WASHINGTON ― Four police officers who battled a violent mob of Donald Trump’s supporters in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol testified Tuesday about the horrors they faced that day, as Congress began its formal inquiry into the riot. The officers described vicious attacks, racial epithets and fears for their lives ― all during an event that some Republican lawmakers still say was nothing more than a tourist visit.
A Black officer recalled being called the N-word as he stood his ground when confronted by armed rioters waving a Confederate flag and a “Make America Great Again” flag.
An officer originally from the Dominican Republic recalled being told he wasn’t an American.
A white officer testified that a member of the mob wondered aloud whether he was a “brother.”
All of the officers described horrific levels of violence. They were beaten, kicked, shoved, shocked, sprayed with painful chemicals and called traitors to America.
“I was electrocuted again and again and again with a Taser,” said Officer Michael Fanone of the Metropolitan Police Department. “I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice.”
The testimony from the officers ― two from the Metropolitan Police Department, two from U.S. Capitol Police ― was a brutal rebuttal to Republican lawmakers who have tried to downplay the reality of the attack. The attack resulted in more than 140 injured police officers and three dead: Officer Brian Sicknick, who suffered strokes the next day, and two other officers who died by suicide shortly after the attack.
Fanone, who along with being electroshocked by Trump supporter Daniel Rodriguez on Jan. 6 was also beaten by several members of the pro-Trump mob, fumed about the “indifference” shown to his colleagues by Republicans even after officers risked their lives to keep those same lawmakers safe that day.
“Disgraceful,” Fanone shouted, slamming his hand on the table. “Nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day.”
Only two GOP lawmakers, Liz Cheney (Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), are participating in the committee. House Republican leaders had an opportunity to put five members onto the panel, but pulled all of them when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) objected to two members, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.), citing past statements about the election and insurrection that would threaten “the integrity of the investigation.”
Roughly 550 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and hundreds more arrests are expected as part of the most sprawling FBI investigation in U.S. history. But those arrests only offer accountability for individual people who broke specific federal laws. The House select committee that convened Tuesday is focused on broader accountability.
The officers’ anger over the events of that day was palpable in the hearing. And it has been compounded by Republicans who still won’t publicly admit that the attack was spurred by Trump’s lies about the election being stolen from him and Republicans themselves parroting that lie.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, an Iraq war veteran who immigrated from the Dominican Republic, recalled being beaten by the mob and struggling to get oxygen as he tried to defend the building.
“This is how I’m going to die,” he recalled thinking.
Gonell said he heard rioters specifically threatening to kill Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence to try to stop them from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral win. Some of the attackers threatened to kill him, too, and called him a “traitor” and “a disgrace.”
“Some said that I, I, an Army veteran and a police officer, should be executed,” he said. “Some said, ‘If you shoot us, we all have weapons, we will shoot back.’ Or, ‘We’ll get our guns. We outnumber you. Join us.’”
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said amid all the fighting that day, Black officers faced a different kind of battle as they encountered racists and white supremacists.
“One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that, guys? This n****r voted for Joe Biden,’” Dunn said. “Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming, ‘Booo! Fucking n****r!’ No one had ever, ever called me a n****r while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer.”
“I guess it is America. It shouldn’t be,” he added. “It’s not the side of America that I like.”
As the officers were testifying, the Department of Justice announced another arrest of a Trump fanatic who assaulted officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and then attended political events with Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani. The Justice Department also announced guilty pleas for two other defendants facing charges in connection with the Capitol attack.
During the hearing, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges repeatedly referred to the attackers that day as “terrorists” and at one point cited the federal definition of terrorism.
Gonell described the attack as “an attempted coup.” He became emotional describing his wife and family “frantically calling and texting me” as they watched the violence on television, but he couldn’t respond until hours later ― and after giving CPR to a rioter to try to save her life.
He said he couldn’t sleep that night when he finally got home, and then was back at work at 8:00 a.m. He worked for 15 consecutive days until after the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration.
“I made sure to work despite my injuries because I wanted to continue doing my job, securing the Capitol complex,” said Gonell. “More than six months later, I’m still trying to recover from my injuries.”
More than six months later, I’m still trying to recover from my injuries.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell
Just before the hearing, House Republican leaders held a press conference to try to somehow blame Pelosi for the Jan. 6 attack.
“Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6,” declared House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).
Stefanik and other Republican leaders ― all of whom voted to overturn the presidential election based on the same lie about voter fraud that fueled the riot in the first place ― accused Pelosi of ignoring warning signs ahead of the Jan. 6 attack and failing to prepare Capitol Police.
We have questions about “why Speaker Pelosi didn’t make sure that Capitol Police had all the tools they needed to be prepared for that day,” said House GOP Whip Steve Scalise (La.).
But Pelosi does not oversee day-to-day operations of the Capitol Police, and she is not in charge of Capitol security. All of the House GOP leaders ignored a question about whether Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who was the majority leader at the time, should also be questioned and blamed for security failures that day.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also dodged a question about whether he stands by his previous statement that former President Donald Trump was partially to blame for the attack, a claim he has tried to walk back ever since he made it.
His response was a nonsensical mess.
“I think from a standpoint, I’m looking at all the investigation as we go forward, I would have liked a response faster. Having known what I know today ― did you just listen to Rodney Davis?” said McCarthy, referring to a GOP colleague with a bill to restructure the Capitol Police. “Why would a sergeant-at-arms, when you have an insurrection going on ― or a protest out here ― you got a line being broken, and you’re the sergeant-at-arms, why would your first response be, ‘I’ve got to send a note to the Speaker to see if it’s OK to do my job?’”
As the hearing wound down, the officers each suggested what they would like the committee’s work to focus on.
Fanone called for an investigation into specific activities that may have led to Jan. 6. Hodges said it was up to Congress to look into crimes committed at higher levels in government and asked lawmakers to explore “if anyone in power had a role in this.” Gonell asked for the Capitol to be better fortified against another attack.
Dunn said there is no question that the Capitol attack was politically motivated and alluded to Trump as a “hit man” who sent his mob to storm the building. He didn’t seem to have a specific ask of the committee, but he offered a parting message to “the rioters, the insurrectionists, the terrorists of that day.”
“Democracy went on that night,” said Dunn. “It still continues to exist today. Democracy is bigger than any one person and any one party.
“You all tried to disrupt democracy that day. You all failed.”
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