The inaugural hearing of the congressional investigation into Jan. 6 kicked off with a palpable display of anguish from four officers who worked to hold the line that day as pro-Trump supporters sought to storm the Capitol and overthrow the U.S. government.
“Terrorists” was the word several officers invoked to describe the perpetrators of the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the four officers left no doubt about who incited them to action: Donald Trump.
“All of them—all of them were telling us Trump sent us,” testified Sgt. Aquilino Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police. “Nobody else—there was nobody else. It was not antifa, it was not Black Lives Matter, it was not the FBI. It was his supporters that he sent them over to the Capitol that day.”
The visceral testimony left no doubt about the violence the pro-Trump terrorists unleashed on the U.S. Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police forces laboring to defend the Capitol complex that day. “What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion of the Capitol,” recounted Sgt. Gonell.
“I vividly heard officers screaming in agony, in pain, just an arm’s length from me,” Gonell said, noting that some of those cries were coming from MPD officer Daniel Hodges, who was wedged in a doorway by attackers in video that later went viral. “I too was being crushed by the rioters,” Gonell continued, “I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m gonna die.'”
Officer Hodges recalled wrestling with a rioter for control of his baton. “I retained my weapon,” he said. “After I pushed him back, he yelled at me, ‘You’re on the wrong team!’… Another [shouted], ‘You will die on your knees!'”
The harrowing accounts also made crystal clear that none of what unfolded on Jan. 6 is over for these officers. The weight of hearing each others’ testimony appeared to bear down on the officers as they listened to their colleagues’ dramatic stories. But they not only bear the scars of the violence itself, they also continue to be traumatized by the efforts of GOP lawmakers to gaslight the horrific event out of the nation’s conscience.
“What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know so many of my fellow citizens, including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened,” explained MPD Officer Michael Fanone, a self-identified Republican who has become an outspoken critic of those trying to whitewash the actions of the mob. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad.”
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” Fanone continued, angrily slamming his fist to the desk in one of the most powerful passages during the opening statements. Fanone said his law enforcement training had prepared him to deal with some aspects of the siege and its aftermath. “But nothing—truly nothing—has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day, and in doing so, betray their oath of office,” he added.
Fanone later, without explicitly identifying parties, called the members of government who helped incite the riot and then later tried to whitewash the events “representative of the worst that America has to offer.”
Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn told the committee he has sought therapy and continues to struggle with emotional wounds left by the assault, which became racially charged for him as a Black member of law enforcement. “January 6 isn’t over for me,” he said bluntly.
At one point, Dunn described the terrorists turning on him after they asserted that “nobody” had voted for Joe Biden. Despite the fact that Dunn said he usually tries to keep politics out of his job, he challenged the assertion. “Well, I voted for Joe Biden,” he offered. “Does my vote not count, am I ‘nobody?'”
That triggered what Dunn described as a “torrent” of racially offensive epithets.
“You hear that guys, this n***** voted for Joe Biden,” one rioter said. “Boooo! Fucking n*****!” they screamed, recalled Dunn. “No one had ever, ever, called me a n***** while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police Officer,” Dunn added.
Dunn joined the other officers in urging the panel to “get to the bottom” of what happened on Jan. 6. “If a hitman is hired, and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to the jail,” he told the committee. “But not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired them does. There was an attack carried out on January 6 and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
While the officers’ gripping personal accounts figured most prominently on the day, another notable feature of the hearing was the two Republican members of the committee performing their congressional duties like duty-bound, reality-based individuals. “If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democracy system,” GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming offered during her opening statement as the hearing began.
The other Republican member of the panel, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, expressed his deep gratitude to the officers in a rare show of emotion. While they may “individually feel a little broken,” Kinzinger said, choking up, “You guys won, you guys held. Democracies are not defined by our bad days,” he continued, “We’re defined by how we come back from bad days—how we take accountability for that.”
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida also extended her deep gratitude to the officers. She recounted being trapped in a small basement office with another Democratic member, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, only 40 feet away from where Gonell and Hodges were working with other officers to hold back the mob. They could hear it all.
“I listened to you struggle. I listened to you yelling out to one another. I listened to you care for one another,” Murphy said. “I’m telling you, you were our last line of defense,” she added.
Murphy said their efforts afforded both congresswomen the chance to escape to safety down another hallway. “I think it’s important for everybody, though, to remember that the main reason rioters didn’t harm any members of Congress was because they didn’t encounter any members of Congress,” Murphy said. “I have a ten-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter, and they’re the light of my life,” she offered on a more personal note. “And the reason I was able to hug them again was because of the courage that you and your fellow officers showed that day, and so just a really heartfelt thank you.”
The first hearing of the select committee to investigate Jan. 6 provided a compelling, sometimes excruciating window into the events of that day and its aftermath as experienced by some of the heroic officers who managed to keep lawmakers safe at great cost to themselves. The notable absence of any delusional GOP flamethrowers was a welcome reprieve from the way House Republicans have disgraced nearly every other proceeding over at least the last handful of years.
The nation owes these women and men in uniform a profound debt of gratitude for protecting our democracy against the fascist insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol. Four of those officers were able to speak for themselves today—to tell their stories—without the insulting distractions of GOP lawmakers seeking to score political points with Donald Trump. That uninterrupted testimony was made possible by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who blocked GOP attempts to inject the hearing with their usual brand of delusional insolence. Pelosi undoubtedly made the right call by the officers, the congressional members they solemnly worked to defend, and the nation as a whole.
Below is taste of the day’s hearing.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.