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Emotional witnesses recount Capitol riot at US hearing

DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone testifies during the select committee investigation of the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, during their first hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on July 27, 2021. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / POOL / AFP)

WASHINGTON – “I said as loud as I could manage ‘I’ve got kids,'” DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) Officer Michael Fanone, one of the four witnesses testifying Tuesday at a US House panel’s hearing on the Jan 6 Capitol riot, told lawmakers as he recounted his first-hand experience during the violence.

Fanone said he was attacked by the rioters and “electrocuted again and again and again with a taser” during the encounter, after which he was diagnosed with “a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.” He said while being attacked, he attempted to “appeal to any humanity” that the rioters might have.

The police officer gave his remarks at the first hearing of the House Jan 6 select committee, where nine members of the panel, seven Democrats and two Republicans, got to hear recollections of the events from those who defended the Capitol when a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters breached the seat of the US legislature on Jan 6 in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results to Joe Biden.

I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than in my entire deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, 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 Jan 6.

Aquilino Gonell, Capitol Police officer

“I can remember losing oxygen and thinking to myself ‘this is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,'” Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who joined the US Army in 1999 and was later dispatched to Iraq, told lawmakers at the hearing.

“I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than in my entire deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, 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 Jan 6,” Gonell said, adding, “To be honest, I do not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on Jan 6 or the United States that they claim to represent.”

Harry Dunn, another Capitol Police officer giving his testimony at the hearing, shared the experience of the rioters yelling racial epithets at him during the violence because he is black.

Later on Jan 6, Dunn said, after the rioters were cleared, he sat down on a bench in the Capitol Rotunda, talking with a friend who is also a black Capitol Police officer.

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Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges watches a video from his police body camera showing how he was violently attacked at the Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol, during the opening hearing of the US House select committee investigating the attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 27, 2021. (ANDREW HARNIK / POOL / AFP)

“I told him about the racial slurs I endured and became very emotional and began yelling, ‘How the blank could something like this happen? Is this America?'” Dunn said. “I began sobbing. Officers came over to console me.”

A fourth witness during the hearing, Daniel Hodges of the MPD, repeatedly referred to the rioters as “terrorists.”

I told him (a black Capitol Police officer) about the racial slurs I endured and became very emotional and began yelling, ‘How the blank could something like this happen? Is this America?’ …I began sobbing. Officers came over to console me.

Harry Dunn, Capitol Police officer

“To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin blue line flag, a symbol of support for law enforcement, more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us,” Hodges said.

Standing at the very spot that two weeks before was overrun by Trump supporters, President Biden said during his inauguration speech on Jan 20 that the Capitol riot served as a sober reminder to the American people that there is “a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront.”

Capitol rioter Paul Hodgkins, a Florida crane operator who was seen walking onto the Senate floor on the day of the assault wearing a “Trump 2020” shirt, was sentenced to eight months in prison last week, marking the first sentencing in a felony case stemming from the insurrection.

Hodgkins’ sentencing could be a bellwether for how other Capitol riot defendants charged with similar offenses are likely to be treated by the Justice Department, which has doubled down on combating domestic terrorism.

Fanone, the MPD officer, recounted overhearing one rioter suggesting to others in the mob that he be killed by his own gun. “I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of ‘kill him with his own gun.’ I can still hear those words in my head today,” he said.

Punching his hand on the table, Fanone slammed congressional Republicans who tried to downplay and whitewash the events on Jan 6, calling their behavior “disgraceful.”

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“My law enforcement career prepared me to cope with some of the aspects of this experience,” Fanone said. “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.”

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