Officers who fought to defend the Capitol from insurrectionists on Jan. 6 recounted in vivid and disturbing detail how close they came to death, what lasting effects they live with and the pain it causes them when the very members of Congress they fought to protect dismiss what happened that day.
The first public hearing on Tuesday of the select committee to investigate the attack put on display the terrifying brutality they were subject to. Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., commended the four officers who testified. “You held the line that day. I can’t overstate what was on the line: our democracy,” Thompson said. “You held the line.”
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who served in the Army in Iraq, said at one point during the fighting in the lower west terrace, he could feel himself “losing oxygen” and recalled thinking, “This is how I’m going to die — defending this entrance.”
The rioters called Gonnell a “traitor” and a “disgrace” and even called for his death. “They shouted that I, I, an Army veteran, should be executed,” Gonnell said. Compared to his service in Iraq, Gonnell said it was “totally different” because the attackers were “our own citizens.”
D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a doorway, recounted that one man attempted to gouge out his eye. Another insurrectionist was foaming at the mouth and put his phone in his mouth so he had both hands to assault Hodges against the door frame, he said. Hodges’ lip was bashed and he skull was injured. “You will die on your knees,” another rioter told him, Hodges testified.
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone said he was dragged into the crowd by insurrectionists, who shouted, “I got one!” Fanone was then beaten and tased repeatedly. “I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser,” he said.
Fanone pleaded with the rioters, saying that he has children. At one point he said he heard someone say, “Kill him with his own gun.”
Fanone was beaten unconscious for approximately four minutes, suffered a heart attack, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
Fanone, along with Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, have been active in their support of an independent commission to investigate the attack. A legislative effort to establish an independent Jan. 6 commission was opposed by the overwhelming majority of House Republicans and was torpedoed in the Senate by Republican opposition.
Many Republican members of Congress have sought to downplay the mob attack on the Capitol. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., for example, has said it wasn’t an insurrection and compared it to a tourist visit.
In an interview with the Washington Post in March, former President Donald Trump called the rally he assembled at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 a “loving crowd” and said of them: “Personally what I wanted is what they wanted,” adding, “They showed up just to show support because I happen to believe the election was rigged at a level like nothing has ever been rigged before.”
The officers on Tuesday got their chance to respond in an official capacity with their testimony.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” Fanone said as he forcefully pounded the table, referring to elected officials who deny the gravity of what happened.
“I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses,” Gonnell said, referring to Trump making light of the insurrection.
Dunn says he still goes to therapy and participates in peer support groups as a result of the mental trauma he endured from the events of Jan. 6. He said he saw rioters carrying objects such as a red, pro-Trump Make America Great Again (MAGA) flag and a Confederate flag. When he encountered a group that said they were there to “stop the steal” and that “nobody voted for Joe Biden,” Dunn told them he had voted for Biden.
Then a woman in a pink MAGA shirt said, referring to Dunn, “this [racial slur] voted for Joe Biden.” The crowd then proceeded to say, “Boo, f------ [racial slur].”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who was holding back tears as he questioned the officers, said at the conclusion of his time: “We thank you for holding that line.”
As the hearing went on, the Justice Department announced the arrest of a Pennsylvania man on charges that he sprayed Capitol Police officers with a chemical irritant on Jan. 6, the latest in what has become the sprawling investigation into the actions of some in the Trump-inspired mob.
Samuel Lazar, dressed in tactical gear, protective goggles and camouflage face paint, used one hand to grab a bike rack barricade in an apparent attempt to remove it and used the other hand to spray officers with the irritant, the Justice Department said.
Lazar retreated when police used a chemical irritant on him, but then he sprayed his own irritant again and caused one officer to lose the ability to see, the Justice Department said.
More than 535 people have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the Capitol, including over 165 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, the Justice Department said.
Similar to other cases, the charges against Lazar cite open-source video and police-worn body cameras as evidence. The Justice Department said that an open source video depicts Lazar stating: “They maced us, those tyrannical pieces of s---, and we maced them right the f--- back and now they’re taking the building.”
Todd Ruger contributed to this report.