Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather on the second anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot in Washington on Jan. 6, 2023.
Donald Trump has called Jan. 6, 2021, a “beautiful day” and said that the people who committed violence and destruction at the U.S. Capitol are “patriots” and “peaceful people.”
But the former president’s own attorney offered a starkly different description of that day’s events to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, amid arguments about whether Trump should be barred from the 2024 presidential ballot for instigating an insurrection.
This description of events from the person representing Trump goes against how Trump himself has consistently described Jan. 6 to his fans — as a calm day when his supporters flocked to a Stop the Steal rally in Washington, with “love in their heart” because they believed the 2020 election was “rigged.”
“This was a riot. It was not an insurrection,” said Trump lawyer Jonathan Mitchell, a former Texas solicitor general who is arguing Trump’s case in front of the high court.
“The events were shameful, criminal, violent — all of those things — but did not qualify as insurrection as that term is used in Section 3,” Mitchell added, referring to Article 14, Section 3 of the Constitution, which bars those who have engaged in insurrection from holding office.
How the Supreme Court justices end up interpreting that section will determine whether Trump can remain on the ballot, following a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in December that disqualified him from running.
“For an insurrection, there needs to be an organized, concerted effort to overthrow the government of the U.S. through violence,” Mitchell told liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who explained that Colorado’s high court found that Trump’s supporters engaged in an insurrection by violently attempting “to halt the count” of electoral votes.
Trump and his allies have pushed back on descriptions of Jan. 6 as an insurrection.
“The crowd was unbelievable, and I mentioned the word ‘love.’ The love in the air — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump said in a July 2021 Fox News interview, calling the rioters “patriots” and “peaceful.”
At a CNN town hall in May 2023, Trump said that Jan. 6 was a “beautiful day” while downplaying his involvement.
Trump has also vowed to release the people jailed in connection with the attack who are awaiting trial and to pardon the people convicted of crimes that day. The Justice Department has charged more than 1,300 people in connection with the attack, with roughly 750 sentenced, as of early January.
“They ought to release the J6 [Jan. 6] hostages. They’ve suffered enough,” Trump said on this year’s anniversary of the attack while campaigning in Iowa.
At the CNN town hall, Trump said that he would pardon a “large portion” of the rioters.
“I’m inclined to pardon many of them,” he said. “I can’t say for every single one, because a couple of them, probably, they got out of control.”