Searing, Emotional Testimony At Jan. 6 Commission Hearing

Officers Aquilino Gonell, Michael Fanone, Daniel Hodges and Harry Dunn are sworn in. Photo from the AP.

By Terrance Turner

July 27, 2021

Today, the House select committee began the first day of its investigation about the events of Jan. 6. The hearings were marked by harrowing testimony from Capitol Police officers who shared their experiences fighting the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. Both lawmakers and officers grew emotional during the proceedings.

The committee consists of seven Democrats and two Republicans. The members are:

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), committee chairman
  • Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), former Navy commander
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who drafted the article of impeachment after the Capitol riot
  • Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL)
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA, 19th District)
  • Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA, 28th District)
  • Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA, 31st District)
  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) selected two Republicans (Cheney and Kinzinger) to establish a bipartisan commission. Despite attacks from their party, both Republicans made opening statements that explained their decision to participate.

Opening Statements

After thanking her committee members and the witnesses, Cheney said: “I want to begin by reflecting briefly on the investigation that we are launching today. Every one of us here on the dais voted for and would have preferred that these matters be investigated by an independent non-partisan commission, composed of five prominent Americans selected by each party, and modeled on the 9/11 Commission.” That did not happen; the 54-35 vote for a commission fell short of the 60 votes needed in the Senate.

“We cannot leave the violence of January 6th – and its causes – uninvestigated. The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for January 6th,” Cheney said. “We must know what happened here at 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,” she continued.

“I have been a conservative Republican since 1984 when I first voted for Ronald Reagan. I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with almost every Democratic member of this committee. But, in the end, we are one nation under God.”

She went on: “When a threat to our constitutional order arises, as it has here, we are obligated to rise above politics. This investigation must be non-partisan.”

Kinzinger Speaks

Rep. Kinzinger also spoke of the need to rise above politics. “For all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this Committee, our mission is very simple: to find the truth and ensure accountability.

Like all Americans, I am frustrated that six months after a deadly riot breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television … we still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because many in my 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 employees on the Capitol Complex, and to the American people who deserve the truth. And it’s why I agreed to serve on this Committee,” he said. 

“This CANNOT continue to be a partisan fight. I am a Republican, I am a conservative. But in order to heal from the damage caused that day, we need to call out the facts. It’s time to stop the outrage and conspiracies that fuel violence and division in our country, and most importantly, we need to reject those that promote it. As a country, it’s time to learn from our past mistakes, rebuild stronger so this never happens again, and move onward.

In serving on this Committee, I am here to investigate January 6th–not in spite of my membership in the Republican Party, but because of it.” Kinzinger got emotional as he thanked the officers present who worked to save the Capitol that day:

Officer Testimony

But the most powerful moments belonged to the police officers who testified today. Four officers — DC Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell — revealed horrific, life-threatening abuse at the hands of rioters. Their stories were graphic and emotional; some present were moved to tears.

Sgt. Aquilino Gonell

“As a child in the Dominican Republic, I looked up to the United States as a land of opportunity and a place to better myself,” said Sgt. Aquilino Gonell. “From the moment I landed at JFK airport in 1992, I have strived to pursue that goal. Thankfully, I have achieved that goal on many levels: I was the first in my family to graduate college, join the U.S. Army, and become a police officer.”

“To be honest, I did not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on January 6, or the United States they claimed to represent. When I was 25, and then a sergeant in the Army, I had deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said. “I volunteered to
travel on IED-infested roads to conduct supply missions for U.S. and allied military forces and local Iraqi populations. But on January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the
Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq.

In Iraq, we expected armed violence,
because we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the Army, or as a law enforcement officer, prepared me for what we confronted on January 6.

The verbal assaults and disrespect we endured from the rioters were bad enough,” Sgt. Gonell said. “But the physical violence we experienced was horrific and devastating. My fellow officers and I were punched, pushed, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants, and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob who apparently saw us law enforcement officers, dedicated to ironically protecting them as U.S. citizens, as an impediment in their attempted insurrection.

The mob brought weapons to try to accomplish their insurrectionist objectives, and they used them against us. These weapons included hammers, rebars, knives, batons and police shields taken by force, as well as bear spray and pepper spray. Some rioters wore tactical gear, including bulletproof vests and gas masks. The rioters also forcibly took our batons and shields and used them against us. I was particularly shocked at seeing the insurrectionists violently attack us with the very American flag they claimed they sought to protect.

