“This is how I would die defending this entrance,” Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell recalled, testifying at the emotional opening hearing of a Congressional committee investigating the January 6 violent Capitol uprising.
Officer Gonell told House investigators that he felt he was losing oxygen when he was crushed by rioters – supporters of then President Donald Trump – as he tried to contain them and protect the Capitol and lawmakers.
He and three other officers spoke of Tuesday’s attack, sometimes wiping away tears and sometimes angrily rebuking Republicans who resisted the investigation, and applauded Trump’s downplaying the brutality of the day from supporters who challenged his election defeat.
Along with a graphic video of hand-to-hand combat, officers described being beaten as they held back crowds that plowed through windows and doors and interrupted Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory certificate. The new committee is launching an investigation, focusing on the law enforcement officers guarding them, giving a human face to the violence of the day.
Arriving on the scene, police officer Michael Fanone told the committee – and the millions watching the news – that he was “seized, beaten, stunned, and called a traitor to my country.” Doctors later told him that he had a heart attack.
Daniel Hodges, also a DC police officer, said he remembered rioters crushing him between two doors and hitting him in the head, injuring his skull.
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said one group of rioters, about 20 people, shouted a word at him in their tongue as he tried to keep them from entering the House’s chamber.
Tensions on Capitol Hill only worked after the uprising, when many Republicans downplayed or outright denied the violence that had taken place and condemned the Democratic investigation as politically motivated. Democrats remind people how brutal it was and how law enforcement officials sworn to protect the Capitol were seriously injured at the hands of rebels.
The officers detailed their horror, trauma and long-term trauma as they pleaded with lawmakers to investigate the attack.
“I feel like I went to hell and came back to protect them and the people in this room,” Fanone testified.
Bumping his fist on the table in front of him, he said, “Too many people now tell me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell isn’t really that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is shameful. “
Members of the committee were also thrilled when the video of the violence was shown and repeatedly thanked the police for their protection. Florida Democratic MP Stephanie Murphy told them she was hiding near the entrance they defended that day, and “I shudder to think what would have happened if you hadn’t held that line.”
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the commission, shed tears during interrogation. He said he didn’t expect to get so emotional.
“I think it’s important to tell you right now that you guys might feel a little overwhelmed,” Kinzinger told the officers. “You guys are all talking about the consequences you have to deal with and the consequences of that day. But you guys won. You guys were holding on. “
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, another Republican nominated Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed “deep gratitude for what you did to save us” and raised broader, more serious questions.
“The question for each of us who serve in Congress, for every elected official in this great country, essentially for every American, is this: Will we uphold the rule of law, respect the decisions of our courts, and maintain a peaceful transition of power? “
“Or will we be so blinded by commitment that we throw away the wonder of America?”
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy pulled out of the Republicans he nominated last week after Pelosi rejected two of them, saying their “antics” in support of Trump and his lies about winning the election are inappropriate. for a serious investigation. On Monday night, the House of Representatives voted against a resolution proposed by the GOP leader to force his elected members to join the group.
McCarthy has remained by Trump’s side since the uprising and has threatened to withdraw committee appointments from any Republican who will sit on the January 6 commission. He called Cheney and Kinzinger “Pelosi Republicans,” which Cheney called “childish.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, McCarthy again called the trial “bogus” and said that Pelosi wanted to be asked only the questions “she wants to ask.”
McCarthy told reporters that Pelosi should be investigated for her role in the security breaches of the day, but ignored questions about Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who had equal authority over the Capitol police and Capitol security personnel.
Chairman Benny Thompson, D-Miss., Said the hearings will “set the tone” for an investigation that will examine not only Trump’s role in the uprising, but also the groups involved in coordinating it, including white supremacists.
He will also look at the security issues that have allowed hundreds of people to infiltrate the Capitol and send lawmakers to flight to save their lives. Some of those who broke in called for the death of Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, who was hiding a few feet from the crowd.
Outside of Monday’s preparatory committee meeting, Kinzinger told reporters that “for too long we pretended that January 6 did not happen” and that “when lies and disinformation continue to flourish, it is important for us as members of Congress to find answers.”
Soon after the uprising, nearly every Republican denounced the brutal mafia, and some criticized Trump himself, who told his supporters to “fight with all their might” to undo his defeat. But many have softened their tone in recent months and weeks.
And some went even further: Georgia spokesman Andrew Clyde said the video of the rioters sounded like a “regular tourist visit,” and Arizona spokesman Paul Gosar repeatedly stated that a woman who was shot by police when she tried to break into a House ward was “executed “. Others falsely argued that Democrats or liberal groups were responsible for the attack.
The testifying officers have become increasingly politically active in recent months, moving from office to office in May to lobby Republicans in the Senate to support an external commission of inquiry into the uprising.
The Senate Republican Party ultimately rejected this effort, although this commission would have been equally divided between the parties.