WASHINGTON — Four police officers who fought on the front lines of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 testified before a House committee Tuesday – the first opportunity for rank-and-file officers to speak directly on the record to the members of Congress they defended with their lives.
In testimony that conveyed the ongoing sadness, pain and, at times, rage of the men and women who stood against thousands of insurrectionists on Jan. 6, two Capitol Police officers – Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and Officer Harry Dunn – and two D.C. Metropolitan Police officers – Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone – spoke for more than three hours about the violent assaults, xenophobic insults and lingering injuries they suffered.
“The rioters called me traitor. A disgrace. And shouted that I – an Army veteran and police officer – should be executed,” Gonell said.
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Gonell told the seven Democrats and two Republicans on the House Select Committee investigating the riot that he looked up to America while growing up in the Dominican Republic. Once he moved to the U.S., he joined the U.S Army and became a naturalized citizen – and, eventually, a sworn member of the U.S. Capitol Police Department.
“On Jan. 6, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the U.S. Capitol than during my entire deployment in Iraq,” Gonell said. “People we’ve sworn an oath to protect are attacking us, with the same flag they claim to represent.”
One after another, Gonell, Hodges, Fanone and Dunn testified about how they were beaten with improvised weapons and stolen batons and riot shields for hours. Gonell suffered a serious foot injury requiring surgery, and said he just learned he has six months to a year of physical therapy ahead of him. Hodges suffered a concussion and, in a violent assault caught on camera, was crushed between a door frame and the angry mob while defending the Capitol tunnels. Fanone was dragged into the crowd and repeatedly beaten and Tased. He suffered a concussion and a heart attack, and was knocked unconscious for more than four minutes.
“They tortured me. They beat me. I was struck with a Taser device at the base of my skull numerous times,” Fanone said. “And they continued to do so until I yelled out that I have kids.”
Fanone, who has pushed for months for more recognition of what he and other D.C. Police officers went through on Jan. 6, didn’t mince his words about how he feels elected officials have treated him and other officers – raising his voice to a near-shout and slamming the table as he spoke.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he said.
The officers’ testimony stands in stark contrast to recent efforts by former President Donald Trump to downplay the violence from his supporters that day. In a recent interview with Fox News, Trump said members of the mob were “hugging and kissing” the guards.
“It’s upsetting,” Gonell said when asked about Trump’s comments. “It’s a pathetic excuse for something that he helped create… this monstrosity. I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses he claims the rioters were giving us that day.”
RELATED: DC Police officer Mike Fanone says savage attack during Capitol Riot is still impacting his life, mental health
Outnumbered and Unprepared
While all four officers began Jan. 6 in different places – two of them, Hodges and Fanone, not even at the Capitol – all of them eventually described finding themselves inside a building besieged by a massive crowd of thousands of pro-Trump rioters seemingly intent on disrupting the joint session of Congress.
But even before that, several of them said they began to realize at least some members of the crowd were intent on more than protesting.
Dunn, stationed at the Capitol, said he saw a posting online telling “Stop the Steal” attendees to gear up and that “Trump has given us marching orders.” At the time, though, Dunn said he and other Capitol Police hadn’t received any indication from department leadership of an enhanced threat. Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified before the Senate after the riot that an FBI report warning of violence on Jan. 6 “didn’t make it” up the chain of command.
Hodges, who was assigned to a uniformed security detail near the “Stop the Steal” rally, said Trump supporters in tactical gear walked up to him and his partner and asked, “Is this all the security you have? Do you really think you’re going to be able to stop all these people?”
Hodges said they were confused by the question, and the men moved on. A short time later, Hodges heard a call over the radio that an explosive device had been found in the Capitol complex. He said that remained on his mind throughout the day as he eventually deployed himself to the front lines.
“When we got to the Capitol, I was wondering, how many more bombs are there?” Hodges said. “If we start shooting, is that the signal for them to set them off? That’s the reason I didn’t start shooting, and I imagine many others didn’t.”
Hodges also said straightforwardly he and other officers realized they were outnumbered 10-to-1, and that if they started a gun battle, “… we would have lost, and this was a fight we couldn’t afford to lose.”
‘A Cancer on Our Nation’
Even before the officers spoke, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was, until recently, the number-three Republican in the House, made it clear that she and fellow Republican committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) wouldn’t be shying away from the role her party played in the events of Jan. 6 or in ongoing efforts to deny and downplay it.
“On Jan. 6, and in the days thereafter, almost all members of my part recognized the events of that day for what they were,” Cheney said.
A week after the attack, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on the floor of the House that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack. Since then, however, McCarthy has rallied Republicans to oppose an independent commission to investigate January 6 and, last week, pulled all five of his nominees to the House Select Committee after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) barred two – Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) – from participating.
Cheney said her fellow Republicans need to be willing to seek the truth for the good of the country.
“This will be a cancer on our nation," Cheney said. "We will face a Jan. 6 every four years. Will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America?”
Kinzinger, who was appointed to the committee by Pelosi after the five other Republicans were withdrawn, decried those in his party trying to turn Jan. 6 into “just another partisan fight.”
“It’s toxic, and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families,” Kinzinger said. “I’m a Republican. I’m a conservative. But in order to heal from that day, we need to get the facts.”
Kinzinger also bashed those on the right who have “concocted a counternarrative” trying to compare Jan. 6 with riots following the murder of George Floyd last summer.
“I was called on to serve during the summer riots as an Air National Guardsman. I condemned those riots and destruction of property that resulted. But not once did I ever feel that the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on Jan. 6.”
‘You Guys Won’
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) told the officers after their testimony that she wanted to share a story none of them may have heard. During the riot, she said, she was holed up in a small office in the lower level of the building with Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) “about 40 paces” from the front line. Outside the door they could hear police struggling to keep rioters out of the building.
“I listened to you struggle. I listened to you yelling out to one another. I listened to you care for one another… I listened to people coughing, having difficulty breathing,” she said. “And then I listened to you getting back into the fight.
Murphy said the time and space the officers defending the tunnel, among them Hodges, gave her and Rice allowed them to be evacuated by other police – and, ultimately, to make it back to her two children.
“The reason I was able to hug them again was because of the courage you and other officers showed that day,” Murphy said.
Kinzinger, who was at times emotional while he spoke, told the officers that even if they didn’t feel like it, they succeeded at their mission on Jan. 6.
“You may individually feel a little broken… but you guys won. You guys held,” Kinzinger said. “Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We’re defined by how we come back from our bad days. How we take accountability for that. And for all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple. It’s to seek accountability, and to find the truth.”
Accountability and truth were also what the officers, one after another, told Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) they wanted from the committee.
“Getting the truth shouldn’t be hard,” Dunn said. “Fighting on Jan. 6, that was hard. Showing up on Jan. 7, that was hard. When the fence came down, that was hard. When we lost our layer of protection, and nothing had changed, that was hard.”
Without mentioning Trump by name, Dunn also said he wanted accountability for those responsible at the top.
“If a hitman is hired, and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail. But not only him, but the man who sent him goes to jail,” Dunn said. “There was an attack carried out on January 6 and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
Other officers were more direct, saying that none of the rioters seemed confused about why they were there.
“All of them – all of them – were saying, ‘Trump sent us,’” Gonell said. “Nobody else.”
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