US Election: Joe Biden labels Capitol rioters 'insurrectionists, domestic terrorists', tears down Donald Trump's entire presidency

US President-elect Joe Biden has delivered a scathing evisceration of Donald Trump's handling of this week's riots in Washington DC and his attempts to stay in power.

Biden, who overnight was confirmed as the next President by the US Congress, called Thursday's (NZ time) events as "one of the darkest days in the history of our nation - an unprecedented assault on our democracy".

Rather than protesters, Biden called the rioters "insurrectionists" and "domestic terrorists". 

"An assault literally on the citadel of liberty and the United States Capitol itself. An assault on the rule of law. An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings - ratifying the will of the people in choosing the leadership of their government."

Four people died in the violence, which saw the US Capitol breached for the first time since the War of 1812.

"All of us here grieve the loss of life, grieve the desecration of the people's House," said Biden. 

"But what we witnessed yesterday was not dissent, it was not disorder, it was not protest - it was chaos. They weren't protesters - don't dare call them protesters. They were a  riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists. It's that basic, it's that simple."

While he called the events on the ground "chaos", Biden said there was a clear cause - the President himself - and everyone should have seen it coming.

"The past four years we've had a President who's made his contempt for our democracy, our constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done. He unleashed an all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy from the outset, and yesterday was but the culmination of that unrelenting attack. 

"He's attacked the free press who dared to question his power, repeatedly calling the free press the 'enemy of the people' - language... [that] has long been used by autocrats and dictators all over the world to hold onto power."

Joe Biden.
Joe Biden. Photo credit: Reuters

Biden went on to tear down Trump's entire presidency, right back to the start when US intelligence agencies determined Russia had intervened to tip the 2016 election in Trump's favour - but Trump chose to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials, rather than his own experts. 

Then Biden moved to the tumultuous events of 2020, such as the anti-racism demonstrations which engulfed the US in August - in particular an incident in Washington DC where peaceful protesters were violently attacked by law enforcement officers, before Trump threatened to use the military on American citizens.  

"He deployed the US military, teargassing peaceful protesters in pursuit of a photo opportunity... even holding the Bible upside-down."

Biden then turned his attention to Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the November presidential election, which Biden comfortably won. Trump launched dozens of legal challenges, which almost unanimously failed. 

"He thought he could stack the courts with friendly judges who would support him, no matter what - they were Trump judges, his judges. He went so far as to say he needed nine justices on the Supreme Court because he thought the election would end up in the Supreme Court and they would hand him the election. 

"He was stunned, truly stunned, when the judges he appointed didn't do his bidding and instead acted with integrity... not just once or twice or three times, but over 60 times."

Biden thanked the judiciary for following the rule of law, saying the US owed them a "deep debt of gratitude".

"There is no President who is a king, no Congress that's a House of Lords. A judiciary doesn't serve the will of the President or exist to protect him or her. We have three co-equal branches of government - co-equal. Our President is not above the law." 

Scenes at the US Capitol this week.
Scenes at the US Capitol this week. Photo credit: Getty

The US legal system is notoriously racist, with African-Americans and minorities suffering higher arrest rates, stiffer penalties and more frequently being shot dead by police. Last year's Black Lives Matter protests had several incidents to draw from, most notably the death of George Floyd, who was choked to death by a police officer in May. 

In contrast, video showed the insurrectionists at the Capitol - mostly white - being let on to the Capitol grounds by police, who took selfies inside the Capitol with some of those Biden called "terrorists" and then let most of them go afterwards. 

"What we saw yesterday in plain view was another violation of a fundamental tenet of this nation," said Biden.

"Not only did we see the failure to protect one of the three branches of our government - we also saw a failure to carry out equal justice... A little over an hour and a half after the chaos started I got a text from my granddaughter... she sent me a photo of military people in full military gear - scores of them lining the steps of the Lincoln memorial because of a protest by Black Lives Matter. She said, 'Pop - this isn't fair.' 

"No one can tell me if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently to the mob of thugs that stormed the capitol. We all know that's true, and it's unacceptable. Totally unacceptable."

Biden was clearly angry, thumping the lectern. He did not comment on moves by some lawmakers to have Trump removed via the 25th amendment or impeachment. 

The FBI is looking into sedition charges for people who stormed the Capitol - anyone convicted faces up to 20 years in prison.