Biden needs a history lesson on attacks against American democracy

Historical ignorance.

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President Joe Biden needs a history lesson on the place where he has worked for nearly 50 years.

In an address Wednesday to Congress, the president claimed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot represents the most serious attack on American democracy since the Civil War.

“One hundred days since I took the oath of office, and lifted my hand off our family Bible, and inherited a nation, we all did, that was in crisis,” said Biden. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”

The usual crowd of sycophants, including so-called historian Michael Beschloss, ate it up.

“Joe Biden is absolutely correct in saying tonight that January 6 was ‘the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War,’” cheered NBC News’s presidential historian.

Well, no. Not quite

An estimated 138 police officers were injured on Jan. 6. Several protesters were also injured.

Of the five deaths commonly blamed on the riot, only one, the shooting death of 35-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt by a Capitol Police Officer, has been ruled a homicide. The other four deaths weren’t the result of any injury sustained during the battle between protesters and law enforcement officials.

Benjamin Phillips and Kevin Greeson died of natural causes, a medical examiner ruled in April. Rosanne Boyland, who initial reports claimed had been crushed to death by the pro-Trump mob, died from a drug overdose.

Capitol Hill Police Officer Brian Sicknick, whose death was originally attributed to “injuries suffered during the riot,” suffered two strokes after the protest and died of natural causes, Francisco Diaz, the chief medical examiner in Washington, D.C., announced last week. Diaz also said there is no evidence Sicknick suffered internal or external injuries from the incident.

If Biden is speaking broadly, saying Jan. 6 is the worst overall attack on American democracy anywhere in the U.S. since the Civil War, well, he’s just plain wrong.

There’s the 1898 Wilmington Massacre, in which white insurrectionists overthrew the local biracial government, forcing an estimated 100 black officials from their elected positions and killing somewhere between 60 to 250 black people in the process. There’s the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, in which anti-government zealots Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people with a homemade bomb. There’s the 2017 congressional baseball shooting, in which deranged left-wing activist James Hodgkinson very nearly slaughtered 24 Republican lawmakers after asking, just to make sure, that they were Republicans.

There are also the damages and injuries inflicted on federal property and law enforcement officials last year when rioters laid siege to a courthouse in Portland, Oregon. If Biden wants to talk about symbolic attacks on American ideals and its highest values, he should start there.

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Then, there are the politically motivated attacks on U.S. presidents, successful and unsuccessful. John Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln with the explicit intention of throwing the duly elected federal government into disarray. William McKinley was likewise murdered for political reasons, shot to death by an assassin who declared him an “enemy of the good people — the working people.” In 1950, President Harry Truman escaped an assassination attempt after secret service agents intercepted and fought off Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, Puerto Rican nationalists who tried to make an example of the U.S. commander in chief for the benefit of their independence movement. One White House officer was killed in the shootout; two were injured.

If Biden’s argument is that the Jan. 6 riot is the worst post-Civil War attack on American democracy because it was an attack on the Capitol specifically, that also doesn’t hold up very well.

There’s the 1915 Capitol bombing. There's the 1954 shooting by Puerto Rican nationalists, in which five members of Congress were wounded. There’s the 1971 Weather Underground bombing. There’s the 1983 M19 bombing. And what about the Sept. 11 attacks? The Capitol building is widely believed to have been the intended target of flight United 93, which crash-landed instead in Pennsylvania.

Yes, the Jan. 6 riot was bad, bad enough that there’s no need to exaggerate.