The rioters were vicious and relentless. We found ourselves in a violent battle in adesperate attempt to prevent a breach of the Capitol by the entrance near the Inauguration Stage. Metropolitan DC Police officers were being pulled into the crowd as we tried to push all the rioters back from breaching Capitol. In my attempt to assist two MPD officers, I grabbed one officer by the back of the collar and pulled him back to our police line. When I tried to help the second officer, I fell on top of some police shields on the ground that were slippery because of the pepper and bear spray. Rioters started to pull me by my leg, by my shield, and by my gear straps on my left shoulder.”

“We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob,” Gonell said. “It was a prolonged and desperate struggle. I vividly heard officers screaming in agony and pain just an arms-length from me,” he continued. “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, trampled defending this entrance.’”

Gonell wept as he remembered coming home and being unable to hug his wife because of the chemicals on his clothes:

Michael Fanone

The House committee played bodycam footage of Officer Michael Fanone being attacked by rioters. Fanone can be heard screaming as he is tazed repeatedly by members of the mob. That footage is included in the YouTube video embedded below; it runs to about 1:56. The images that you’re about to see will be disturbing:

Fanone also testified. “My name, for those of you who don’t know, is Michael Fanone. And while I’ve been a sworn officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., for almost two decades, my law enforcement career actually began here in this building as United States, Capitol Police officer shortly after 9/11. In part, because of the 2001 attack on our country by terrorists, I felt called to serve.

In this line of work, it probably won’t shock you to know that I’ve dealt with some dicey situations. I thought I’d seen it all, many times over. Yet what I witnessed and experienced on January 6th, 2021, was unlike anything I had ever had seen, anything I’d ever experienced or could have imagined in my country.”

On that fateful day, Fanone and partner Jimmy Albright looked for an area where they could be of most assistance. They found it. “We made our way through door on the south side of the Capitol, walking then into the crypt and finally down to the Lower West Terrace tunnel.

It was there that I observed a police commander struggling to breathe as he dealt with the effects of CS gas that lingered in the air. Then I watched him collect himself, straightened his cap and trench coat, adorned with its Silvery Eagles, and returned to the lot. That commander was Ramy Kyle of the Metropolitan Police Department. And those images are etched into my memory, never to be forgotten.”

“The fighting in the Lower West Terrace tunnel was nothing short of brutal. Here, I observed approximately 30 police officers standing shoulder to shoulder, maybe four or five abreast, using the weight of their bodies to hold back the onslaught of violent attackers. Many of these officers were injured, bleeding, and fatigued, but they continue to hold the line.

As I don’t have to tell the members in this room, the tunnel is a narrow and long hallway. It is not the sort of space anyone would want to be pulled into hand-to-hand combat with an angry mob. Although the narrowness of the hallway provided what was probably the only chance of holding back the crowd from entering your personal offices, the House, and Senate chambers.”

Fanone continued: “At some point during the fighting, I was dragged from the line of officers and into the crowd. I heard someone scream, “I got one.” As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio, they seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like hard metal objects.”

“At one point, I came face-to-face with an attacker who repeatedly launched for me and attempted to remove my firearm. 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.”

“During those moments, I remember thinking there was a very good chance I would be torn apart or shot to death with my own weapon. I thought of my four daughters who might lose their dad.” 

Thinking of his daughters, Fanone tried to strategize a way out. “During the assault, I thought about using my firearm on my attackers, but I knew that if I did, I would be quickly overwhelmed. And that, in their minds, would provide them with the justification for killing me. So I instead decided to appeal to any humanity they might have. I said as loud as I could manage, ‘I’ve got kids.’ Thankfully, some of the crowds stepped in and assisted me. Those few individuals protected me from a crowd and inch me toward the Capitol until my fellow officers could rescue me. I was carried back inside.

What happened afterwards is much less vivid. I had been beaten, unconscious and remained so for more than four minutes. I know that Jimmy helped to evacuate me from the building and drove me to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, despite suffering significant injuries himself. At the hospital, doctors told me that I had suffered a heart attack. And I was later diagnosed with a concussion, a traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Fanone grew angry as he described the efforts of lawmakers to downplay or deny the events that nearly cost him his life. “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 actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he raged, slamming his hand down on the table.

Officer Harry Dunn also witnessed disgraceful behavior. But it had started like any other day.

“I reported for duty at the Capitol, as usual, early on the morning of January 6. We understood that the vote to certify President Biden’s election would be taking place that day, and that protests might occur outside the Capitol, but we expected any demonstrations to be peaceful expressions of First Amendment freedoms, just like the scores of demonstrations we had observed for many years. After roll call, I took my overwatch post on the east front of the Capitol, standing on the steps that lead to the Senate chamber. As the morning progressed, I did not see or hear anything that gave me cause for alarm.

