The first four witnesses in today’s opening hearing into the 1/6 Capitol attack — DC Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone, alongside Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell — took their seats a little after 9:00 am Eastern time. A few minutes before, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan and a handful of other congressional Republicans had just finished a press conference in which they blamed Speaker Pelosi for what went down last January.
It’s that kind of day, week, however long these hearings take. By muffing his little stunt trying to foist the unserious Jordan onto the committee, McCarthy created a situation in which the only two Republicans on the panel are no longer under his control. McCarthy has no means of disrupting the hearings, so you can expect he and his minions will run around waving their arms and screaming, anything to distract from the conversation taking place in that hearing room. If today was any indication, it will not work.
Those two Republicans — Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney — have been working diligently with Democrats on the committee since they were named to it, no doubt another detail that’s infuriating for McCarthy. The minority leader’s immediate response was to call the two co-operating GOP House members “Pelosi Republicans,” which… yeah. One of those days.
Both Kinzinger and Cheney have emphasized the need for “facts” (from Kinzinger, who has spread lies about abortion, LGBTQ rights and Iran, to name a few) and the need to “rise above politics” (from Cheney, whose Republican hawkishness spurred the way toward ongoing war, in the model of her father Dick Cheney). Neither of these people will be redeemed by their presence on the committee — far from it — but today their presence was something of a relief, given the alternative.
Chairman Thompson has made it clear that no person or topic will be off limits during these hearings, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has signaled the Justice Department will not interfere with subpoenas sent to former Trump officials, so a number of familiar names may find themselves called to testify.
Sgt. Gonell spoke after Thompson and Cheney, raw with emotion. The story he told was harrowing. “What we were subjected to that day was like something from a Medieval battle,” said Gonell. “We fought hand to hand.” He expected to die guarding the doorway where he and his fellow officers clashed with the rioters.
Officer Fanone spoke next. His was a familiar face, as he has appeared on the news channels multiple times to tell his story, and to scald congressional Republicans for insulting the truth of 1/6. His fury was likewise palpable as he described being tasered on the back of the skull, of getting beaten ruthlessly, and of nearly being killed by his own service weapon as the crowd chanted, “Kill him with his own gun!”
“The indifference shown to my colleagues [by Republicans who deny the facts of the day] is DISGRACEFUL,” Fanone roared at one juncture, pounding the table loud enough to make the room jump. Following Fanone was Officer Hodges, who recounted his similar experiences with a brittle calm. Of the three, Hodges was the most unsparing in his clear declaration that the mob which attacked him was by, for and with Donald Trump.
Hodges, too, wept during his testimony when he reached the portion of his story recounting his close brush with death when he got caught between the two masses of fighting bodies. Most who have followed this story since January will recognize Hodges; he was the officer screaming for help as a man “foaming at the mouth” battered him in his helplessness and tore off his gas mask.
Officer Dunn opened his testimony with a request for a moment of silence for Brian Sicknick, one of the Capitol Police officers who died after the attack. Dunn — the officer who was captured on camera leading rioters away from vulnerable Congress members — laid out the evident tactical planning that went into the attack, the deliberate coordination of forces for the specific purpose of sacking the Capitol and disrupting the certification of the election.
Dunn recounted the torrent of racial abuse he absorbed from the mob, and shared that other Black officers he later spoke to had similar experiences to recount. Dunn quoted McCarthy’s searing criticism of Trump, spoken immediately after the attack was over, a vivid counterpoint to the minority leader’s abrupt about-face.
As we recognize the weight of these witness statements, we are by no means asserting the righteousness of the police or policing; we’re simply sharing the words of those impacted by this right-wing attack. All of us must simultaneously hold the fact that there were police officers involved in the January 6 attack, and that white supremacy — which drove so many of the Capitol attackers — also drives the core of policing.
Meanwhile, it is easy enough to see why Republicans want to thwart these hearings, if today is any indication of what is to come. January 6 was a Trump riot, a Republican riot, and the four witnesses today made no equivocation on that score. If it hasn’t happened already, I’m betting McCarthy will be getting an angry call from the Beast of Bedminster. Fortunately for democracy, all McCarthy and Trump can do is watch like the rest of us.