Washington (AFP) -
President Joe Biden on Thursday savaged Donald Trump's 'lies' and attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, vowing on the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot he would let no one put a 'dagger at the throat of democracy.'
In a dark, powerful address, Biden called out Trump's effort to cheat and blasted the mob of the Republican's supporters who stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent certification of the election result.
'This was an armed insurrection,' Biden said in his speech from Statuary Hall inside the Capitol.
'For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power,' Biden said.
'They came here in rage,' Biden said, and 'held a dagger at the throat of America.'
'I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.'
Laying out the dangers facing a country that has long styled itself as leader of the free world, Biden asked: 'Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm?'
'Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people?' the veteran Democrat continued.
'We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation.'
Although Biden did not mention Trump's name, he made clear whom he was talking about in a blistering portrait of a man he said tried to cheat his way out of defeat in the election.
'The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,' Biden said. 'He values power over principle.'
During the assault on Congress, Trump was 'sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours,' Biden said, his anger clear. 'He's a defeated former president.'
- Republicans keep clear -
In a statement issued immediately after Biden's speech, Trump accused the Democrat of seeking to 'further divide America.'
'This political theater is all just a distraction for the fact Biden has completely and totally failed,' Trump said.
The day's commemorative events were also to feature a speech by the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and a prayer vigil on the steps of the Capitol.
However, such are the depths of division 12 months later that many senior Republicans didn't even show up.
The party's top lawmaker, Senator Mitch McConnell, was leading a delegation to a funeral of a recently deceased senator some 600 miles (965 kilometers) away in Atlanta, Georgia.
In a statement, McConnell said January 6 had been a 'dark day' but called it 'stunning to see some Washington Democrats try to exploit this anniversary.'
- 'True patriotism' -
On Wednesday, the Capitol police chief, Thomas Manger, said his forces would never be caught unprepared again, as they were last year.
But the political risk may be, if anything, higher than before.
Writing in The New York Times, former Democratic president Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that the United States 'teeters on the brink of a widening abyss.'
'Without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy. Americans must set aside differences and work together before it is too late,' Carter wrote.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also called for a profound look at the state of the nation.
'Without addressing the root causes of the violence on January 6, the insurrection will not be an aberration -- it could well become the norm,' he warned.
More surprising was the voice of Karl Rove, one of the chief architects of Republican strategy over the last 30 years, who wrote in the right-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial pages that there was no forgiveness for the assault on democracy.
'There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Love of country demands nothing less. That's true patriotism,' he wrote.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that authorities have so far arrested and charged about 725 people in connection with the attack, while asking for patience in work to untangle any deeper roots of a conspiracy.