The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol kicked off its first high-profile hearing Tuesday with harrowing testimony from officers who experienced firsthand the violent events of that day at the hands of a pro-Trump mob.
The vivid testimony puts witness accounts on the record and a national spotlight on the insurrection, once again forcing a reckoning over the tragic events of January 6 for lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as the American public. Regardless of the testimony’s raw power, entrenched partisan battle lines in the months following the attack and during the shaping of the select committee have ensured that few minds are likely to be changed. Democrats have denounced the Capitol riot as an attack on democracy, while Republicans have almost uniformly downplayed and dismissed the insurrection’s implications, especially former President Donald Trump’s incitement of it.
The committee heard gripping and emotional accounts from four officers – DC Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell – and will use the testimony as a jumping-off point for embarking on a probe that could lead to seeking testimony and documents from the former President, his aides and even Republican members of Congress.
The officers described the horrors they witnessed and endured as rioters stormed the building after Trump incited them to do so, and recounted the assault they faced on January 6 – including being beaten with their own equipment, getting crushed in a doorway, being the target of racial slurs and facing rioters who tased them. Their gripping testimony drove multiple lawmakers on the committee to grow emotional as part of their questioning.
“I never expected today to be quite as emotional for me as it has been” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the committee, who appeared to get choked up during his initial remarks. “I’ve talked to a number of you and gotten to know you.”
The witnesses made clear that the trauma and injury of the insurrection have had long-lasting consequences that they are still struggling to deal with now. They spoke of how painful it has been to see attempts to whitewash the insurrection, including by members of Congress, and called for a rigorous investigation to get to the bottom of what happened to ensure it is never repeated.
“The physical violence we experienced was horrific and devastating,” Gonell told the committee. “My fellow officers and I were punched, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob.”
“I was particularly shocked at seeing the insurrectionists violently attack us with the very American flag that they claimed they sought to protect,” he said.
Fanone said that he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country,” and “was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm as I heard chants of ‘kill him with his own gun.’ I can still hear those words in my head today.”
Taking aim at efforts to rewrite the history of the insurrection, he said, “What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know so many of my fellow citizens, including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened.”
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell isn’t that bad,” Fanone said. Visibly upset, he said, “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Many Republican fmembers of Congress have sought to downplay the insurrection in the weeks and months since it occurred, even some who forcefully denounced the events in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
In one notable example of that, GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde has compared some scenes of the insurrection to a “normal tourist visit.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the other Republican lawmaker serving on the committee alongside Kinzinger, said in her opening remarks, “On January 6 and the days thereafter, almost all members of my party recognized the events of that day for what they actually were,” and then said, “No member of Congress should now attempt to defend the indefensible, obstruct this investigation or whitewash what happened that day.”
In his comments, Kinzinger sought to dismantle misinformation and call out his own party for trying to delegitimize the efforts of the select committee.
“For all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple: it’s to find the truth and it’s to ensure accountability,” Kinzinger said. “Many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic and it’s a disservice.”
‘The task of this committee will require persistence’
The hearing started with a warning from Democratic Chairman Bennie Thompson that “we cannot allow ourselves to be undone by liars and cheaters,” while Cheney, one of two GOP members on the panel, called for prompt enforcement of subpoenas.
“The task of this committee will require persistence,” Cheney said in her opening remarks. “We must issue and enforce subpoenas promptly. We must get to objective truth. We must overcome the many efforts we are already seeing to cover up and obscure the facts.”
In a reference to Trump’s role in January 6, Cheney said it is imperative to “know what happened every minute of the day in the White House. Every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack.”
At the start of the hearing the committee showed video footage with graphic content depicting the violent storming of the Capitol,