The House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack had its first hearing on Tuesday, a surprisingly emotional event that featured officers who defended the Capitol that day demanding that Congress investigate former president Trump’s role in inciting the attack.
Both the officers — two Capitol Police, two from the Metropolitan Police Department — and members of Congress broke down in tears at various points as they discussed the trauma of the day and how close things came to being far, far worse.
The hearing — introduced by Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) — marked the first concerted attempt by a special congressional committee to get at the truth of the attack. Here are five main takeaways from the day’s testimony.
The officers want Trump held accountable.
At the end of the hearing, after a grueling three and a half hours of testimony in which the officers discussed how they’re still reeling from the events of the day, all four agreed: former president Trump and those who stoked the myth that the election was stolen must be investigated for their role in the attack.
It was an almost cathartic moment that came after the officers had repeatedly watched videos of themselves being beaten and recounted in detail how they and their colleagues were attacked with weapons that included a cattle prod. The way for them and the country to heal, they said, would be through accountability.
“That is what I am looking for — an investigation of those actions and activities that may have resulted in the events of January 6,” said Michael Fanone of the Metropolitan Police Department. He specified that he wanted Congress to probe “whether there was collaboration between those members, their staff, and these terrorists.”
MPD officer Daniel Hodges, who is famous in part for being videotaped having his mask yanked off during the insurrection and for having his neck squeezed in a door, echoed that sentiment.
“As patrol officers we can only deal with crimes in the street,” Hodges said. The members of Congress, he said, are empowered to address “the crimes that occurred above us, if anyone in power had a role in this, or aided and abetted, prevented the investigation of this terrorist attack.”
Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn likened it to the investigation of an ordered killing. Police don’t just arrest the hitman — they also arrest the person who ordered the hit.
“I want you to get to the bottom of that,” he said.
The officers were bitter that GOPers in Congress betrayed them.
Throughout the hearing, the officers suggested that one of the hardest parts of coping with the aftermath of Jan. 6 was seeing members of Congress that they defended argue that the attack wasn’t so bad, or say that it was perpetrated by someone other than Trump fans — Antifa, or left-wing activists.
Fanone in particular emphasized throughout his testimony that it was members of Congress that he was defending.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful,” he said during his opening remarks, slamming his palm down on the table as he briefly lost composure. “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.”
Hodges, who called the insurrectionists “terrorists,” was asked by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) about comments from Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) that the mob that day were “tourists” on a visit.
“If that’s what American tourists are like I can see why foreign countries don’t like American tourists,” Hodges joked, before reading the statutory definition of domestic terrorism to the panel.
Fanone noted that no members of Congress experienced what he and other officers experienced that day, and emphasized that the tunnel in which one of the worst battles was fought led straight to congressional offices.
“It is not the sort of space where anyone would want to be pulled into hand-to-hand combat with an angry mob, although the narrowness of the hallway provided what was probably the only chance of holding back that crowd from entering your personal offices and the House and Senate Chambers,” he said.
Questions also included Trump’s own efforts to diminish and recast the event.
At one point, officer Aquilino Gonell of the Capitol Police, when asked by Rep. Cheney about Trump’s remarks that it was a “loving crowd,” said: “if that was hugs and kisses, then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him.”
Gonell later apologized for the remark.
The attack’s racial element came to the fore.
Members of Congress on the panel also brought to light one of the most pernicious but also undernoticed elements of the attack: its racial and racist dynamics.
This has become more explicit in recent weeks. Trump, who appears to believe that the officer who killed Ashli Babbitt is a black man, called for him to be “strung up and hung.” Other right-wing politicians have lined up around racial dog whistles about her killing.
But Officer Dunn said explicitly that he and other black officers were called racial epithets during the attack. He recalled an exchange in which rioters told him that nobody voted for Biden, to which he replied that he had.
“One woman in a pink “MAGA” shirt yelled, ‘You hear that, guys, this nigger voted for Joe Biden!’” Dunn told the panel. “Then the crowd, perhaps around twenty people, joined in, screaming ‘Boo! Fucking Nigger!’”
Gonell, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said that rioters told him he “wasn’t even American.”
“They were yelling and saying all these things to me. When I heard that, I wasn’t even thinking about immigration stuff,” he added. Both Dunn and Gonell said that they didn’t fully process the interactions until afterward.
Officers didn’t use their firearms because they thought they would lose in a gunfight.
Much of the hearing revolved around the details of the fighting that day.
Gonell said that he suspected that many of the insurrectionists had firearms with them, in part because he had been trained to recognize the “imprint” that a concealed handgun can make on someone’s clothing.
Both Fanone and Hodges said that they declined to use firearms during the most violent portions of the battle out of a fear that it would lead to both their deaths and those of their fellow officers, and would eventually allow the mob of insurrectionists to enter Congress unimpeded.
“If that turned into a firefight, we would have lost,” Hodges said. “This was a fight we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Fanone repeatedly described being dragged into the crowd and beaten unconscious.
“During the assault, I thought about using my firearm on my attackers. But I knew that if I did that, I would quickly be overwhelmed,” Fanone said. “And that, in their minds, it would provide them with the justification for killing me.”
The bombs succeeded in scrambling the response.
One of the enduring mysteries of the day — as of yet unsolved by federal law enforcement — has been the question of two homemade pipe bombs planted at the RNC and DNC.
They were primed to go off when the attack took place, and were discovered as the mob began to storm the Capitol.
That discovery resulted in a crucial diversion of law enforcement resources, and federal investigations have not yet delivered any charges related to the bomb-planting. Hodges noted that the question of the bombs was on his mind all day, with him wondering whether others in the crowd had explosives with them.
But Dunn provided a detailed and compelling account of the extent to which the bombs succeeded in confusing and scrambling law enforcement’s initial response.
He told the panel that as the crowd advanced on the Capitol, he heard a call go out over the radio for an active bomb at the RNC.
“Around the same time, I started receiving reports on the radio about large crowd movements around the Capitol, coming from the direction of the Ellipse to both the west and east fronts of the Capitol,” he said. “Then I heard urgent radio calls for additional officers to respond to the west side, and an exclamation, in a desperate voice, that demonstrators on the west side had ‘breached the fence!’”