[NFA] A Congressional hearing into the January 6 Capitol riot heard its first witnesses as four police officers described battling a mob of Trump supporters intent on stopping…
[NFA] A Congressional hearing into the January 6 Capitol riot heard its first witnesses as four police officers described battling a mob of Trump supporters intent on stopping Congress from certifying the 2020 election results. This report produced by Zachary Goelman. This video contains racist and explicit language.
The US congressional committee set up to investigate the Capitol riot held its first hearing in Washington D.C. today.
The select committee heard from four witnesses: Capitol Police officers Harry Dunn and Aquilino Gonell, and Metropolitan Police officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges.
On January 6, all four men were among the law enforcement forces defending the Capitol from a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters, who were trying to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Mr Hodges is the officer who was filmed being crushed in a doorway, screaming in pain, as part of the mob tried to force entry to the building.
Mr Fanone was swarmed by rioters, dragged down the Capitol steps, shocked with a stun gun and beaten. He suffered a heart attack and a concussion.
The crowd tried to steal his service weapon, and one of the rioters was heard yelling: “Kill him with his own gun!” He survived by shouting that he was a father, which prompted some members of the mob to help him to safety.
“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,” Mr Fanone told the hearing today.
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them, and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell actually wasn’t that bad.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
‘This n***** voted for Biden’
Mr Dunn, an African-American officer, described the racial abuse he copped after telling the rioters he had voted for Mr Biden.
“I told them to just leave the Capitol, and in response they yelled, ‘No man, this is our house. President Trump invited us here. We are here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not the president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden,’” he recounted.
“I’m a law enforcement officer, and I do my best to keep politics out of my job, but in this circumstance I responded, ‘Well I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?’
“That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that guys? This n***** voted for Joe Biden.’
“Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming. ‘Boo, f***ing n*****.’ No one had ever, ever called me a n***** while wearing the uniform.
“In the days following the attempted insurrection, other black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6. One officer told me he had never, in his entire 40 years of life, been called a n***** to his face, and that streak ended on January 6.
“Yet another black officer later told me he had been confronted by insurrectionists inside the Capitol, who told him: ‘Put your gun down and we’ll show you what kind of n***** you really are.’”
The committee’s investigation has already been marred by politics.
Back in May, Republicans in the Senate blocked the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot and the events surrounding it. That commission would have been staffed by an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.
Unable to proceed with that idea, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead created a select committee, with seven Democratic members and two Republicans.
Both Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, are taking part against the wishes of their party’s leadership, which has labelled the investigation a partisan “sham”.
During his testimony, Mr Dunn responded to that argument.
“There’s been a sentiment that’s gone around that says, ‘Everybody’s trying to make January 6 political.’ Well it’s not a secret that it was political,” he said.
“So when people say it shouldn’t be political: it is! It was, and it is. There’s no getting around that.
“Telling the truth shouldn’t be hard. Fighting on January 6, that was hard. Showing up January 7, that was hard.
“Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are being lauded as courageous heroes, and while I agree with that notion, why? Because they told the truth? Why is telling the truth hard? I guess in this America, it is.
“Us four officers, we would do January 6 all over again. We wouldn’t stay home because we knew it was going to happen. That’s courageous. That’s heroic.
“So what I ask from you is to get to the bottom of what happened.”
He compared Mr Trump, whose lies about the election being “rigged” against him drew his supporters to Washington, to someone who hires a hitman.
“If a hitman is hired, and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail. But not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired them does,” said Mr Dunn.
“There was an attack carried out on January 6, and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that. Thank you.”
Here are the last two minutes of Officer Harry Dunn’s powerful testimony. Just watch. pic.twitter.com/kcI4K0uKuu
— The Recount (@therecount) July 27, 2021
‘You will die on your knees’
Mr Hodges told the committee one of the rioters had tried to “build a rapport” with him, asking: “Are you my brother?”
“Another took a different tack, shouting: ‘You will die on your knees,’” he said.
That was before he got trapped in the doorway, an ordeal he went on to describe in detail.
“I was essentially defenceless, and gradually gaining injury from the pressure of the mob.
“A man seized the opportunity of my vulnerability, grabbed the front of my gas mask and used it to beat by head against the door.”
The same man eventually ripped off Mr Hodges’ mask, then seized his baton and beat him over the head with it.
“I knew I couldn’t sustain much more damage and remain upright. At best, I would collapse and be a liability to my colleagues. At worst, be dragged out into the crowd and lynched.
“Unable to move and signal to the officers behind me that I needed to fall back, I did the only thing that I could, and screamed for help. Thankfully my voice was heard.”
Mr Dunn’s colleagues helped him fall back, briefly. After recovering, he returned to the fight.
This is the scene officer Daniel Hodges is describing
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) July 27, 2021
Mr Gonell took direct aim at Mr Trump, saying the former president was personally responsible for the attack.
Asked about Mr Trump’s description of the crowd at his rally on January 6 as “loving” (he’s previously claimed rioters were “hugging and kissing” law enforcement, the police officer was scornful.
“It’s upsetting. It’s a pathetic excuse for his behaviour, for something that he himself helped create, this monstrosity,” said Mr Gonell.
“I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day.
“It’s insulting. It’s demoralising. Everything we did was to stop people in the Capitol from getting hurt. And what he was doing, instead of sending the military, the support, or telling his supporters to stop this nonsense, he egged them on.
“All of them were telling us, ‘Trump sent us.’ Nobody else. It was not Antifa, it was not Black Lives Matter, it was not the FBI. It was his supporters that he sent. He could have done a lot of things.
