WASHINGTON – During emotional, tense and sometimes angry testimony, four police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6 vividly recalled the violence they endured while fighting against a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters.
“I was grabbed, beaten, Tased, all while being called a traitor to my country,” said Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone at the first hearing Tuesday of the new House investigation into the insurrection.
The Jan. 6 insurrection, an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's win, came after then-President Trump held a rally in Washington where he urged his followers to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell.” Yet despite extensive documentation of the violence, some Republicans have sought to deny and downplay the carnage that unfolded.
In telling their stories, officers said they wanted to set the record straight about the “hell” they experienced.
Here are highlights from the testimony of Fanone, fellow Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, as well as Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and Officer Harry Dunn of the U.S. Capitol Police:
They were armed with flags, steel pipes, table legs, chemical weapons, guns — even a cattle prod.
The officers said they were expecting a routine protest the day of Trump's Jan. 6 rally. But they weren't prepared for thousands of his angry supporters to overrun them during fierce hand-to-hand combat that transformed the Capitol grounds into what Gonell described as a “medieval battlefield.”
“Is this all the manpower you have? Do you really think you’re going to be able to stop all these people?” Hodges said one of the rioters told him.
“Get your machete,” someone in the crowd could be heard saying.
Fanone, at one point was separated from his fellow officers, was pulled into the mob, beaten and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun.
"I heard chants of ‘kill him with his own gun.’ I can still hear those words in my head today,” he said.
He blacked out and estimates he lost consciousness for four minutes. Doctors later told him that he had a heart attack.
Elsewhere, Gonell was guarding an entrance when he was crushed by rioters. He could feel himself losing oxygen. “This is how I’m going to die," he recalled thinking.
Dunn told lawmakers about an exchange he had with rioters who had fully bought into Trump's false claims that the election was stolen and believed “nobody voted for Joe Biden.”
When Dunn, who is Black, told the rioters he voted for Biden and his vote should be counted, a crowd of Capitol intruders hurled the N-word at him.
“One woman in a pink ‘MAGA’ (Make America Great Again) shirt yelled, ‘You hear that, guys, this n—— voted for Joe Biden!’” Dunn said. The crowd of roughly 20 people began hurling the slur at him.
No one had ever called Dunn, an officer with more than a dozen years on the force, the N-word while he wore his Capitol Police officer uniform, he told the panel.
However, Dunn was also speaking to the experience of being an African American police officer, who make up 29% of roughly 2,300 officers and civilians serving on the Capitol Police force.
Dunn said another Black male officer told him that, while confronting the rioters on Jan. 6, he was told to “Put your gun down and we’ll show you what kind of n—— you really are.”
PUSHING BACK ON TRUMP
Ever since the attack, Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay the role he and his supporters played. In a video belatedly released hours after rioters breached the Capitol, Trump called for them to “go home in peace.” But he also added: “We love you. You’re very special.”
Since then, he’s insisted many attendees were “loving” people who were “hugging and kissing the police and the guards.”
The four officers would have none of it.
“I’m still myself recovering from those hugs and kisses,” Gonell said. “If that was all hugs and kisses we should go to his house and do the same thing to him." Later in the hearing he apologized for the comment.
Dunn appeared to compare Trump to a hit man and urged the committee to explore his role in the insurgency.
“There was an attack on Jan. 6. And a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that,” he said.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, a Trump ally, said he wouldn't name any House Republicans to serve on the committee conducting the probe after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his selections.
But the investigation is bipartisan anyway, thanks to Pelosi's appointment of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, both vocal Trump critics. McCarthy has mocked the two lawmakers as “Pelosi Republicans.”
Both Cheney and Kinzinger chastised their party at the hearing, accusing them of prioritizing political power and fealty to Trump over getting to the bottom of the attack.
“For all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple: It’s to find the truth. And it’s to ensure accountability,” said Kinzinger, who grew emotional and choked back tears. “Many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic and a disservice to the officers and their families.”
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said determining an “objective truth” about the attack would be key to overcoming “the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts.”
Tuesday's emotional hearing was covered gavel to gavel on many major TV networks.
McCarthy did attempt to offer some counterprograming, though, with an early morning news conference. He lamented the fact that Pelosi rejected two ardent Trump supporters he had nominated to the committee, leading to his decision to boycott the panel.
He also told reporters that Pelosi should be investigated for her role in the security failures of the day, but he ignored questions about Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who had identical authority over the Capitol Police and Capitol security officials.
“Unfortunately Speaker Pelosi will only pick people for the committee that ask the questions she wants asked,” McCarthy said, adding that it will lead to a “sham” and a “failed committee."
The officers had sharp words of their own for Republicans, many of whom now downplay the seriousness of the attack.
“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 said while pounding a table.