Officer describes riot front line as ‘meat grinder’
A special House panel convened to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol has heard testimony from four of the police officers overrun by the mob of former President Donald Trump supporters seeking to disrupt certification of the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.
The seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee were selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has refused to seat Republican members after Pelosi vetoed two of his choices.
The panel hasn’t announced how many hearings it will hold or the length of the investigation, raising the prospect of the probe continuing while both parties prepare for the pivotal 2022 elections to decide control of the House and Senate.
D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges described being called a “traitor” and being told he was “on the wrong team” as he and others fought to defend the Capitol from a violent mob shouting “USA! USA!.”
“The sea of people was punctuated by flags,” Trump flags and American flags, he said. One person wore a shirt that said, “God, Guns and Trump.”
Hodges said one rioter tried to gouge his eye, another kicked him in the chest while trying to take his baton. Hodges and another officer disarmed another rioter who was wielding a large hunting knife.
Later, Hodges, stripped of his radio, said he and others did not know “terrorists” had gained entry into the building. Eventually, he said, “It was my time in the meat grinder that was the front line.”
Hodges was slammed by a man, trapped between a shield on his left and a metal doorframe on his right.
'Screamed for help'
As he was stuck there, Hodges said one rioter struck him on the head, and stripped away his gas mask. “Heave, ho!” he heard from the crowd, as people continued to push forward crushing him in the door.
“I did the only thing I could do - and I screamed for help,” he said. “Thankfully, my voice was heard” by other officers.
D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone told lawmakers that “nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me” to address elected officials who continue to deny or downplay what happened on January 6.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” said Fanone, pounding his fist onto the desk.
Fanone talked about the bravery of those he saw that day, and described fighting at a West Terrace tunnel area, where he said thousands of people were pushing forward against 30 officers. He said he was nearly killed when he joined the fight that day.
He said he was dragged from the line of officers and into the crowd, and heard someone scream: “I got one!”
They ripped off his badge, took his radio, and began to beat him. Fanone said the rioters stripped him of his own firearm, and stung him “again and again with my own Taser.”
At one point, Fanone said he pleaded with his attackers, “I got kids!” He suffered a concussion, heart attack and traumatic brain injury.
A U.S. Capitol Police officer said he and other officers engaged in a desperate battle akin to “something from a medieval battlefield” with an enraged mob that stormed Congress on January 6 seeking to disrupt certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Sergeant Aquilino Gonell testified that he recalled thinking at the time, “This is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance.”
Gonell, who has needed surgeries and physical therapy after injuries sustained that day, told the committee in his prepared statement that some of those in the crowd of Trump supporters used weapons that included hammers, metal bars, knives and batons, along with pepper spray and bear repellent as they broke through police lines. “I vividly heard officers screaming in agony and pain just an arms-length from me,” Gonell said.
They hurled verbal abuse at officers and shouted he should be “executed,” Gonell said. Gonell said he also heard specific threats against the lives of Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence.
Gonell will tell the committee that he believes it is imperative that Congress and the American people learn the truth of what actually occurred, “and that all those responsible are held accountable, particularly to ensure this horrific and shameful event in our history never repeats itself.”
Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney took aim at Trump indirectly in her opening statement, saying the investigation should not be limited to what happened 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,” Cheney, who is taking on the unofficial mantle of ranking Republican on the committee, said.
Across party lines
Cheney, who lost her position earlier this year as the third-ranking House Republican, spoke to the unusual circumstances of her serving on the committee at the request of Pelosi, not her own party.
“I have been a conservative Republican since 1984 when I first voted for Ronald Reagan,” she said. “I have disagreed sharply on policy and politics with almost every Democratic member on this Committee.”
But Cheney stressed the need to “get to the objective truth” of what happened that day.
“Will we adhere to the rule of law, respect the rulings of our courts, and preserve the peaceful transition of power?” she asked. “Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America?”
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson opened the hearing on Tuesday by saying “there’s no place for politics or partisanship in this investigation.”
“We need to understand how and why ‘the Big Lie’ festered,” and how to fix the damage, the Mississippi Democrat said. “It won’t be easy work."
Thompson said much is already known - that the insurrection was a violent attack, that those “who stormed the Capitol wanted to derail the peaceful transfer of power in this country,” and that “the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding.” He said the officers testifying Tuesday are among those who courageously fought to hold the line that day.
“Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it,” Thompson said. “But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.”
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