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The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol gathered for its first hearing Tuesday and heard testimony from four police officers who were present in the melee.
The four-hour hearing was often emotional, with witnesses and legislators alike reflecting on the violence of the day. The officers explained how they feared for their lives as they were sprayed with chemicals like bear spray and brutally beaten with a variety of weapons, including their own shields and batons. They also detailed the disturbing level of racism espoused by the mob, and urged members of the committee to investigate every aspect of what caused the riot.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing.
1. Officers want a thorough investigation of the Capitol attack
At the conclusion of the committee’s inaugural hearing, Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asked the officers what they wanted his panel to achieve with its investigation. The consensus was they wanted it to be thorough and go as high as possible, even if it meant committee members implicating their fellow legislators.
“As patrol officers we can only deal with the crimes that happen on the streets, misdemeanors and occasionally the violent felonies, but you guys are the only ones we’ve gotten to deal with crimes that occur above us,” said D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges. “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 and I think the majority of Americans are really looking forward to that as well.”
D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone noted that the time, place and circumstances of the “Stop the Steal” rally — which occurred the same day Congress was set to formally count the Electoral College votes to certify Joe Biden’s victory — and the ensuing assault led him in the direction of not just former President Donald Trump but potentially members of the House and Senate.
“That is what I am looking for: an investigation into those actions and activities which may have resulted in the events of Jan. 6 and also whether or not there was collaboration between those members, their staff and these terrorists,” Fanone said.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn echoed that sentiment.
“Us four officers, we would do Jan. 6 all over again; we wouldn’t stay home because we knew it was going to happen, we would show up,” he said. “That’s courageous, that’s heroic, so what I ask for you all is to get to the bottom of what happened.
“I use an analogy to describe what I want as a hit man,” he continued. “If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail. Not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired them does. There was an attack carried out on Jan. 6 and [someone] sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
2. ‘This is how I’m going to die’
The officers testified about the violence they faced on Jan. 6 as clips from some of their body cameras were shown.
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell described how he was being crushed among the crowd, saying, “I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance.’”
Gonell said the rioters, some of whom were dressed in tactical gear, attacked police with a variety of weapons, such as hammers, rebar, knives and bear spray, as well as officers’ own batons and shields.
“Rioters called me traitor, a disgrace, shouted that I, an Army veteran and police officer, should be executed,” Gonell recalled, comparing his experience on the line to “something from a medieval battle.”
Fanone recounted his own experience, saying, “I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm as I heard chants of ‘Kill him with his own gun.’ I can still hear those words in my head today.
“As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio, they seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and what felt like hard metal objects,” Fanone said.
Fanone added that “at the hospital, doctors told me that I had suffered a heart attack, and I was later diagnosed with a concussion, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Hodges said that he was pinned against a metal doorway, where one of the rioters used the officer’s own gas mask to slam his head. Hodges said he then lost control of his baton, which was wrestled away and cracked into his face, busting open his lip. His fellow officers were able to get him to safety.
3. Witnesses: Mob hurled racial slurs at police officers
From waving the Confederate flag to calling officers the N-word, the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing testified about the racism and xenophobia that was on display at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Dunn, who is Black, said that a group of insurrectionists hurled racial epithets at him when he asked them to leave the Capitol, and in the days after the attack he heard similar stories from other Black officers.
Before Jan. 6, Dunn told the committee, “no one had ever, ever called me a n***** while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.”
Gonell said that he too was the target of the mob’s vitriol.
“Apparently even through my mask they saw my skin color and said, ‘You’re not even an American,’” said Gonell, an Iraq War veteran and naturalized U.S. citizen who immigrated from the Dominican Republic as a child.
Hodges described the Jan. 6 attack as a “white nationalist insurrection.” Asked to explain this characterization, he said that “the crowd was overwhelmingly white males” and noted the presence of organizations with ties to white supremacy, including the far-right Oath Keepers and Three Percenters militia groups.
Although Hodges, who is white, said that he had not personally been the target of any racist or xenophobic rhetoric from the rioters, he noted that many of his non-white colleagues had experiences similar to those described by Dunn and Gonell.
4. ‘You’re on the wrong team’
Hodges testified that even as some in the crowd called him a traitor and assaulted him, others were trying to recruit him over to their side.
“The terrorists alternated between attempting to break our defense or shouting at or attempting to convert us,” he said. “Men alleging to be veterans told us how they had fought for this country and were fighting for it again. One man tried to start a chant of ‘Four more years.’ Another shouted, ‘Do not touch us, we’re not Black Lives Matter,’ as if political affiliation is how we determine when to use force.
“A man attempted to rip the baton from my hands, and we wrestled for control,” Hodges continued. “I retained my weapon, and after I pushed him back he yelled at me, ‘You’re on the wrong team.’ One man tried and failed to build a rapport with me, shouting, ‘Are you my brother?’ Another takes a different tack, shouting, ‘You will die on your knees.’”
Hodges said that even as the violence escalated, rioters were still trying “to convert us to their cult.” He said, “One man shouted, ‘We all just want to make our voices heard, and I think you feel the same. I really think you feel the same,’ all while another man tries to batter us with a stolen shield.”
Hodges noted that he saw multiple flags being carried by the rioters that indicated themselves as Christians and in some instances defenders of police.
“To my perpetual confusion, I saw the ‘thin blue line’ flag, a symbol of support for law enforcement, more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us,” he said.
Dunn similarly described encountering members of the mob who claimed to be acting in support of police while blatantly ignoring his orders and breaking the law. Inside the Capitol, Dunn said, one of the rioters flashed what looked like a law enforcement badge and told him, “We’re doing this for you.”
5. ‘Every minute’ of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 will be investigated
Delivering the opening statement on behalf of the GOP, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., one of two Republicans on the committee, vowed that “every minute” of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 will be investigated by the select panel.
“The task of this committee will require persistence,” said Cheney, one of 10 House Republicans who voted in February to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection.
Cheney, the first Republican selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the bipartisan committee, said that the panel must find out not only “what happened here at the Capitol” on Jan. 6 but also what happened “every minute of that day in the White House: every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack.”
The statement underscored the committee’s plan to use its subpoena power to compel testimony from top officials in the Trump White House, such as former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Vice President Mike Pence and even the former president himself.
Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s hearing, Cheney reiterated that the committee would leave no stone unturned.
“The investigation is going to go wherever it may lead,” Cheney said. “And obviously the events of that day at the White House are a focus and making sure we get to the bottom of everything that went on, every minute of the day, is something the American people deserve.”
Some of the officer testimony on Tuesday focused on Trump’s role in the events of Jan. 6.
“It’s upsetting,” Gonell said. “It’s a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something he, himself, helped to create, this monstrosity.
“There was nobody else,” Gonell added. “It was not antifa, or Black Lives Matter, or the FBI. It was his supporters that he sent over to the Capitol that day.”
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