Aquilino A. Gonell, a sergeant in the Capitol Police Department and a veteran of the Iraq War, was nearly dejected during the January 6 riot at the Capitol and has watched in frustration over the months since several Republican Congressmen tried to bring up the violence that he faced.
On Tuesday, Sergeant Gonell told his story in brutal and emotional detail in front of Congress as one of four police officers who responded to the attack that day and testified at the first hearing of the special committee investigating the deadly storm on the Capitol. Republican leaders who have repeatedly spoken out against attempts to scrutinize the incursion of a pro-Trump mob boycotted the meeting.
“I could feel myself losing oxygen and remember thinking, ‘This is how I will die – defend this entrance,'” Sergeant Gonell told the panel.
About 140 police officers were injured when supporters of President Donald J. Trump broke through the Capitol, where Congress met to count the votes to formalize the election of President Biden. The rioters shouted “Hang Mike Pence,” roamed the halls looking for spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and forced lawmakers to stop the count and evacuate their chambers.
“There is a constant, shocking attempt to ignore or destroy the truth of what really happened that day, and to wash the facts into something other than what they unmistakably reveal: an attack on our democracy by violent local extremists and a stain on our history and moral standing here and abroad, ”Sergeant Gonell said, wiping his tears away as he testified.
The Democrats opened the hearing, which was supposed to last several hours, by playing a previously unpublished video of the January 6 violence, including body camera footage showing rioters attacking and cursing the police at close range while officers each other tried hard to hold her back. The voices of rioters could be heard quietly directing the attack over radios, while police officers made panicked calls on their own channels.
As the scenes and sounds of violence played out loud in the hearing room, the officers in their dark blue uniforms became emotional and some hugged.
In his opening address, MP Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the special committee, described the men as “heroes” who would have prevented an even greater catastrophe.
“A violent mob was referred to the Capitol and asked to win a battle process,” Thompson said. “Some came to this city with clear plans to destroy our democracy. One rioter said they weren’t there to commit violence, but they were, and I quote, ‘We were only there to overthrow the government.’ “
Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn and two District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department officers, Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges, who were crushed in a doorway during the rampage, also appeared before the committee.
Official Fanone, who was knocked unconscious by the mob and subjected to repeated shocks with his own taser, suffered a heart attack and brain injury, said he heard rioters demanding that he be killed with his own gun.
“I was dragged from the line of officers into the crowd,” he said. “I’ve been electrocuted over and over again.”
At some point during his testimony, he slapped his hand on the desk and called the attempts to downplay the violence “shameful”.
Officer Dunn was testifying to how he and other black officers faced a variety of racial slurs when he fought off the rioters after they broke into the Capitol.
“In the days following the attempted riot, on January 6th, other black officers shared their own stories of racial abuse with me,” he said in prepared comments received by the New York Times.
The testimony came after House Republicans disagreed over the investigation. Ms. Pelosi nominated two Republicans – Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, both vocal critics of Mr Trump – to the committee, while rejecting two of the former president’s loyalists, minority republican Kevin McCarthy of California. leaders were selected.
In her opening address, Ms. Cheney said she was “obliged to rise above politics by participating.” She promised to get to the bottom of quick subpoenas and incitement to the rioters and possible links to the Trump administration and campaign.
“We cannot leave the January 6th violence and its causes unexplained,” said Ms. Cheney. “We also need to know what happened every minute in the White House that day – every phone call, every conversation, every meeting before, during and after the attack.”
Mr. McCarthy withdrew all five Republicans he recommended for the panel and ridiculed Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans,” suggesting that he might try to exempt them from other committee duties as a punishment.
GOP leaders held their own event ahead of the hearing trying to divert the blame for the insurrection from Mr Trump and themselves, saying the blame lies with the Democrats for failing to secure the Capitol against attack.
“Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as the House of Representatives spokeswoman for the tragedy that occurred on January 6,” said New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 Republican who replaced Ms. Cheney when the party ousted her because them against Mr. Trump.
Congressional leaders hire the law enforcement agencies responsible for the security of the Capitol, but are typically not involved in day-to-day decisions about security protocols. Security in the Capitol is controlled by the Capitol Police Department, which also includes the House and Senate NCOs and the Capitol Architect.
A group of far-right Republicans have called a protest outside the Justice Department later Tuesday to protest the treatment of “January 6 prisoners” whom they claim were ill-treated because of their political beliefs.