Tears, terrorism and traumatic brain injuries: The January 6 hearing was raw, emotional and unsettling

·6 min read

“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” DC Police Officer Michael Fanone proclaimed this afternoon, slamming his hand on the table for emphasis. “Nothing has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day and in doing so betray their oath of office.”

In the newly formed Select Committee’s first hearing on the January 6 insurrection, one thing was made resoundingly clear: The Capitol attack was not a “lovefest.” It was not a tourist trip to DC or a collection of patriots peacefully protesting. It was a violent attempt to overthrow American democracy that had a real human cost.

This was a raw, emotional hearing. And it was only elevated by the fact that Republicans and right-wing media have spent months trying to downplay what happened that fateful day.

Tucker Carlson has dedicated hours of Fox News airtime to trying to convince the American public that the insurrection was a nonviolent protest. And multiple prominent Republican lawmakers have joined this chorus of lunacy. Among them is Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), who called the attack a “tourist visit.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has, on multiple occasions, said that what happened was not an insurrection. And during today’s hearing, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) held a press event outside of the DOJ calling for the release of those arrested for sieging the Capitol — a presser that was ended after it was overwhelmed by protesters. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other House Republicans also held a presser where they tried to blame Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) for the attack.

The witnesses in today’s hearing were Capitol police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, DC police officer Michael Fanone, DC police officer Daniel Hodges, and Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. They relayed vivid stories of the horror of January 6, as they were assaulted by the pro-Trump mob seeking to overthrow American democracy.

Chairman of the Select Committee Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) gave an opening statement outlining the events of January 6, but all eyes were on Liz Cheney as she delivered a pretty clear rebuke of her own party’s stance on the riot. Then, we dove into riveting testimony.

Sergeant Gonell, an Iraq War veteran, said nothing could have prepared him for what he encountered on January 6, where he was called a traitor and heard threats of execution from his own fellow citizens. Gonnell is still recovering from the injuries he sustained that day. He fought back tears as he described how his worried family tried to call and text him on multiple occasion during the attack. Referring to the press conference being held outside of the DOJ, he said that Reps. Gaetz, Greene, Gosar, and Gohmert have proven themselves to be “pathetic” and shouldn’t be elected officials anymore.

Then came Officer Michael Fanone, who described how he was pulled into the crowd and had his badge removed. An attacker yelled, “I got one,” as Fanone was repeatedly tased and assaulted. He heard chants of “Kill him with his own gun” while someone tried to wrestle his weapon off him. Fanone was beaten unconscious, and doctors told him after he woke up that he had suffered a heart attack; he was later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

DC Police Officer Daniel Hodges also relayed in robust detail what he saw in the crowd. Hodges repeatedly called the Capitol attackers “terrorists” and the attack itself a “white nationalist insurrection.” He said that some in the mob had tried to recruit him and he also spoke about the hypocrisy of the thin blue line flag he saw at the Capitol attack, the religious symbols, and the use of American flags to beat officers. Hodges was the officer who was crushed against the door frame in the lower tunnel of the Capitol. We learned today that Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) were hiding in a room 40 feet away from where Officer Hodges was holding the line. Rep. Murphy asked Hodges what he was fighting for that day and Hodges simply replied with one word: “Democracy.”

In Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn’s testimony, he spoke in detail about what it was like to be a Black man defending the Capitol that day. Dunn said that a woman in a pink MAGA shirt said of him, “This n****er voted for Joe Biden,” then the crowd began chanting, “Boo f**king n***er.” This wasn’t censored by CNN when I heard it live.

The officers weren’t the only ones who got emotional during the testimony. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) both fought back tears during their lines of questioning. Those bipartisan shows of emotion added to the feeling that this was a hearing unlike any other I’ve seen in Washington DC before.

Indeed, regardless of what McCarthy says, this is a bipartisan committee. The inclusion of Cheney and Kinzinger, and the rejection of Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN), was a smart decision on Pelosi’s part. As a result, the Select Committee received testimony that was untainted by the typical sporadic, distracting, lie-filled lines of questioning from bad-faith Republicans. McCarthy’s withdrawal of all his picks for the Select Committee backfired.

All the officers who testified today discussed the pro-Trump messaging they heard from the mob and explicit statements by rioters who claimed they were sent by Trump. And it is indisputable that racism and anti-democratic sentiments were a driving force at the insurrection. There were Confederate flags. There was a noose. What we saw that day was a modern manifestation of the confederacy — a new Lost Cause.

The majority of Americans already see January 6 as an insurrection, but about 30 percent see it as a patriotic act. Today’s hearing was powerful enough to potentially change some minds, but it’s not clear how many. It was aired on Fox News, including the footage of the attack itself, so many of their viewers just saw a different January 6 than what Fox’s evening anchors have been portraying. Will that make a difference? Not as long as Trump is emboldened by the GOP.

With that, I leave you with Officer Harry Dunn’s call to action at the end of the hearing when he was asked what the Select Committee should do next: ”If a hitman is hired, and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to the jail. But not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired them does. There was an attack carried out on January 6 and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”

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