A special committee of the US House of Representatives charged with probing the January 6 storming of the US Capitol heard testimony Tuesday from four officers who faced off with rioters.
The hearing capped months of debate in Congress over launching an independent, bipartisan investigation modelled after that created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Such a commission was blocked by Senate Republicans in May. Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, announced the House panel in June, composed primarily of Democrats and two Republicans chosen by Pelosi and largely boycotted by Republican leadership.
In an emotional testimony, Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone recounted to the panel how law enforcement were overrun by the rioters egged on by former President Donald Trump and bent on stopping the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
“I was grabbed, beaten, tased – all while be called a traitor to my country,” he said. “I was at risk of being stripped off and killed with my own firearm, as I heard chants of ‘kill him with his own gun.'”
“I could still hear those words in my head today.”
He added he was later told he had suffered a heart attack during the riot, while also being diagnosed with a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.
Fanone angrily lamented that there are Republican members of Congress who are publicly downplaying the violence that he and his fellow officers experienced while fighting off the rioters.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he said, slamming his hand on the table.
US Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, in turn, recounted being called a n—– by rioters.
“No one has ever, ever called me a n—– while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer,” he said, his voice cracking.
Meanwhile, Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell told legislators that rioters had “shouted that I, an army veteran, a police officer, should be executed”.
He remembered trying to help a fellow officer when he was grabbed by the mob, hit repeatedly and almost suffocated.
“What we were subjected to was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a mob content on subverting our democratic process,” he said.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,'” he said.
Five people died during or shortly after the insurrection, including Capitol police officer Brian Sicknik. Dozens of police were wounded.
Tuesday’s hearing comes after Pelosi last week rejected the appointments of two legislators and close Trump allies – representatives Jim Banks and Jim Jordan – to the panel. Democrats argued that the legislators had helped to spread the Trump election misinformation that led to the riot.
Republican leadership has since dismissed the investigation as partisan amid a wider effort to draw attention away from the January 6 riot before the upcoming 2022 midterm congressional elections.
In opening the hearing on Tuesday, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson pledged that the legislators were “going to be guided solely by the facts”.
“There’s no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republican Liz Cheney, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the presidential election was “stolen” and egging on of rioters, noted her disappointment that the independent commission had been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
“The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for January 6,” she said. “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.”
Pelosi appointed Cheney as well as another Republican Trump-critic Adam Kinzinger. Both voted in favour when the House impeached Trump in January on the allegations his actions amounted to incitement of insurrection. He was later acquitted in the Senate.
“We still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight,” Kinzinger said.
“It’s toxic, and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, for the staff and the employees on the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve to truth, and to those generations before us who went to war to defend self-governance. Because self-governance is at stake.”