Trump Stood Up For Jan. 6 Rioters — Once Again


President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump participate in the first Presidential Debate at CNN Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump participate in the first Presidential Debate at CNN Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday. Kyle Mazza/Anadolu via Getty Images

Donald Trump stood up for rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, yet again on Thursday, this time from the national debate stage. 

When President Joe Biden made a comment about how Trump wanted to “forgive” and commute the sentences of Jan. 6 convicts, Trump didn’t deny that. Instead, he took the rioters’ side. 

“What they’ve done to some people that are so innocent– You ought to be ashamed of yourself, what you have done, how you have destroyed the lives of so many people,” he told Biden, presumably referring to federal prosecutions against Capitol rioters. Then, he launched into a tangent about calling in the National Guard on Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020. 

Trump’s comment was significant: It was yet another instance of him standing up for Jan. 6 defendants, who sought to prevent the peaceful transfer of power between presidents by sacking Congress. The vast majority of more than 1,400 defendants have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty at trial, an NPR tally shows. Many await trial. Just three have been acquitted of all charges.

Trump has repeatedly said he supports freeing some or all Jan. 6 rioters. In January 2022, he pledged to treat Jan. 6 defendants “fairly,” and that “if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons.” The following month, he said “many” Jan. 6 defendants were “patriots, they’re soldiers, they’re policemen,” and added that he would “absolutely be prepared” to issue pardons to some of them. A few months later, he said he would be “looking at them very, very seriously for pardons,” saying Jan. 6 defendants were “having their lives totally destroyed and being treated worse than terrorists and murderers.”

These are hardly the onlyexamples. Trump has called for the release of Jan. 6 “hostages” and “political prisoners,” and has played a song recorded by jailed Jan. 6 defendants at campaign rallies. He pledged in March this year: “My first acts as your next President will be to Close the Border, DRILL, BABY, DRILL, and Free the January 6 Hostages being wrongfully imprisoned!” 

Trump began his answer to a question about Jan. 6 on Thursday by deflecting. Asked by CNN moderator Jake Tapper if he violated his oath of office that day, Trump instead spoke generally about his administration’s track record on the border, energy, taxes and other issues. 

Pressed by Tapper for an actual answer, Trump said he “had virtually nothing to do [with Jan. 6]. They asked me to go make a speech.” 

This is laughably false. Trump hyped the event for weeks, inviting his supporters to Washington, D.C., with tweets like, “Be there, will be wild!” In the months leading up to Jan. 6, he promoted multiple rowdy events in the city, praising his supporters who answered his call. Multiple criminal Jan. 6 defendants have said their actions were in response to Trump’s calls. In a speech before his supporters breached the Capitol, Trump told them: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” 

Also in his answer Thursday, Trump claimed to have offered then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 10,000 soldiers for security on Jan. 6, and claimed Pelosi had admitted to turning them down. This is simplyfalse.

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