OPINION: For Joe Biden, the Nov. 5 election is about Jan. 6

                        FILE — Rioters force their way into the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. The justices will hear arguments on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in a case that could alter hundreds of prosecutions for the assault on the Capitol and help define its meaning. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

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FILE — Rioters force their way into the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. The justices will hear arguments on Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in a case that could alter hundreds of prosecutions for the assault on the Capitol and help define its meaning. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

When President Joe Biden came to Atlanta last weekend, he had an ominous warning for the Democrats at a fundraiser hosted by Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank. Former President Donald Trump had a psychotic break after the 2020 election, Biden said. It led to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and everything else that followed.

“It’s clear that when he lost in 2020, something snapped, I’m being serious,” Biden said Saturday. “He just can’t accept the fact he lost. That is why Jan. 6 happened. Every legal avenue Trump tried to change the election failed. So he unleashed an insurrection. He sat there for three hours, watching what was happening, not saying a word.”

Although Biden has said repeatedly this election cycle that “democracy is on the ballot” in 2024, he has never quite gotten to the point the way he did over the weekend, describing Trump’s inaction on Jan. 6 as not just a failed test of leadership, but a sign of malignant character.

“The message of this campaign is very straightforward,” Biden said. “The threat Trump poses is greater in a second term than it was in the first term.”

It’s easy to forget the sequence of events that day, which started with a “Save America” rally on the Mall, where Trump told thousands of cheering supporters to “fight like hell” to take back the supposedly stolen election. A portion of the crowd then marched to the Capitol, where Congress was scheduled to certify Biden as the winner of the 2020 election at noon.

The rest, unfortunately, is gruesome history. As the attack unfolded and intensified during the afternoon, Trump remained uncharacteristically out of sight and silent at the White House. Staff in the Trump administration began to resign after waiting in vain for the president to intervene in the increasingly violent scene at the Capitol.

Rioters broke past police barricades and scaled the walls of the Capitol. Some assaulted police officers. Others called out for then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. And still, Trump said nothing.

With no message coming to call off the rioters, President-elect Biden posted a note to social media at 4:15 p.m., calling on Trump to go on national television to demand an end to what he called “the siege.”

“The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are,” Biden wrote. “This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.”

Two minutes later, Trump released a video telling the rioters they were very special people.

“I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election stolen from us,” he said in a recorded message in front of the White House. “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you.”

It’s that image of Trump, loving the rioters and telling them they were very special people, that Biden wants to leave in voters’ minds heading into Election Day. His message on the economy right now is complicated. His record on immigration and inflation is dicey at best. But the contrast between Biden and Trump on Jan. 6 is one that the Biden campaign knows weighs on voters.

Trump has done Biden the favor of leaning into Jan. 6 himself, calling people convicted of their conduct that day “hostages” and “unbelievable patriots.” He uses songs from the “J6 Prison Choir” at the beginning of his rallies, including in Georgia, and he complains that the ones still in jail have been “horribly and unfairly treated.”

If he’s elected again, he has promised to consider presidential pardons for “every single one.”

That would include Jack Wade Whitton of Locust Grove, Georgia, who was sentenced this month to nearly five years in prison for a brutal assault on a Capitol Police officer that day. After smashing the officer with a metal crutch, video showed him dragging the officer headfirst into a crowd where he was beaten further.

In an Instagram message to a friend later that day, Whitton said of the officer, “I fed him to the people.”

Trump’s blanket pardon would presumably extend to the rioters who scaled the Capitol walls, smashed windows and left more than 140 officers injured. Some called for Pence to hang.

“The first day we get into office, we’re going to save our country, we’re going to be working on that,” Trump told a rally in Ohio last month of the Jan. 6 prisoners. “We’re going to work with people to treat those unbelievable patriots.”

The Georgia GOP is leaning into the events of Jan. 6, too. Over the weekend, the state party elected Amy Kremer to one of its two seats on the Republican National Committee heading to their July convention. They picked her over longtime conservative leader and Atlanta boutique owner Ginger Howard. Kremer had been best known as a Tea Party co-founder until she founded “Women for America First” and later organized the “Save America” rally on the Mall that preceded the Capitol attack.

Although she did not go to the Capitol after the rally, she welcomed the thousands of Trump supporters to the event with a, “Hello deplorables!” She later became a key fundraiser to help challenge Biden’s victory with the “Stop the Steal” efforts.

Behind the scenes today, plenty of Republican leaders don’t want anything to do with Kremer, or Trump, or Trump’s defense of the people who descended on the Capitol that day. But they don’t say that out loud.

But Biden is hoping they also don’t want a repeat of the Capitol attack any more than he does. And that, in the privacy of the voting booth, they and others will choose four more years of Biden over one more day in America like Jan. 6.

President Joe Biden speaks at the NAACP Detroit branch Fight for Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit, Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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