Four law enforcement heroes made abundantly clear at Tuesday’s inaugural hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol why this inquiry is essential and why so many Republicans wanted to keep it from happening.

Their dramatic, heartfelt testimony also made an airtight case that right-wing extremism is a clear and present danger to the United States.

“What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know so many of my fellow citizens, including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened,” D.C. police officer Michael Fanone said.

“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” he went on, “but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell actually wasn’t that bad.”

His next point was devastating as a commentary on what large sections of the Republican Party are committed to doing — and in its accuracy.

“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” he said, “nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny events of that day. And in doing so betray their oath of office.”

Yes, they do.

At Tuesday’s hearing, D.C. police officers Fanone and Daniel Hodges, Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell made clear why so many Republicans want us to forget what happened on Jan. 6.

Republicans don’t want us to focus on “the hit man,” in Dunn’s resonant phrase.

They want to let Donald Trump off the hook.

And they resolutely do not want to do what Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) rightly said the committee must do: try to account for “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.”

A thorough investigation of what happened will necessarily be an inquiry into the right-wing extremism that is bleeding into the mainstream of the Republican Party. The best among the Republicans know how dangerous this is for their party and the country. Unfortunately, they do not currently have the upper hand in the GOP, which is why Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) were named to the committee by a Democratic House speaker, not by their own leadership.

That both acquitted themselves with honor, dignity and intelligence served as a rebuke to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his decision to wage political war against them while embracing his party’s far right.

The extremism exposed on Tuesday was inextricably linked to racial backlash and outright racism. Gonell brought this home by noting the politicized inconsistency in the right wing’s attitudes toward the police: thoroughly positive when officers were responding to racial justice protests but not when they were defending democracy and the nation’s lawmakers from attack.

In 2020, Gonell said, the Capitol Police were given “all the support we needed and more” during Black Lives Matter protests. He did not sense the same support before Jan. 6.

“Why the different response?” he asked.

With four words, he opened up a moral inquiry the nation must undertake.

“There are some who expressed outrage when someone simply kneeled for social justice during the national anthem,” Gonell said. “Where are those same people expressing outrage to condemn the violent attack on law enforcement officers, the U.S. Capitol and our American democracy?”

Where indeed?

The double standard was underscored by Hodges, who spoke of the flags carried by the rioters, including a Christian flag, and another: “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.”

And there was nothing subtle about the racism confronted by Dunn, who testified that the rioters repeatedly addressed him with an unprintable racial epithet. “Other Black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6,” he said.

Trump has described the crowd that gathered to hear him speak before the attack as “loving.” Asked about this by Cheney, Gonell replied: “I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day.” The officer added that the former president’s comments were “a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he helped to create, this monstrosity.”

What happened on Jan. 6 was monstrous, the product of a dangerous, anti-democratic sickness haunting parts of the American right. This is the sort of event that a free nation must come to terms with, not ignore; investigate, not sweep under the rug; and understand, not dismiss as a one-off display of violence. That’s why this committee’s work is so important.

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