The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The government we defended last Jan. 6 has a duty to hold all the perpetrators accountable

Officers, from left, Harry Dunn, Daniel Hodges, Michael Fanone and Aquilino Gonell rise to be sworn in as a hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol begins in D.C. on July 27. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Harry Dunn is a private first class and 14-year veteran with the U.S. Capitol Police. Aquilino Gonell is a sergeant and 15-year veteran with the U.S. Capitol Police. The views expressed here are their own.

The calendar says it happened a year ago. But it feels like yesterday. Because for the two of us — U.S. Capitol Police officers who, together with many other officers, defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, from a violent mob of insurrectionists — the wounds from that horrific day persist.

One of us sustained considerable physical injuries, requiring multiple surgeries and prolonged rehabilitation treatment. The other was victimized by pepper spray and tear gas and remains sickened by the vile, racist slurs hurled at him by those who invaded the sanctity of the Capitol building. Both of us continue to experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.

Even more painful, though, is the shocking effort by former president Donald Trump and his acolytes — including some of the members of Congress whom we protected from violence that day — to whitewash what happened. The attack on the Capitol is likely the most documented event in history, memorialized in myriad, indisputable, real-time videos — many taken by the insurrectionists themselves during the attack and posted on the Internet. It is deeply offensive, and a betrayal of all the law enforcement officers who answered the call of duty that day, to suggest that the mob that stormed the Capitol consisted merely of tourists or patriots, or that the attackers were simply keen on “hugging and kissing” us. It wasn’t pacifists peacefully expressing their First Amendment right to protest who assaulted Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick — who died the next day — or who nearly killed D.C. police officer Michael Fanone. We grieve for an America somehow divided over what really transpired on Jan. 6, and we are deeply concerned about the threat of future political violence that continues to hover over our democracy.

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What we want — indeed, what we demand for ourselves and our fellow officers — is accountability for the events of Jan. 6. We are grateful to the Justice Department for undertaking scores of criminal prosecutions of the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol and inflicted injuries on numerous law enforcement officers. And while it is disturbing to see so many rioters receiving light sentences, we are heartened that some judges are going beyond prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations.

But the criminal justice process will not tell the complete story of what happened that day, and why. For that we must rely on the bipartisan House select committee, before which both of us testified in July. It will not be enough to identify and punish only those who physically attacked the Capitol and tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. The American people deserve to know who played any role in planning or financing the events that led to the attack, who failed to take timely action to warn of and prepare for the impending violence, and who failed or refused to send timely reinforcements to defend the Capitol and come to the aid of the officers bearing the brunt of the attack. That’s why it’s critical for the select committee to have unimpeded access to all the information it requires to develop a comprehensive factual record, and to produce a definitive investigative report.

It angers us that some individuals who have specific knowledge of the events of Jan. 6, 2021, are flouting subpoenas issued by the select committee, and we commend the committee for making referrals to the Justice Department to criminally prosecute these individuals for contempt of Congress. We urge the Justice Department not only to bring appropriate prosecutions of those who defy congressional subpoenas, but also to fully investigate whether additional individuals, including current or former government officials, should be held criminally liable for their conduct in connection with the attack on the Capitol.

We and our fellow officers who were wounded physically and psychologically are not the only casualties of that terrible day in American history. The fabric of our nation and our long-standing faith in the durability of our democracy were critically damaged as well. Only when the whole truth is made public and all of the people responsible for the atrocity of Jan. 6 are held to account can true healing begin.