“This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance.”
That was what Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell told House investigators on Tuesday local time, saying he could feel himself losing oxygen as he was crushed by rioters – supporters of former president Donald Trump – while defending the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection.
Four Capitol and DC Metro police officers testified with detailed accounts of the brutal violence, taunts, and racial abuse they faced during the riot
Some officers rebuked Republican politicians who are resisting an investigation into the riot and Donald Trump’s culpability
Democrats hope the hearing will build public support for the probe
The new House select committee opened its first hearing with a focus on the law enforcement officers who were attacked and beaten as the rioters broke into the building — an effort by the panel to put a human face on the violence of the day.
The police officers who testified endured some of the worst of the brutality.
Mr Gonell and other Capitol and Washington police officers gave emotional, sometimes-angry accounts of the attack to the new House committee investigating the day’s violent events.
He wiped away tears as he described hearing other officers screaming in agony and pain just a few feet away from him on January 6.
“We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process.”
Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who rushed to the scene, said he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.”
Doctors later told him he’d had a heart attack.
He said the rioters’ chants to kill him with his own gun are still ringing in his head today.
Rebuking Republican politicians who have resisted the hearings, he added: “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room.”
Frontline officers were beaten and abused with racial slurs as the mob of then-president Trump’s supporters overwhelmed them, broke through windows and doors and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win.
In front of the panel, Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn recalled being racially abused.
“One woman in a pink ‘MAGA’ shirt yelled, ‘you hear that, guys, this n****r voted for Joe Biden!’ Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in, screaming ‘Boo! f***ing n****r!’ No-one had ever, ever — called me a ‘n****r’ while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.”
Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, in his testimony, called the rioters terrorists.
“Terrorists pushed through the line and engaged us in hand-to-hand combat.
“One latched onto my face and got his thumb in my right eye, attempting to gouge it out,” he said.
He said he remembers foaming at the mouth as rioters crushed him between two doors and bashed him in the head with his own weapon, injuring his skull.
Many Republicans have played down the violence that occurred, denouncing the Democratic-led investigation as politically motivated.
Democrats now want to launch the probe by reminding people how brutal it was, and how the law enforcement officers who were sworn to protect the Capitol suffered grave injuries at the hands of the rioters.
The probe will examine not only Mr Trump’s role in the insurrection but the right-wing groups involved in coordination before the attack and the security failures that allowed hundreds of people to breach the Capitol.
Some of those who broke in were calling for the deaths of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then vice-president Mike Pence, who was hiding just feet away from the mob.
Shortly after the insurrection, almost every Republican denounced the violent mob — and Mr Trump himself, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat.
But many have softened their tone in recent months and weeks.