony could be the last for some time marking the events of Jan. 6, 2021, as Republicans in the House majority are unlikely to continue a tradition of commemorating the day.

Most of the House Republicans objected to certifying Biden’s election. Some newly elected Republican lawmakers were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Pelosi, McConnell, McCarthy and Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer awarded the medals. McCarthy, who is in line to become House speaker when Republicans take control, linked the Jan. 6 “heroes” to others in law enforcement.

The Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow, has been handed out since 1776. Previous recipients include George Washington, Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Hope and Robert Frost.

Signing the bill at the White House last year, Biden said the officers’ heroism cannot be forgotten.

The insurrection was a “violent attempt to overturn the will of the American people,” and Americans have to understand what happened, he said. “The honest and unvarnished truth. We have to face it.”

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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