Four police officers gave graphic, compelling testimony Tuesday about their violent clashes with rioters during the defense of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, as a congressional panel launched its investigation into the deadly insurgency.
The witnesses defied several Republicans who openly opposed investigating the attack attributed to supporters of former President Donald Trump, describing how they were beaten, kicked, pepper sprayed, threatened with death and labeled traitors by a frenzied mob that wanted to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
It was “something out of a medieval battle,” Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, a US Army war veteran in Iraq, said as he wiped his tears.
“I remember thinking to myself, this is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,” said Gonell, shocked and angry at the continued efforts to “whitewash the facts.”
Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges described how “terrorists pushed through the line and engaged us in close combat,” with at least one rioter trying to stab the policeman.
The poignant accounts served as the opening statement during a landmark first hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack, which began with chilling videos of the deadly disaster.
But it was the more than three hours of emotional, often brutal accounts of beleaguered officers that set the stage for an investigation expected to last several months.
Six months after hundreds of Trump supporters carried out the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries, more than 535 arrests have been made in connection with the riot, officials say.
But the committee’s work has become a political focal point.
There are conspiracy theories circulating. Some Republican lawmakers maintain that January 6 was a peaceful demonstration and support Trump’s baseless claim that the election was rigged.
As such false stories gained traction, committee members framed their fact-finding mission as a call to truth.
“We know there is evidence of a coordinated planned attack,” Democratic panel chair Bennie Thompson said during the hearing.
“We know that the men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country.” research.”
David Smith, DC bureau chief of The Guardian newspaper, reports on US Capitol hearing
Rioters, sparked by an aggressive Trump rally in Washington that day, fought their way into the Capitol, hunted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” and tried to block the certification of Biden’s November presidential election victory.
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn recalled the racial epithets, including the N-word hurled at him by rioters, many of whom were associated with ultra-nationalist and white supremacist groups.
Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone said he was called a “traitor” by rioters, who knocked him unconscious and tasered him.
“Nowhere in my wildest imagination did I ever expect to be in that situation,” said Fanone, who suffered a heart attack during the uprising.
“The indifference to my colleagues is outrageous!” Fanone cooked.
The fiery comment seemed aimed at Republican lawmakers who boycotted the commission and downplayed Jan. 6, but it also touched upon the building’s glaring security flaws.
Five people died during or shortly after the uprising, plus two police officers who later died by suicide. More than 100 officers were injured.
Trump has dismissed the probe as “phony and highly partisan” and sought to blame Pelosi for allegedly failing to protect the Capitol, allegations echoed by his Republican supporters.
Pelosi hit back, with her office declaring that Republicans are peddling “deflection, distortion and misinformation.”
And Officer Gonell, who was asked about Trump describing the rioters as a loving mob, berated the former president for “urging them to keep fighting.”
Pelosi and others had wanted a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the riots and its origins. Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed his support in January.
But as Republicans grew increasingly concerned that an investigation could be politically damaging to their party, they resisted a deep dive.
The House Republican leadership withdrew its five committee appointments last week after Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy’s choices.
To avoid a full Democratic panel, Pelosi named two Republicans: Trump critics Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
“No member of Congress should now try to defend the indefensible, hinder this investigation or condone what happened that day,” Cheney told the hearing.
She is also seeking a full record of what the Trump administration could have known in advance, stressing that she wants all White House communications from that day to be investigated.
Kinzinger made an emotional appeal to fellow Republicans.
“Many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic” and should stop, he said.
Congress soon enters a long hiatus. Thompson indicated that new hearings could be held during the break, and committee members expressed an eagerness to subpoena documents and more witnesses.