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What they saw: Police officers describe the Jan. 6 Capitol attack like ‘a medieval battle’

  • July 27, 2021

they described a day of terror and violence beyond what any of them had encountered before. 

“It was like something from a medieval battle,” said Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant who was drenched in corrosive chemicals and beaten with a pole, an American flag still attached. “We fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process.” 

He called it worse than anything he had faced during his Army deployment to the Iraq War. 

‘This is how I’m going to die’:At Jan. 6 hearing, officers tell of harrowing attacks

Officer Harry Dunn:Officers ask lawmakers to ‘get to the bottom’ of Jan. 6 Capitol riot

The House Select Committee – charged with investigating the storming of the Capitol by a mob trying to stop the official counting of the Electoral College ballots that put Joe Biden in the White House – has generated controversy before and surely will again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vetoed two Republicans proposed as members because she said their comments disparaging the inquiry disqualified them.

That prompted Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to refuse to name any GOP members to participate. Pelosi appointed to the panel two maverick Republicans, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, to serve with seven Democrats.

The panel’s first meeting was largely nonpartisan, somber and straightforward, and as emotionally wrenching as any congressional hearing in memory. 

Video from cellphones and police body cameras, some of it never before seen in public, was aired to show the bloody frenzy of that day six months ago. The four uniformed officers at times had tears in their eyes, pausing to collect themselves, as they described being beaten, tased, threatened with death and taunted by racial slurs as the rioters overwhelmed law enforcement efforts to hold them back.

Several of the panel members struggled for composure, too. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., showed a video clip depicting D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Daniel Hodges screaming for help as he was crushed in a door by the mob.

She told him she and another congresswoman hiding in a small office could hear his struggle from 40 feet away. His valor made it possible for them to escape, she said.

Liz Cheney’s statement:Liz Cheney calls for answers, accountability on Jan. 6: ‘We must know what happened’

The 3½ hours of testimony creates dilemmas for Republicans who downplayed the violence of Jan. 6 and raised questions about who was behind it. In an interview for a new book, “I Alone Can Fix It,” former President Donald Trump described the day’s events as peaceful and the crowd he addressed at a rally on the Ellipse before the attack as “loving.”

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., likened it to a “tourist visit.”

That attitude drew the outrage of D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, who testified about being captured by the mob and repeatedly electrified by his own taser as he heard some in the crowd shout, “Kill him with his own gun!” He suffered a heart attack, a concussion and a traumatic brain injury, he said, and he and his family are dealing with the repercussions of his injuries. 

“What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know so many of my fellow citizens – including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend – are downplaying or outright denying what happened,” Fanone said. Pounding his fist on the table, he said elected officials who “continue to deny the events of that day … betray their oath of office.”

The officers pushed back on a conspiracy theory that leftist Antifa supporters masquerading as Trump backers were behind the violence. “All of them were telling us, ‘Trump sent us,’” Gonell said flatly. “It was not Antifa. It was not Black Lives Matter. It was not the FBI. It was his supporters.”

What’s next?

Committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the panel will schedule additional hearings, perhaps toward the end of the August recess, and Cheney said it was crucial to find out about what exactly was happening in the Trump White House “every minute” of that day – signaling a possible battle over subpoenas and testimony by senior Republicans. 

More:Trump administration officials can testify about president’s actions leading up to Jan. 6, DOJ says

Thompson closed the hearing by asking the officers what they wanted the panel to achieve. 

“I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this, anyone in power coordinated, aided or abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack,” Hodges said. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn made a similar plea to investigate not only those in the mob but also those who urged them on. 

“If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail, but not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired them does,” Dunn said. “It was an attack carried out on Jan. 6, and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”

For the committee, that debate will come later.

The committee’s 9 members:Meet the members of the House’s Jan. 6 select committee

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