In emotional testimony filled with tears, anger and graphic details of racial slurs, four police officers deemed “heroes,” spoke out at the first hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) led Tuesday’s proceedings. At the onset, he said that the bi-partisan committee was “going to be guided solely by the facts”— not partisanship— as charged to do by House Resolution 503.
Yet while there’s much to uncover, there are certain facts already established about the violent, deadly attack. It occurred after a pro-Trump rally in the nation’s capitol where the former president— later impeached for a second time— rejected the legitimacy of the November 2020 election results. While Trump encouraged the crowd to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” at one point he also told supporters: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
“We know there is evidence it was a coordinated, planned attack,” said Chairman Thompson. “We know that men and women who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country. We know that seven people lost their lives, that more than 140 police officers suffered injuries. We know that efforts to subvert our democracy are ongoing, and a major part of the Select Committee’s work will be to find ways to eliminate that threat.”
Thompson said “the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding” and “if not for the heroism of the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department, many more lives might have been lost. And, he noted, the insurrection might have accomplished its intent to upend American democracy.
As rioters marched on the Capitol with a goal of stopping the election certification process happening that day, police spoke of being overwhelmed and violently attacked. The perpetrators used bear spray, knives, tasers, hockey sticks, and even flag poles fashioned into clubs with the American flag still attached. After rioters breached the Capitol, they smashed windows, scaled walls, broke down doors, and invaded the halls of Congress.
Harry Dunn, Private First Class, U.S. Capitol Police; Aquilino Gonell, Sergeant, U.S. Capitol Police; Michael Fanone, Officer, Metropolitan Police Department; and Daniel Hodges, Officer, Metropolitan Police Department each offered powerful testimony about their truths that day.
Officer Hodges was crushed and pinned down during the insurrection; Officer Fanone was tortured, beaten, and tased until he was unconscious; Sergeant Gonell was beaten by someone brandishing a flag of the country he and fellow officers are sworn to defend. Two USCP Officers, Brian Sicknick and Howie Liebengood, died in the melee.
Dunn, one of two Black officers who testified, recalled that as insurrectionists poured into an area near the Speaker’s Lobby and The Rotunda, some wore “MAGA” hats and shirts that read “Trump 2020.”
“I told them to leave the Capitol, and in response, they yelled back: “No, no, man, this is our house!” “President Trump invited us here!” “We’re here to stop the steal!” “Joe Biden is not the President!” “Nobody voted for Joe Biden!”
“I am a law enforcement officer, and I keep politics out of my job. But in this circumstance, I responded: ‘Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?’”
That prompted a torrent of racial epithets, Dunn said. One woman in a pink “MAGA” shirt yelled, “You hear that, guys, this n– voted for Joe Biden!” Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in, screaming “Boo! Fucking n–!”
“No one had ever, ever, called me a “n–” while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer. In the days following the attempted insurrection, other Black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6. One officer told me he had never, in his entire 40 years of life, been called a “n–” to his face, and that that streak ended on January 6.”
Yet another Black officer later told him he had been confronted by insurrectionists inside the Capitol, who said “Put your gun down and we’ll show you what kind of n– you really are!”
Video showed the rioters racing through the hallways chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” and “Where’s Nancy?” They stormed onto the Senate Floor aiming to stop that chamber from certifying the election. Others tried to take over the House Floor for the same reason. Some astute young staff members had the presence of mind to grab the physical electoral ballots for safekeeping.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, “Now, our imperative must be to find the truth. We must do so in a way that retains the trust of the American people in the proceedings, so that they will have confidence in the truth that emerges. “And we must do so, recognizing that, as [Abraham] Lincoln said, ‘we cannot escape history.’”
In the six months since the attack, local and federal law enforcement agents have sought to track down those involved and bring them to justice. So far the Justice Department says that more than 500 defendants face charges.