But around 10:56 am, I received a text message from a friend, forwarding a screen shot of what appeared to be a potential plan of action very different from a peaceful demonstration.

The screen shot bore the caption “Jan. 6th–Rally Point – Lincoln Park,” and said the “objective” was “THE CAPITAL.” It said, among, other things, that “Trump has given us marching orders,” and to “keep your guns hidden.” It urged people to “bring…your trauma kits” and “gas mask,” to “[l]ink up early in the day” in “6-12 man teams,” and indicated there would be a “time to arm up.”

Description of the message that Harry Dunn received

Seeing that message caused me concern, to be sure, and looking back now, it seemed to foreshadow what happened later. At the time, though, we had not received any threat warnings from our chain of command, and I had no independent reason to believe that violence was headed our way.”

“Early that afternoon, Capitol Police dispatch advised all units over the radio that there was
an “active 10-100″ at the Republican National Committee nearby. “10-100” is police code for a
suspicious package, such as a potential bomb. That radio dispatch got my attention and I started to get more nervous and worried, especially because the crowds on the east front of the Capitol were continuing to grow.”

Dunn eventually made his way to the West terrace and near the Inaugural stage. “I was stunned by what I saw. In what seemed like a sea of people, Capitol Police officers and Metropolitan DC Police (“MPD”) officers were engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting with rioters across the west lawn. Until then, I had never seen anyone physically assault a Capitol Police or MPD officer – let alone witness mass assaults being perpetrated on law enforcement officers. I witnessed the rioters using all kinds of weapons against the officers, including flag poles, metal bike racks they had torn apart, and various kinds of projectiles. Officers were being bloodied in the fighting, many were screaming, and many were blinded and coughing from chemical irritants being sprayed in their faces.”

Dunn later went to the Speaker’s Lobby. “More and more insurrectionists were pouring into the area by the Speaker’s Lobby near the Rotunda, some wearing “MAGA” hats and shirts that said “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. One woman in a pink “MAGA” shirt yelled,
“You hear that, guys, this nigger voted for Joe Biden!” Then the crowd, perhaps around twenty
people, joined in, screaming “Boo! Fucking nigger!”

Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges vividly recounted the physical abuse he faced while defending the Capitol on January 6. He, too, landed near the West terrace. Later, donning his gas mask, he “descended a stairway into a long hallway, filled with smoke and screams. The hallways led outside, where the mob had breached.

“Eventually, it was my tun in the meat grinder that was the front line. The terrorists had a wall of shields that they had stolen from officers, as well as stolen batons and what other armanents they brought,” he said. “The two sides were at a stalemate at a metal doorframe that sat in the middle of the hallway. At the front line I inserted myself so the frame was at my back, in an effort to give myself something to brace against and provide additional strength when pushing forward.”

“Unfortunately, soon after I secured this position, the momentum shifted, and we lost the ground that got me there. On my left was a man with a clear ride shield that he had stolen during the assault. He slammed it against me, and with the weight of the bodies pushing behind him, trapped me.”

“My arms were pinned and effectively useless, trapped against either the shield on my left and the door frame on my right,” Hodges said. “With my posture granting me no functional strength or freedom of movement, I was effectively defenseless and gradually sustaining injury from the increasing pressure of the mob.”

“Directly in front of me, a man sees the opportunity of my vulnerability, grabbed the front of my gas mask and used it to beat my head against the door. He switched to pulling it off my head, the straps stretching against my skull and straining my neck,” Hodges continued.

“Eventually, he succeded in stripping off my gas mask, and a new rush of exposure to CS and OC spray hit me,” Hodges said, referring to the technical terms for tear gas and pepper spray. “The mob of terrorists were coordinating their efforts now, shouting ‘Heave! Ho!’ as they synchronized, pushing their weight forward, pushing me further against the metal door frame. The man in front of me grabbed my baton that I still held in my hands, and in my current state I was unable to retain my weapon. He bashed me in the head and face with it, rupturing my lip and adding additional injury to my skull. At this point, I knew I couldn’t sustain much more damage or remain upright. At best, I would collapse and be aliability to my colleagues; at worst, be dragged out into the crowd and lynched.”

“Unable to move or otherwise signal to the officers behind me that I needed to fall back, I did the only thing that I could do and screamed for help. Thankfully, my voice was heard over the cacophony of yells and the blaring alarm. The officer closest to me was able to extricate me from my position, and another helped me fall back to the building again. I had found some more water and decontaminated my faced as best I could. I don’t know how long I waited in those halls, but soon after I got back on my feet and went to where the fight was again. Until reinforcements arrived, every able body made a difference.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for more updates.

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