January 6: A year on, a return to normalcy at US Capitol

Areas around the US Capitol that last year saw scenes of chaos and violence are calm, as the US commemorates its sombre anniversary.

Police officer stands in front of US Capitol
Law enforcement agents set up a security perimeter around the Capitol as US President Joe Biden delivered a speech inside the building on Thursday [Ali Harb/Al Jazeera]

Washington, DC – Nick McCall has been a tour guide in Washington, DC, for years.

In that time, the US Capitol’s rich past has been a prominent feature of McCall’s many visits to the building, from its iconic dome completed during Abraham Lincoln’s administration, to the bronze and marble statues of notable Americans – two from each state – lining its hall.

But over the past year, he says he has added a more recent event to his presentations: the day a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol.

“I just speak on it. I don’t go too much into personal opinions because that would create a divide on the bus,” McCall told Al Jazeera on Thursday, standing on a lawn blanketed by a layer of melting snow on the west side of the Capitol.

“Everyone has their own personal beliefs, fine by me. So I just let them know that it happened, and how it was,” he said, adding however that it was “disappointing” that authorities had not secured the building properly when the riot broke out.

As the United States marks the first anniversary of the attack on the Capitol, the same area that witnessed scenes of chaos, angry chants and deadly violence on January 6, 2021, was quiet on Thursday morning.

Armed Capitol police officers stood along a security fence that stretched across the building, creating a relatively small security buffer as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered speeches inside the Capitol.

Dozens of journalists gathered on various corners of the Capitol hoping to get footage of the president’s convoy. Tourists and joggers added to the sense of normalcy that slowly returned to Capitol Hill after prolonged extraordinary security measures, including a heavy army presence, in the early months of 2021.

After the riot, federal authorities deployed thousands of troops and sealed off the Capitol with a metal fence that stretched for several blocks around the building. The barrier remained in place until May amid concerns over possible right-wing protests or attacks.

A year on, however, those fears seem to have been allayed with the January 6 anniversary being marked with speeches and political jockeying, rather than street protests.

Biden took aim at Trump in his speech on Thursday, accusing his predecessor of prioritising “his bruised ego” over the country’s democracy. Yet some Republicans have accused Democrats of politicising the January 6 events.

“The Biden Presidency, one year after January 6, is in free fall not because of the attack on our Capitol, but because of failed policies and weak leadership,” Senator Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

The January 6 rioters, driven by Trump’s false claims the 2020 US presidential election had been marred by widespread voter fraud, attempted to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory when they stormed the Capitol.

On the east side of the building on Thursday, Maryland resident Matt Russillo stood next to a bicycle covered with signs condemning the rioters. “Someone must inform the right that treason is not patriotic,” one poster read.

Russillo called for a more forceful approach to hold those responsible for January 6 violence accountable, including Trump.

“There’s no question that he was involved. He was the instigator,” Russillo told Al Jazeera. “And these people came knowing what they came here for. I mean, to say that there were a few bad apples … You had a whole orchard there.”

The US House of Representatives impeached Trump early last year for “incitement of insurrection”, but he was acquitted in the Senate, with the majority of Republicans voting against convicting him.

On Wednesday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland promised to ensure accountability for the January 6 attack, saying that more than 725 suspected rioters have been charged in connection with the incident.

“Those involved must be held accountable. And there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice,” Garland said.

The US Capitol building
The scene outside the US Capitol was calm on the first anniversary of the January 6 riot [Ali Harb/Al Jazeera]

John Grantham, a West Virginian who lives in the Netherlands, and his wife brought their two kids to see the Capitol for the first time on Thursday. Being there on January 6 was just a coincidence, he said.

“It still has the same significance that it did before,” Grantham said of the Capitol. “It was sad to see what happened. But for us, I don’t think it changed our view of the Capitol at all … It’s still standing, and what they tried to do didn’t work, so I think that’s encouraging.”

Source: Al Jazeera