By Richard Cowan and Sarah N. Lynch WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Four police officers delivered wrenching testimony on Tuesday on their struggle to defend the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 against a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters, describing to lawmakers how they were beaten, taunted with racial insults from rioters and faced threats like “kill him […]
Police recount calamity of U.S. Capitol attack at panel hearing
By Richard Cowan and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Four police officers delivered wrenching testimony on Tuesday on their struggle to defend the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 against a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters, describing to lawmakers how they were beaten, taunted with racial insults from rioters and faced threats like “kill him with his own gun.”
The testimony came as a Democratic-led House of Representatives investigatory committee held its first hearing, with chairman Bennie Thompson and a Republican panel member, Liz Cheney, emphasizing the need for a thorough probe.
Thompson and Cheney warned against “whitewashing” the riot even as Trump allies try to downplay the incident and accuse the committee of political motivations. Cheney added that she hopes the nation does not become so blinded by partisanship that “we throw away the miracle” of American democracy.
The panel heard the most detailed public account to date of what law enforcement officers faced during the rampage, as hundreds of Trump supporters sought to block Congress from formally certifying now-President Joe Biden’s election victory. The officers held back tears as they testified.
The nine-member panel was formed after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the attack. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, named the committee’s members.
District of Columbia police officer Michael Fanone described being pulled into the crowd of rioters, beaten, “electrocuted again and again and again with a Taser,” and robbed of his badge.
During the attack, Fanone said, he heard a rioter say he would “kill him with his own gun.” Fanone said he was beaten unconscious and doctors told him he suffered a heart attack.
Fanone railed against people, including some Republican lawmakers, who have downplayed the violence or blamed left-wing groups instead of Trump’s supporters.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect the people in this room,” Fanone said, referring to lawmakers. “But too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” Fanone testified, his voice rising as he slammed his hand onto the witness table.
Fanone appeared on Tuesday alongside his Washington police colleague Daniel Hodges and Capitol police officers Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn.
Gonell described being pummeled by rioters fired up by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battlefield. We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process,” added Gonell, calling the violence “horrific and devastating.”
Gonell fought back tears as he recalled his family watching the violence unfold on television and wondering if he was alive.
Dunn, who is Black, said rioters repeatedly called him a racial slur while he was trying to defend the Capitol. Dunn said he challenged their claims that no one had voted for Biden by telling them that he himself was a Biden supporter.
Hodges recalled how rioters screamed at him: “You’re on the wrong team!” and “You will die on your knees!” Hodges referred to the mob as “terrorists” multiple times.
Thompson pledged that the panel’s work will be “guided solely by the facts” and that there is no place for politics or partisanship.
Cheney added, “If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic.”
Four people died on the day of the violence, including one rioter fatally shot by police and three others who died of natural causes. A Capitol police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Two police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than a hundred police officers were injured.
Police were overwhelmed when hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, smashing windows, fighting with officers and sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence scrambling for safety. The riot followed Trump’s speech to supporters in which the Republican repeated his false claims about voting fraud.
“Some people are trying to deny what happened, to whitewash it, to turn the insurrectionists into martyrs,” Thompson said.
“And all of it: for a vile, vile lie,” added Thompson, referring to Trump’s false claims of election fraud. “Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As chairman of this committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground.”
Ahead of the hearing, Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, tried to shift blame for the attack onto Pelosi, saying she had been responsible for security arrangements at the Capitol. McCarthy declined to say whether he thought Trump bore any responsibility.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)