The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Police officers beg the country: Do not forget the hell of Jan. 6

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell wipes his eye during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 27. (Jim Bourg/AP)

The first meeting of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was perhaps the least surprising but most important session the panel will hold. As the debate on the facts of Jan. 6 descends into another war of truth vs. partisan lies, riveting testimony from four police officers reminded the nation Tuesday that the riot was an assault on democracy — and that democracy survived because real people put their lives on the line in its defense. This reminder was sadly needed as Republican leaders continue to lie about what occurred.

Republican office holders have claimed that the rioters were peaceful. D.C. police officer Michael Fanone described how “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.”

They have claimed the insurrectionists were mere tourists. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell asked, “How do you call an attack on a police officer a ‘tour’ when you see my bleeding hands, when you see all the officers getting concussions, getting maimed, getting fingers shattered, eyes gouged?”

They have claimed that the insurrectionists were well-meaning patriots. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn recounted how a woman in a pink MAGA shirt screamed at him, “You hear that, guys, this n----- voted for Joe Biden,” eliciting cries of “Boo! F------ n-----!” from a crowd of about 20 people. Sgt. Gonell offered a list of deadly implements the crowd used against officers: “a baseball bat, a hockey stick, a rebar, a flagpole, including the American flag, pepper spray, bear spray.”

They have said the select committee is unnecessary, but the officers begged the panel to press hard for the truth. D.C. police officer Daniel Hodges pointed out that law enforcement can arrest and prosecute perpetrators in specific instances, but Congress’s power to investigate and hold to account is broader. “You guys are the only ones we’ve got to deal with crimes that occur above us. I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this, if anyone in power coordinated or aided and abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack, because we can’t do it.”

As if to confirm his words, some of the most shameless rewriters of history were outside the Capitol on Tuesday, continuing their campaign against the truth. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the violence that former president Donald Trump instigated.

“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room. 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,” Officer Fanone said. “Nothing, truly 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.”

Read more:

Bennie G. Thompson: We have started investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Nothing will be off-limits.

Kay Ivey: The Trump administration gave us the best weapons against covid-19. We should use them.

John M. Barry: What history tells us about the delta variant — and the variants that will follow

Henry Olsen: The extent of Trump’s influence on today’s GOP is about to be revealed

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