“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand-to-hand, inch by inch.”
At one point he could feel himself “losing oxygen”.
“I recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,’” he said.
“There are some who express outrage when someone kneels while calling for social justice,” he added, alluding to criticism of athletes for kneeling during the national anthem.
“Where are those same people expressing the outrage to condemn the violent attack on law enforcement, the Capitol, in our democracy? I’m still waiting.
“We are not asking for medals or recognition. We simply want justice and accountability.”
‘We must know what happened’
Ms Cheney, the ranking Republican on the committee, took an implicit swing at her own party’s leadership in her opening statement.
“Every one of us here voted for, and would have preferred, that these matters be investigated by an independent, nonpartisan commission, composed of five prominent Americans chosen by each party,” said Ms Cheney.
“It was defeated by Republicans in the Senate. And that leaves us where we are today.
“We cannot leave the violence of January 6 and its causes uninvestigated. The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for January 6. We must know what happened here at the Capitol.
“We must also know 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.
“If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system.
“We will face the threat of more violence in the months to come, and another January 6 every four years.
“We must overcome the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts.”
Every other member of the committee gave a comparable monologue. We won’t run through all of them, but it’s worth mentioning Ms Cheney’s lone fellow Republican, Mr Kinzinger, who broke down in tears as he addressed the witnesses.
“You guys may, individually, feel a little broken,” said Mr Kinzinger.
“But you guys won. You guys held. You know, democracies are not defined by our bad days. We’re defined by how we come back from bad days. How we take accountability.
“And for all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple. It’s to find the truth and it’s to ensure accountability.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tears up speaking to testifying officers during 1/6 hearing:
“For all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple. It’s to find the truth and it’s to ensure accountability.” pic.twitter.com/EF69elxm7C
— The Recount (@therecount) July 27, 2021
Trump denounces the investigation
In a statement issued before today’s hearing, Mr Trump labelled the select comittee’s investigation “fake” and “highly partisan”.
He blamed Ms Pelosi the scenes on January 6. There is a belief on the right, espoused by some Republican politicians, that the Speaker denied a request for National Guard troops to be stationed at the Capitol two days before the insurrection.
There isn’t any evidence for that theory at the moment. If any such proof exists, it will presumably come up during the committee’s investigation.
“Nancy Pelosi is spending a great deal of time, effort, and money on the formulation of a fake and highly partisan January 6 committee,” Mr Trump said.
“Will Nancy investigate herself and those on Capitol Hill who didn’t want additional protection, including more police and National Guard, therefore being unprepared despite the large crowd of people that everyone knew was coming?
“Will Nancy and her committee study the massive voter fraud that took place during the 2020 presidential election, particularly in swing states, that was the reason hundreds of thousands of people came pouring into Washington and, therefore, must be a big factor in the final committee report?”
We’ve been through this before, but I’m obligated to note that Mr Trump and his allies never produced a shred of credible evidence to back up his claims of widespread voter fraud.
The former president challenged the election results in court. His claims were heard by a long line of judges, many of whom were conservatives appointed by Mr Trump himself.
Those lawsuits were thrown out, and judges repeatedly berated Mr Trump’s legal team for offering no proof to support his allegations.
Don’t take my word for it. Here is the judgment written by Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee, on behalf of the conservative Third District Court Appeals. It’s representative of the post-election period.
Back to Mr Trump’s statement.
“Will Nancy release the thousands of hours of tapes so we can see the extent to which Antifa and Black Lives Matter played a role, while also revealing who killed Ashli Babbitt? A real and thorough investigation of this must be done,” he continued.
“And what about all of the violence, murders, riots and fires that took place in Democrat-run cities throughout the United States by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, with virtually no consequence for this death and destruction?”
Several hundred of those protests did descend into violence. However a study found 93 per cent of the demonstrations were peaceful.
As FBI Director Christopher Wray has previously testified, there is no evidence whatsoever that Antifa or Black Lives Matter “played a role” on January 6.
Ms Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was among the Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol. A police officer shot her as she tried to force her way through a barricaded door and enter the Speaker’s Lobby, which is adjacent to the House of Represenatatives chamber.
At the time of the shooting, police were still in the process of evacuating members of Congress from the chamber.
Prosecutors from the US attorney’s office decided the officer had no case to answer.
Mr Trump has spent the past couple of months demanding that authorities publicly reveal the officer’s name. He has called Ms Babbitt an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman”.
Again, back to the statement.
“Will Nancy look into the vicious partisan investigations of conservatives and Republicans that are taking place by prosecutors all over the country?” Mr Trump asked.
“The five-year investigation of me, and all that so many have been through, including the fake Russia, Russia, Russia charge, and including the Democrat-controlled New York prosecutors who work around the clock to get President Donald Trump, while murderers, drug dealers and human traffickers go free!”
It is unclear which “vicious partisan investigations” Mr Trump was referring to. If these investigations are indeed happening “all over the country”, perhaps he would care to cite an example next time.
His problem with the prosecutors in New York is more obvious: they have charged the Trump Organisation and its long-serving chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg over an alleged scheme to defraud the state by falsifying business records.
Back in Washington, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger has praised the four officers for taking part in the hearing.
“I am proud of the officers who had the courage to share their stories in front of the select committee and our entire country to describe the horrors and heroism on January 6,” Chief Manger said.
“I am equally proud of everyone in this department and our partner agencies who fought like hell to preserve our democracy.”