‘A Hit Man Sent Them’: Police Officers Testify to the Violence Done on January 6

‘A Hit Man Sent Them’: Police Officers Testify to the Violence Done on January 6

‘A Hit Man Sent Them’: Police Officers Testify to the Violence Done on January 6

Four officers told a House Select Committee what they saw. They called it an “attempted coup” and “terrorism” and blamed Donald Trump. And so should we all.

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I wondered whether Tuesday’s hearing by the House Select Committee on January 6, featuring four police officers who were attacked that day, could reveal much to those of us who’ve paid close attention—read (almost) every story, watched (almost) every video—to the Trump-inspired insurrection that day.

I was wrong to wonder.

First, it ought to change what we call it. I’ve stopped at “insurrection.” These brave officers called it an “attempted coup” and “terrorism,” and the people behind it “traitors.” Several talked about the rampant racism they witnessed. They also blamed the disgraced, twice-impeached former President Donald Trump.

As Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn put it: “If a hit man is hired and he kills somebody, the hit man goes to jail. But not only does the hit man go to jail, but the person who hired him does.” Dunn added, “I want you to get to the bottom of that.”

Given the testimony we heard today about the terrorists’ shouting, “Trump sent us!” and “Trump invited us”—also a common thread among those now trying to defend themselves from prosecution—it was clear whom Dunn was talking about.

For me, Dunn’s analogy cut through all the noise. But there were other clarifying and enraging moments. The four officers—Dunn, his Capitol Police colleague Aquilino Gonell, and Metropolitan Police officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges—created a searing, unforgettable record of what went on that day. Videos played by committee members helped, but the men’s emotion, and occasionally rage, was in some ways more affecting.

Here is a partial list of the weapons they said were used against them by the “tourists” (as the invaders were described by GOP Representative Andy Clyde, who was seen on January 6 looking terrified and helping push furniture up against the House doors): tasers, rocks, bottles, metal poles, flag poles, bear spray, CS spray, pepper spray, baseball bats, hockey sticks, crutches, an audio speaker, a sledgehammer, rebar, table legs, broken furniture, guard fails from the inauguration stage, 4x4s. In one video we heard someone yell: “Get your machete.” Several officers said they could see the “print” of guns in people’s pockets.

Oh, and thumbs: Hodges almost had his eye gouged out by a terrorist’s thumb—and that was before he faced the crowd that almost crushed him between two doors in the infamous and hard-to-watch video.

Gonell, who called the violence “medieval,” remembered thinking, “This is how I’m going to die.” Hodges testified that rioters told him, “You will die on your knees.” Fanone heard “Kill him with his own gun.” Dunn recounted the many racial epithets he heard, and he didn’t use the euphemism “the N-word,” nor should he have, but I will. He remembered hearing someone shout: “Put your gun down, and we’ll show you what kind of [N-word] you really are.”

Hodges used the terms “terrorists” or “terrorism” 15 times and also called the mob “white nationalists.” Representative Jamie Raskin called them “fascist traitors.” GOP Representative Adam Kinzinger lost his composure repeatedly. “You guys may individually feel a little broken, you guys all talk about the effects you have to deal with, and you talk about the impact of that day,” he said, fighting tears. “But you guys won. You guys held.”

Kinzinger also rejected the prevailing House GOP demand that any investigation of January 6 also investigate last summer’s unrest over the murder of George Floyd. “I was called on to serve during the summer riots as an air national guardsman,” the representative said. “I condemn those riots and the destruction of property that resulted. But not once, did I ever feel that the future of self-governance was threatened like I did on January 6th. There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law. Between a crime, even grave crimes, and a coup,”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added the conservative Kinzinger after minority leader Kevin McCarthy tried to saddle the committee with two wing nut sociopaths—Representatives Jim Jordan and Jim Banks. Pelosi rejected their predictable pro-Trump disruption, and McCarthy withdrew the other members he had put forward. Pelosi, who’d already outplayed McCarthy repeatedly, responded by adding Kinzinger, and it was a smart move.

But I don’t want to replay the idiotic Beltway debate over who “won,” or whether today’s testimony will move Republicans. It probably won’t, but it doesn’t matter, as long as the bipartisan—technically, it is!—committee is committed to getting to the bottom of what happened, and who helped orchestrate it, whatever that takes.

I’m leaving out a lot. Watch the whole thing yourself, if you can. Some of the most defining moments came from Fanone, first when he recalled being tased: “I was electrocuted again, and again, and again.” Then when he raised his voice against the disrespect he and the many other injured officers have received from the majority of Republicans.

“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!” he shouted, pounding the table. “Nothing has prepared me for the elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day.”

The hearing closed with an excellent question from Chair Bennie Thompson: What do the four officers want the committee to accomplish? Fanone asked the committee to investigate Trump’s “stop the steal” rally and its “violent political rhetoric,” adding that “the time, the place, and the circumstances of that rally, that rhetoric, and those events to me leads in the direction of our president and other members” of Congress.

“I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this…terrorist attack,” Hodges said. Gonell asked that Capitol Police get more resources to deal with rising threats. And Harry Dunn asked them to bring “the hit man” to justice.

Maybe the most significant development was that Thompson committed to issuing subpoenas to potential witnesses, not just letters asking them to appear voluntarily. We still aren’t sure whether the committee will investigate the people behind the attack—from the White House through Congress and into the vast web of violent white supremacy Trump and friends helped grow—and not merely what happened on January 6.

But that was just day one. Hang on.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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