Riveting first-hand accounts of law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol building from a mob-dominated group gave testimony on Tuesday, the first day of House select committee hearings into the Jan. 6 attack.
The four officers who spoke — at times angrily and with tear-filled eyes — detailed the physical and psychological injuries they sustained, giving insight to the insurrection that has never been publicly shared, report NPR, CBS News, and The Hill.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s chairman, opened the hearing with footage of the attack, warning that the content was graphic, declaring that while it may not be easy for the officers sharing their experience to put themselves back into the events of January 6, doing so will help the committee seek justice.
“History will remember your names and your actions,” Thompson said.
As the video rolled, two of the officers were visibly upset, Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell reached for a tissue and wiped tears from his face while another, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, consoled him, CBS News reports.
When it was time to share their first-hand experience of what it was like at the Capitol that day, it seemed as though there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Gonell shared his experience with the room, becoming emotional as he testified, saying he was beaten with a flagpole soaked with chemical spray. He sustained many injuries, leading him to have surgery on his right foot, and needing future surgery on his left shoulder.
He will need further rehab for potentially over a year, Gonell explained.
Fanone began his testimony by sharing that he was “tortured” on January 6. At one point during the violence, Fanone was dragged alone away from his squad and into the crowd — “tased and beaten with fists and metal objects,” CBS News detailed.
Fanone says the attack rendered him unconscious, and that he suffered a mild heart attack and a brain injury, leaving him and his family to continue to deal with the physical and mental scars that day left.
He shared with the committee that he would shout at the mob, pleading for his life, telling them “I have kids!” To that, the crowd responded, “Kill him with his own gun.”
“I can still hear those words in my head today,” Fanone shared.
Someone is to Blame
Following yesterday’s emotional testimony, Deirdre Walsh from NPR highlighted major takeaways from the first hearing, making astute observations.
The first major takeaway identified is that the officers point their finger at former President Donald Trump for inciting supporters, and for continuing to stoke fires with false claims that the 2020 election results were illegitimate.
U.S. Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn insinuated blame, first using an analogy, saying, “If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail.”
“But not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired them does,” Dunn, a Black officer who’s been with the department for more than 14 years, continued. “There was an attack carried out on Jan. 6, and [someone] sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
He further detailed that rioters would attack him, calling him the N-word.
Officer Daniel Hodges of the D.C. Metropolitan Police also implicated Trump, saying that supporters pledged their support to him as they assaulted officers.
Opinion contributor Kris Kolesnik of The Hill agrees that the officer’s testimony illuminates a lot about Trump’s reach and power over the rioters, writing that the hearing “exposes Trumpworld delusions.”
Lastly, during Fanone’s testimony, he criticized the people who have downplayed the attacks, calling their behavior disgraceful.
“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,” Fanone said, as quoted by CBS News. “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.”
Fanone slammed his fist on the desk and shouted, “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Additional Major Takeaways
Additional takeaways identified by Walsh reveal more horrifying details about the attack on the Capitol, and also how this first day sheds light on how the rest of the hearings will go.
First, Walsh writes that Florida Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy revealed for the first time how close the rioters came to her and New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice.
Murphy described how the two lawmakers were holed up in a room in the basement — a location they believed to be the most secure under the circumstances — but when they started to hear the screams of those being attacked just yards away inside the building, she realized the rioters made it inside, just “40 paces” from where they were, according to NPR.
Murphy also said she could hear Officer Daniel Hodges and others who clashed with rioters at the West Front Entrance. She said that without his bravery, and the bravery of the other officers, the day would’ve ended very differently.
In addition, the select committee created a precedent, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vetoed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s move to put Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana on the committee, with Pelosi citing that their statements and actions made it “untenable” for her to accept them, according to NPR.
The resolution then gave the Speaker the power to block picks on committees based on behavior outside of the committee, NPR details.
Lastly, a major takeaway identified is that Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., didn’t rule out subpoenas for Trump and other senior White House officials. Thompson told reporters after the hearing, “We will follow the facts.”
Thompson then indicated that the committee could schedule a hearing next month, even though the House is scheduled to take its regular August recess.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the panel, agrees, telling NPR on Tuesday that “we’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure we get the answers, and no one is off the table.”
Metropolitan Police Department officer Fanone concluded his testimony, comparing the events at the Capitol to America’s divisive history, noting that some members of government were responsible for “propagating” statements of violence.
“Things like, this was 1776, or that police officers who fought, risked their lives — and some who gave theirs — were redcoats and traitors,” Fanone said. “To me, those individuals are representative of the worst that America has to offer.”
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.