Officers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing
Officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection offered powerful and often emotional testimony before lawmakers on Tuesday, recounting scenes of chaos, violence and destruction as the House select committee kicked off its investigation into the insurrection.
The civil and somber hearing marked the first meeting of the select committee to investigate the day’s events, a panel with just two Republicans after the party’s leaders — allied with former President Trump — decided to boycott the investigation altogether.
The four police officers on the stand described fearing for their lives as they were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the pro-Trump mob — and how many of them are still suffering from physical and emotional trauma more than six months later.
Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant and Army veteran, recounted how he and other officers trying to fight off the rioters were punched, kicked, sprayed with chemical irritants and beaten with flagpoles.
“On Jan. 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, we expected armed violence, because we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the Army, or as a law enforcement officer, prepared me for what we confronted on Jan. 6,” Gonell said.
The officers seethed at the GOP lawmakers and Trump defenders who have tried to minimize the severity of the day’s violence, like one House Republican who compared it to a “normal tourist visit.”
“The indifference being shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” said Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone as he slammed his fist on the table.
“My law enforcement career prepared me to cope with some of the aspects of this experience,” said Fanone, whose image was captured in the melee as he was surrounded by rioters and shocked repeatedly with his own stun gun.
“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.”
Gonell said some lawmakers’ subsequent attempts to whitewash the events of Jan. 6 have diminished the sacrifice officers made on that day.
“We were all fighting for our lives to give them — to give you guys — a chance to go home to your family, to escape. And now the same people who we helped, the same people who we gave them the borrowed time to get to safety, now they’re attacking us, attacking our character,” he said.
Trump’s comments on both Jan. 6 and afterward praising the attendees at his rally ahead of the riot were seized on by lawmakers. Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), one of the two Republicans on the panel, asked about the former president’s claim that the crowd that day was “loving.”
“It’s upsetting. It’s a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he himself helped to create — this monstrosity. I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day,” Gonell said.
Gonell sustained injuries on both hands, as well as his left shoulder, left calf and right foot, after fighting off the mob. He said he’s been on medical and administrative leave for most of the past six months and expects to need further physical rehabilitation for possibly more than a year.
“To me it’s insulting, its demoralizing, because everything that we did was to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt and what he was doing — instead of sending the military, instead of sending support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense — he egged them to continue fighting.”
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, shared accounts of rioters repeatedly screaming racial slurs at him — the first time he had experienced that while in uniform.
But he said the day’s events differed from the numerous MAGA events he had patrolled before.
“They had marching orders, so to say. When people feel emboldened by people in power they assume that they’re right,” he said.
“One of the scariest things about Jan. 6 is that the people that were there even to this day think that they were right. They think that they were right, and that makes for a scary recipe for the future of this country.”
Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges, who was captured in a viral video showing him being crushed by rioters and stripped of his gas mask when trapped in a doorway, encouraged the committee to specifically target those in power who may have aided those who stormed the Capitol and who are beyond the reach of police.
“I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this. If anyone in power coordinated or aided or abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack. Because we can’t do it. We’re not allowed to,” he said.
The hearing further underscored the lingering emotional trauma more than six months after the deadly attack on the Capitol.
The police officers on the stand and lawmakers on the dais alike struggled to contain tears at times.
Gonell said that his wife and relatives frantically tried to reach him as they watched the terror unfold on television, but he wasn’t able to answer their messages until hours later “to let my own family know that I was alive.”
When he finally returned home around 4 a.m., he said, “I had to push my wife away from me because she wanted to hug me. And I told her no, because of all of the chemicals that my uniform had on.”
Gonell then teared up and paused to collect himself. “Sorry,” he said, wiping his eyes with a tissue.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran, began his round of questioning by telling the police officers that they “won” despite perhaps feeling “a little broken” by the trauma they’ve suffered.
“You guys won. You guys held,” Kinzinger said, fighting back tears. “You know, democracies are not defined by our bad days. We’re defined by how we come back from bad days.”
Moments later, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the panel who also chairs the House Intelligence Committee, became emotional after asking Dunn about his experience being called a “n—–” by the mostly white crowd of rioters donning Trump campaign gear.
“If we’re no longer committed to a peaceful transfer of power after our elections if our side doesn’t win, then God help us. If we deem elections illegitimate merely because they didn’t go our way, rather than trying to do better the next time, then God help us. And if we’re so driven by bigotry and hate that we attack our fellow citizens as traitors if they were born in another country or they don’t look like us—” Schiff said, stopping as he struggled to maintain his composure.
After a full 12 seconds, Schiff said again: “God help us.”
“But I have faith because of folks like you,” Schiff told Dunn.
After the hearing, Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said lawmakers may have to forgo some of their August vacation as the committee continues its work over the summer.
“We’ll have to digest a lot of the testimony today. But it will look at some of the failures as to how it came about,” he said of the committee’s second hearing, adding that subpoenas would come “soon.”
Scott Wong contributed.