Tuesday marked the first meeting of the House select committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, with hours of emotional testimony about the mob of angry Donald Trump supporters who stormed the building and terrorized its occupants.
Four law enforcement officers delivered prepared remarks before the panel and answered questions: U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, and Metropolitan Police officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges.
Each was on the front lines of the attack and spoke of injuries they sustained both mentally and physically. Each also showed varying degrees of emotion on the stand ― whether they were clearly holding back tears or reaching for a tissue.
Here are seven key takeaways from the hearing.
Dunn described being called a ‘n****r’ by a crowd of rioters. He wasn’t alone in experiencing racist abuse.
As more and more Trump supporters streamed through the building, Dunn, who is Black, recalled telling them they should turn around.
“In response, they yelled, ‘No, man, this is our house. President Trump invited us here. We’re here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not the president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden,’” Dunn said.
He continued: “I do my best to keep politics out of my job, but in this circumstance, I responded, ‘Well, I voted for Joe Biden, does my vote not count? Am I nobody?’ That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that, guys? This n****r voted for Joe Biden.’ Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming, ‘Boo! Fucking n****r!’”
“No one had ever, ever called me a n****r while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer,” Dunn testified.
In Dunn’s telling, another Black officer he served with ― who was in his 40s ― had never been called that word to his face at any point in his life until the afternoon of Jan. 6. After heavily armed law enforcement arrived at the scene and cleared the building of rioters, Dunn said he sat and spoke with some other officers of color. He broke down.
Officers suspected that some of the Trump supporters were armed with guns.
“We scanned the crowd, but these people, they know how to conceal their weapons,” Hodges said. “If it’s in a backpack, there’s not much you can do.” Dunn also testified that “any reasonable police officer” would assume some of the rioters had guns based on the imprint beneath the clothing at their hips.
The officers had been prepared for peaceful demonstrations outside the Capitol, where members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were formally certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
But Dunn described a screenshot he received in a text from a friend the morning of Jan. 6 that detailed the Trump supporters’ violent plans for the day. The screenshot read, “among other things, that ‘Trump has given us marching orders,’ and to ‘keep your guns hidden,’” Dunn said. It also “indicated there would be ‘time to arm up.’”
Several of the officers testified that they believed they might die.
One man attempted to gouge out Hodges’ right eye, but the officer managed to extract himself from the man’s grip before any “permanent damage” was done, he said. Some weren’t as lucky: At least one officer lost an eye in the riot.
As they battered law enforcement, hordes of Trump supporters accused the officers of being traitors to their country. Hodges referred to them as “the terrorists” throughout his congressional testimony. Asked why he used that term while some Republicans had called the rioters mere “tourists,” Hodges quipped: “Well, if that’s what American tourists are like, I can see why foreign countries don’t like American tourists.”
He feared that he would, “at worst, be dragged down by the crowd and lynched” that afternoon. Fanone said he believed there was “a very good chance I would be torn apart or shot with my own weapon” during the melee.
Members of the crowd accused Gonell of choosing his “paycheck” over loyalty to the United States ― a country the Dominican-born officer had grown up revering.
“To be honest,” he said, “I did not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on January 6 or the United States that they claimed to represent.”
Responding to Trump’s claim that the rioters were “hugging and kissing” the law enforcement officers at the scene, Gonell snapped: “I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day.”
A moment of silence was held for deceased U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
Dunn led a moment of silence at the hearing at the start of his remarks. Sicknick died of what a medical examiner called natural causes after the riot, where he was sprayed with chemical irritants. He later collapsed.
U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement that the medical examiner’s ruling “does not change the fact Officer Sicknick died in the line of duty, courageously defending Congress and the Capitol.”
The events have taken an immense mental health toll on sworn officers in the nation’s capital.
Sicknick was one of five people to die either during the riot or in its immediate aftermath. Two police officers who were at the Capitol that day died of suicide afterward.
Others have chosen simply to leave: Gonell testified that “many” of his colleagues in uniform “have quietly resigned” from the force in the last six months. Dunn encouraged his colleagues in his prepared statement not to be ashamed of seeking professional mental health care, as he has.
Gonell called out the discrepancy between Jan. 6 and the law enforcement response to racial justice protests.
During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Gonell said, he and his colleagues had “all the support we needed and more.” Yet only a smattering of officers were assigned to guard the Capitol on Jan. 6. They were left fighting for their lives for hours as higher authorities dragged their feet on deploying backup.
“Why the different response?” Gonell asked.
Fanone let his anger show, hitting the table and calling right-wing lawmakers’ actions ‘disgraceful.’
As shown in clips from his body-worn camera and other video footage, Fanone was dragged into the crowd at one point in the rioting, where he was beaten and electrocuted. Following the attack, a doctor told him at the hospital that he had survived a heart attack. Later, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But the ordeal was made all the more difficult, he said, when some politicians and right-wing pundits decided to downplay the damage of Jan. 6.
“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 wasn’t actually that bad,” Fanone said.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he said, ending on a shout as he slammed his hand down on the table.
“My law enforcement career prepared me to cope with some of the aspects of this experience,” he said. “Being an officer you know your life is at risk whenever you walk out the door, even if you don’t expect other law-abiding citizens to take up arms against you. 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.”
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