Trump using Jan. 6 riot as campaign rallying cry

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(MASON CITY, Iowa) — On Jan. 6, 2021, then-President Donald Trump spoke on the Ellipse near the White House on the heels of his 2020 election loss, telling supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol “peacefully and patriotically,” but also proclaiming, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Soon after, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election are now at the center of his federal election subversion case. (The case is currently stayed while the appeals process plays out, and Trump has denied all wrongdoing.)

On Saturday, on the third anniversary Jan. 6, Trump is spending the day in Iowa, delivering his closing message before the Jan. 15 GOP caucuses, continuing to use the events of Jan. 6 as a rallying cry.

On the campaign trail, Trump has downplayed the violence that ensued that day and has called those charged and convicted in attack “hostages.”

“The J6 hostages, I call them. Nobody has been treated ever in history so badly as those people nobody’s ever been treated in our country,” Trump said at a rally Friday in Iowa on the eve of the anniversary.

Jailing those who broke into the Capitol that day, he said, is “one of the saddest things in the history of our country.” He’s said he would grant clemency to a “large portion” of them.

In the three years since the assault on the U.S. Capitol, federal prosecutors have charged more than 1,265 defendants across nearly all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and secured convictions and incarceration for more than 460 people, according to numbers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. released Friday.

Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud have been rejected in at least 60 court cases, according to PolitiFact.

In referring to Jan. 6, Trump’s embrace of what he’s called a “beautiful day” extends even to his campaign walk-up song where he sometimes plays “Justice for All” by the so-called “J6 Prison Choir” — a group of men incarcerated for their roles on Jan. 6 — singing the “Star Spangled Banner” as Trump recites the Pledge of Allegiance.

Now, with the 2024 presidential cycle heading toward a potential rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden, both have made the aftermath of the 2020 a central part of their campaign messages.

Biden is portraying Trump as a dire threat to democracy and freedom as he did in his first 2024 campaign event Friday on the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary. His campaign also released an ad on Saturday comparing the attack on the Capitol to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017– the event that Biden says inspired him to run for president.

Speaking in battleground Pennsylvania, Biden called Jan. 6 “a violent assault,” slamming Trump repeatedly by name.

“He tried to rewrite the facts of January 6. Trump is trying to steal history the same way he tried to steal the election,” Biden said in his fiery speech.

“Today, I make this sacred pledge to you, the defense, protection, and preservation of American democracy will remain, as it has been, the central cause of my presidency,” he said. “America, as we begin this election year, we must be clear, democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot.”

Trump has tried to flip the script on Biden, calling his speech “pathetic” and “fear mongering.” He and his campaign claim Biden is the actual “threat to democracy,” pointing to Trump’s multiple criminal indictments to accuse Biden, without evidence, of weaponizing the Justice Department to prosecute his most formidable political opponent.

“Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy. Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy and it’s him and his people. They’re the wreckers of the American dream. The American dream is dead with them in office. It’s sad,” Trump said at a campaign stop last month.

Trump’s GOP primary challengers have started to get more vocal in condemning Trump’s involvement in Jan. 6. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has called it a “terrible day,” saying people who broke the law should “pay the price to show that it will never happen again.”

Florida Gov. DeSantis has claimed the attack would never have happened under his watch because, he said, “I would have won the election.”

“Whatever his intention was, you know, he put those people in jeopardy, and a lot of people have now gotten caught up in that. So, it was not good,” DeSantis said.

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