Eugene Goodman shouldn’t be a name most of the nation knows. Had the country been spared the violent insurrection attempt of Jan. 6, Americans would be blissfully unaware of the 40-year-old Capitol Police officer who may well have saved the lives of U.S. lawmakers.
Yet Goodman, we’ve learned, represents the best of America.
In a moment of great consequence, Goodman faced down the mob storming the halls of Congress. He was the officer who baited the insurrections into following him away from the Senate chamber and toward his backup, which moved quickly to detain those hell-bent on thwarting the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
In video widely circulated on social media in the hours after the riot, Goodman found himself alone when the mob swarmed into the building. He told them to stop, but simultaneously backed away recognizing he was outmanned and that they would not heed his commands.
That began about two minutes of a harrowing cat-and-mouse game, that saw Goodman race up the steps near the Senate chamber as the crowd followed in close pursuit. At one point, the insurrectionists were only a few yards from Vice President Mike Pence, who the crowd specifically targeted with chants to hang him for treason, before Goodman led them away.
In a day of “what ifs,” that moment stands out. Capitol Police and Secret Service were trying to evacuate officials to safety. Every moment counted — and Goodman gave them the time they needed to keep a terrible situation from becoming much worse.
During the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, the House managers presented footage that showed Goodman warning Sen. Mitt Romney about the danger, urging the senator to move quickly to avoid the mob. Romney said last week he did not know how close the rioters were to him until he saw the surveillance video.
Again, Goodman shouldn’t have been pressed into this position. But when faced with an unprecedented assault on the seat of federal power, he responded heroically.
Goodman, we now know, has lived a life of service. According to a profile in The Washington Post, he “grew up in Southeast Washington and served in the Army from 2002 to 2006, deploying with the 101st Airborne Division to Iraq for a year … His awards include a combat infantryman badge, indicating he was in ground combat.”
The New York Times reported that Goodman led a 10-man rifle squad that operated in the Sunni triangle area near Baghdad, where American forces engaged in some of the war’s fiercest battles. Those who served with him were not surprised that he rose to the occasion last month.
“He wasn’t prone to anger. As an infantryman, your job is to be violent but it was never his first reaction to use the stick before you use the carrot,” Mark Belda, who served with Officer Goodman in Iraq, told the Times.
Nobody knows what would have happened had the confrontation between Goodman and the rioters turned violent. But on a day that promises to be seared into memory, his swift, measured and courageous response merits a spotlight.
There is much to be angry and frustrated and disappointed with the state of our country right now. We are deeply, perhaps inexorably, divided and too many of us view everything through the lens of politics, favoring what’s right for a party over what’s right for the country.
That was certainly on display last week during the impeachment trial. But senators also paused on Friday to honor Goodman, voting unanimously to award him the Congressional Gold Medal, the legislature’s highest civilian honor.
When faced with the worst America has to offer, Officer Goodman showed courage, bravery and selflessness — the very best of America. If there is something to salvage from that awful day, may it be his heroic example.