The House Select Committee investigating the events of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol held its first hearing Tuesday morning, featuring vivid and, at times, emotional testimony from four law-enforcement officers who fought back rioters and sought to defend the building.
Officer Aquilino Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police testified first, telling the panel that what officers experienced that day was like “a medieval battle” and that he heard fellow officers screaming in pain, including D.C. police officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed by rioters in a doorway.
“I too was being crushed by the rioters. I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, This is how I’m going to die — defending this entrance,” Gonell said.
Gonell wiped away tears at times, especially when he recalled returning home after the riot and refusing a hug from his wife because his uniform was still covered in chemicals that rioters deployed against the officers.
“There are some who express outrage when someone kneels while calling for social justice. Where are those same people expressing the outrage to condemn the violent attack on law enforcement, the Capitol, and our American democracy?,” Gonell asked. “I’m still waiting for them.”
The committee also heard testimony from Officer Michael Fanone of the Metropolitan Police Department who received severe injuries at the hands of the rioters. Fanone described being dragged from a line of other officers by rioters who stole his badge, radio, and ammunition, and attempted to take his gun while beating him with metal objects and their fists.
“I heard chanting from some in the crowd ‘Get his gun’ and ‘Kill him with his own gun.’ I was aware enough to recognize I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm. I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser. I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice,” Fanone said.
“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. I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell wasn’t actually that bad,” Fanone continued.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!,” he added, slamming his hand on the table.
Officer Daniel Hodges, also from D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, talked about trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the Capitol. He said one rioter shouted at him, “You will die on your knees.”
Hodges described a moment that millions have seen from footage of that day: Hodges being wedged in a doorway, screaming in pain.
“On my left was a man with a clear riot shield stolen during the assault. He slammed it against and, with the weight of all the bodies pushing behind him, trapped me. My arms were pinned and effectively useless, trapped against either the shield on my left or the doorframe on my right,” Hodges said.
He said a man then pulled down his gas mask and used it to hit his head against the door. Hodges said his baton was also stolen and used to hit him in the face and head.
“At this point, I knew I couldn’t sustain much more damage and remain upright. At best, I would collapse and be a liability to my colleagues. At worst, I would be dragged down into the crowd and lynched. Unable to move or otherwise signal the officers behind me that I needed to fall back, I did the only thing that I could do and screamed for help,” Hodges said.
Officer Harry Dunn of the U.S. Capitol Police, the final witness of the day, began by asking for a moment of silence in honor of Brian Sicknick, a fellow Capitol police officer who died after sustaining injuries on January 6.
Dunn said he was “stunned” by what he saw: officers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with rioters on the Capitol’s west lawn and weapons being used against those officers.
“Until then I had never seen anyone physically assault Capitol police or MPD, let alone witness mass assaults being perpetrated on law-enforcement officers,” Dunn said.
Dunn described encountering rioters inside who refused to leave the building and said that Trump invited them, that Joe Biden wasn’t the president and that no one voted for him. When Dunn, who is black, told them that he had voted for Biden, he said the rioters began to hurl racial slurs at him.
“One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that, guys? This n—-r voted for Joe Biden.’ Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming “Boo. Fucking n—-r,’” Dunn recalled.
He added, “No one had ever ever called me a n—-r while wearing the uniform as a Capitol police officer.”
He relayed the stories of other black Capitol officers who also experienced racial abuse from the rioters. Dunn said one had never been called the N-word in his 40 years of life, but “that streak ended on January 6.”