On the eve of the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol building, Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged to bring those involved to justice while upholding all Americans' rights and civil liberties.
"Those involved must be held accountable, and there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice," Garland said.
In his remarks, Garland said that the Justice Department had received more than 300,000 individual tips from private citizens regarding the riots, leading to the charging and arrests of "more than 725" defendants.
Garland says 325 people face felony charges. Thus far, 20 people have pleaded guilty to felonies, and 145 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.
"The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last," Garland said. "We will follow the facts wherever they lead."
Garland said those charged in the riots were charged only for their actions, not their political beliefs.
"Expressing a political belief, no matter how vociferously, is not a crime...but threatening to harm or kill a person is not protected," Garland said.
Garland also noted that such threats toward civil servants, law enforcement officials, election workers and judicial branch employees have been on the rise in the past year. He said he feared those threats were "permeating" American life, threatening democracy.
"The responsibility to end violence and threats of violence...is one all of America shares," Garland said. "We are all Americans. We must protect each other."
Garland said that his department's top job is to continue the democratic values that have always existed in America.
"We at the Department of Justice will do everything in our power to defend the American people and American democracy," Garland said Wednesday. "We will defend our American democratic institutions from attack. We will protect those who serve the public from violence and threats of violence. We will protect the cornerstone of our democracy. The right to every eligible citizen to cast a vote that counts."
The Jan. 6 riots took place as lawmakers were certifying the Electoral College results from the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers called for the delay of certification on the unproven claim of widespread voter fraud.
When then-Vice President Mike Pence upheld his Constitutional duties by presiding over the certification process, Trump supporters — milling about on the mall after a speech by the president — stormed into the Capitol. Some chanted threats toward Pence and top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Five people died as a result of the Capitol riots.