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Officers Give Harrowing Testimony On Their Experience Defending The Capitol On Jan. 6

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell (from left), officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, and Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn are sworn in Tuesday before testifying before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
Oliver Contreras
Pool/Getty Images
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell (from left), officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, and Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn are sworn in Tuesday before testifying before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Updated July 27, 2021 at 3:12 PM ET

Four police officers testified Tuesday about the physical and verbal assaults they faced responding to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in a highly emotional hearing.

The four officers— Pfc. Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police, and Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department — each gave opening statements and answered questions from committee members.

Gonell recounted the events of that day and the impact it has had on law enforcement officers: "For most people, Jan. 6 happened for a few hours," he said. "But for those of us who were in the thick of it, it has not ended."

It was the first hearing held by the Democratic-led House select committee investigating the attack by pro-Trump rioters who were trying to stop the certification of the presidential election, which Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Lawmakers on the panel lauded the officers' heroism and blasted colleagues who have denied the events of that day.

What the officers saw, felt and heard

The Metropolitan Police's Fanone described his experience heading to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to assist the Capitol Police. He said the scene he found as he worked his way to the Capitol's West Front, where thousands of rioters were violently clashing with police, was "nothing short of brutal."

Fanone decried those in Congress who are "downplaying or outright denying what happened" that day, saying, "I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them."

"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!" Fanone shouted as he pounded the witness table. "Nothing, truly nothing has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day. And in doing so betray their oath of office."

Hodges repeatedly called the members of the mob attack on the Capitol "terrorists" and later, when pressed on why he used that term, cited the section of U.S. Code defining domestic terrorism.

He said that to his "perpetual confusion, I saw the 'thin blue line' flag, the symbol of support for law enforcement, more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us."

The Capitol Police's Dunn said he was in the speaker's lobby outside the House chamber when one of the insurrectionists said that "Trump invited us here" and that Donald Trump was still the president.

"Nobody voted for Joe Biden," Dunn said the man told him. Dunn said he responded that he had voted for President Biden, asking, "Does my vote not count?"

He told the panel a woman in a pink MAGA shirt then yelled, "You hear that guys? This n***** voted for Joe Biden." Dunn said that the crowd of around 20 people joined in screaming, "Boo, f****** n*****!" Dunn continued, "No one had ever, ever called me a n***** while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer."

Asked what he was fighting to protect on Jan. 6, Hodges responded, "democracy." He added, "It was for democracy, it was for the men and women of the House and Senate, it was for each other, and it was for the future of the country."

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told Hodges and the other officers they were "heroes to all of America," adding, "Those who attacked you and beat you are fascist traitors to our country and will be remembered forever as fascist traitors."

What the witnesses want from the committee

Lawmakers asked the officers what they wanted the panel to investigate. Fanone cited the "Stop the Steal" rally headlined by Trump ahead of the insurrection.

"The time, the place, circumstances of that rally, that rhetoric, and those events to me leads in the direction of our president," he said.

Fanone said he also hoped the committee would look in to whether there was collaboration between members of Congress, "their staff and these terrorists."

Hodges added he hoped the committee would investigate "if anyone in power had a role in this, if anyone in power coordinated, or aided and abetted, or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack."

Dunn said he uses the analogy of an investigation into a mob hit to describe what he hopes for from the committee. "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 him does," Dunn said, adding, "I want you to get to the bottom of that."

Panel calls for an investigation of the "big lie"

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., gave impassioned opening remarks, describing the threat to democracy and blasting those who have dismissed the magnitude of what happened on Jan. 6.

"Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs," Thompson said. "But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on Jan. 6. The hangman's gallows sitting out there on our [National] Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence."

Saying the rioters were "propelled here by a lie" about a fraudulent election, Thompson added, "We need to understand how and why the 'big lie' festered. We need to know minute by minute how Jan. 6 unfolded. We need to understand how the rotten lie behind Jan. 6 has continued to spread and feed the forces that would undermine American democracy. And we need to figure out how to fix the damage."

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., one of two GOP House members whom Speaker Nancy Pelosi named to the panel, also gave an opening statement, saying the committee must look into Trump's actions that day.

"We cannot leave the violence of Jan. 6 and its causes uninvestigated. We must know what happened here in the Capitol. We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House. Every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack.

"Honorable men and women have an obligation to step forward.

"If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic."

The panel's second Republican member, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a member of the Air National Guard, said he was called to service during the unrest after George Floyd's killing last summer but said there was no comparison with what happened on Jan. 6.

"There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law," Kinzinger said. "Between a crime, even grave crimes, and a coup." His voice breaking, he told the panel of four officers, "You guys won, you guys held," he said.

"Democracies are not defined by our bad days," Kinzinger said. "We're defined by how we come back from bad days."

Kinzinger said that many in his party "have treated this as just another partisan fight. It's toxic and it's a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and the employees of the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve the truth and to those generations before us who went to war to defend self-governance. Because self-governance is at stake."

Kinzinger said that "it's time to stop the outrage, and the conspiracies that fuel the violence and division in this country. And most importantly we need to reject those that promote it."

The makeup of the select committee

The select panel contains seven Democratic members and two Republicans appointed by Pelosi, Cheney and Kinzinger. Cheney and Kinzinger were among the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol as lawmakers were meeting to certify Biden's election as president.

Pelosi last week rejected two Republicans named by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to serve on the panel, Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Both Banks and Jordan are staunch backers of Trump and publicly expressed doubt about the motives of the panel.

Their rejection by Pelosi prompted McCarthy to withdraw his other nominees to the select committee. McCarthy threatened Republicans would conduct their own investigation into the events of that day.

The select committee is the latest attempt by Congress to look into the Jan. 6 insurrection and what led up to it. Trump was impeached over his involvement in the riot after days of public testimony. In addition, the Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees conducted their own set of hearings.

So far, more than 550 people have been arrested in connection with the storming of the Capitol, and more than half a dozen have pleaded guilty.

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.