‘Downright Disgraceful’ Jan. 6 Deniers Inspired A Capitol Police Officer To Run For Congress

“It’s etched in my mind and it’s downright disgraceful that people would deny what they saw with their own eyes.”
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: U.S. Capitol Police officer Sgt. Harry Dunn testifies before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Cannon House Office Bui... WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: U.S. Capitol Police officer Sgt. Harry Dunn testifies before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC. Members of law enforcement testified about the attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump on the U.S. Capitol. According to authorities, about 140 police officers were injured when they were trampled, had objects thrown at them, and sprayed with chemical irritants during the insurrection. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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On Jan. 6, 2021, as he realized the U.S. Capitol was being overwhelmed by rioters protesting former President Trump’s election loss, Harry Dunn strapped on a 20 pound steel chest plate, grabbed an M4 rifle, and joined the battle to keep the crowds back. Dunn, who was a Capitol Police officer, has been fighting ever since that day and is now attempting a run for Congress. 

“I witnessed those injuries happening to them in real time,” Dunn told TPM of the brutal violence visited upon his colleagues.“People denied what we went through and we saw with our own eyes; individuals with lacerations, limbs being nipped, incapacitated, faces full of bear spray, WD40. Hell, people, were spraying Raid at police officers, throwing all kinds of projectiles.”

In a Wednesday afternoon conversation with TPM, the candidate, who announced his run last week, talked about how it is motivated by a desire to confront right-wing election conspiracies and those who would attempt to deny what he and other members of law enforcement faced that day. 

“It’s seared in my mind,” he said “It’s etched in my mind and it’s downright disgraceful that people would deny what they saw with their own eyes.”

In the three years since the attack, Trump and his allies in Congress have continued to peddle the false claims about the election that helped provoke the riot at the Capitol. They have also attempted to spread conspiracy theories blaming left-wing groups and the FBI for the violence. Some House Republicans have even advocated on behalf of the people who are currently imprisoned for participating in the attack. After being on the front lines during the violence, Dunn was at the forefront of efforts to confront the attempts to deny what had taken place.

Dunn was among a group of law enforcement officers who spoke before the House select committee that investigated the Capitol attack in the months afterward. He testified about the “desperate hand-to-hand fighting” and “torrent of racial epithets” he witnessed on Jan. 6. Following the televised hearing where he delivered an emotional account of the violence and lingering trauma faced by the officers, Dunn continued to tell his story on Capitol Hill and in the pages of a bestselling memoir. Along with eight other law enforcement officers and five local officials who resisted the push to overturn the election, Dunn was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by Joe Biden last year. 

For Dunn, the initial decision to speak up was an easy one. 

“I’ve always been believing that doing the right thing is speaking up when you see something wrong. Period. The question wasn’t, ‘Do I do it?’ It was, ‘When do I do it?’” Dunn explained. 

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 06: Capitol Police Offer Harry Dunn is seen following a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in honor of the US Capitol Police and those who protected the Capitol in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022 in Washington, DC. Bipartisan and bicameral leadership held the ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medals to law enforcement officers who protected the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Dunn has no plan to stop and, now, he is trying to take the fight directly to Congress. After resigning from the Capitol Police last month, Dunn announced a campaign on Jan. 5 to run as a Democrat in this year’s election for Maryland’s third district. Dunn told TPM he hopes to help “saturate Congress with individuals that really push back against the lies.”

“The congressional body is made up of election deniers,” Dunn said. “And I say deniers because they know that the election was legit. … Truth is one of the best disinfectants. Sunlight’s the best disinfectant, and we’ll help continue to debunk the lies.”

The seat Dunn is targeting, which is in the Maryland suburbs between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, was left open after an announcement from longtime Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) that he will not seek re-election. That opportunity in a solidly blue district has attracted a crowded field, including five state lawmakers. Dunn’s efforts to defend the Capitol — and his continued willingness to speak out about that day — make him easily the most high-profile candidate in the field. Dunn has also hit the ground running, bringing on a campaign manager with Hill experience, a national consulting firm, and an eye catching TV ad featuring a dramatic re-enactment of the Capitol attack. 

Dunn is adamant that American democracy is in peril. As evidence, he points to the fact that MAGA Republicans tried to overturn a fair election and that President Trump is currently arguing in court that his former office should grant him lifetime immunity for charges related to provoking the violence.

“He’s still out there fighting to say that what he did, one, he did nothing wrong and, two, that if he did something wrong, he had the right to do it,” Dunn said. “I can’t believe we are literally in a country right now that, before the court a question was asked in all seriousness, could the president send Seal Team 6 to murder a person. … Like, we are really having that discussion at this point in time in America. That should alarm everybody.”

While Dunn was outspoken about the racist abuse he faced on Jan. 6, he does not necessarily see the attack solely through the lens of white supremacist violence. 

“I don’t think Jan. 6 was a racist event … because, me as a Black man and my white co-workers got their butts kicked that day,” Dunn said. “They didn’t discriminate on physical abuse based on skin color. So, I have a hard time saying definitively that it was a racist event. There were a lot of racist people there and that’s what I’m comfortable saying.”

Dunn also believes that the violence against the police that day blew up the right’s claim to “back the blue” and support law enforcement.

“It’s right on course for the lies that they perpetuate. Very simply, it’s just a hashtag and there’s no meaning or anything,” said Dunn. “I think ‘Back The Blue’ should have an asterisk next to it. They only support the blue if they don’t stand in the way of Trump supporters or MAGA supporters.”  

Dunn described the conduct of members of Congress who spread conspiracy theories about the presidential election and Jan. 6 as dangerous and “morally wrong.” However, he is also adamant that it is a part of free speech.

“They are spreading lies, spreading misinformation, which is not illegal,” Dunn explained. “People have the right to say those things. They have the right to say they think the election was stolen. That’s where truth tellers … come into play and that’s why it’s important to saturate Congress with individuals that really push back against the lies.”

For Dunn, it is vital to democracy that voters and the public hear the misinformation called out by others with power — and he wants to be the one to do it. 

“When I was up on the Hill lobbying, I was doing so as an American citizen and they could easily dismiss me,” Dunn said. “I am fighting for a seat at the table where I can’t be dismissed as just some angry guy.” 

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