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“To Hell and Back”: At Jan. 6 Hearing, Officers Describe Facing Brutal Attacks & Racial Slurs

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We speak with Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, about emotional testimony from four police officers who were attacked by violent and racist Trump supporters while defending the Capitol. At the opening of the House select committee hearing on the January 6 insurrection, the officers described facing down the rioters, being beaten with fists and makeshift weapons, as well as being called racial slurs and accused of treason by the pro-Trump crowds. “The fact that you had law enforcement officers from all backgrounds and walks of life who were being … treated in that manner is another example of white supremacy,” says Johnson.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The House of Representatives select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol held its first hearing Tuesday and heard testimony from four police officers who were attacked by Trump supporters while defending the Capitol.

The committee is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans — Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — both of whom voted to impeach Trump for his role in instigating the assault on the Capitol. Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled all his recommended committee members — five of them — after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vetoed two of his picks.

U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell spoke first. During the insurrection, he was beaten with a flagpole and attacked with chemical spray. Gonell is a Dominican immigrant who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq.

SGT. AQUILINO GONELL: What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process. My fellow officers and I were committed to not letting any rioters breach the Capitol. It was a prolonged and desperate struggle. The rioters attempting to breach the Capitol were shouting, “Trump sent us. Pick the right side. We want Trump.” I vividly heard officers screaming in agony, in pain, just an arm length from me. I didn’t know at that time, but that was Officer Hodges, and he’s here today to testify. I, too, was being crushed by the rioters. I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, “This is how I’m going to die,” defending this entrance.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell testifying Tuesday before the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. During his testimony, Gonell referenced D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges, who also testified at the hearing describing how Trump supporters almost crushed him to death.

DANIEL HODGES: On my left was a man with a clear riot shield stolen during the assault. He slammed it against me and, with all the weight of the bodies pushing behind him, trapped me. My arms were pinned and effectively useless. Trapped against either the shield on my left or the doorframe on my right, with my posture granting me no functional strength or freedom of movement, I was effectively defenseless and gradually sustaining injury from the increasing pressure of the mob.

Directly in front of me, a man seized the opportunity of my vulnerability, grabbed the front of my gas mask and used it to beat my head against the door. He switched to pulling it off my head, the straps stretching against my skull and straining my neck. He never uttered any words I recognized, but opted instead for guttural screams. I remember him foaming at the mouth. He also put his cellphone in his mouth so that he had both hands free to assault me. Eventually he succeeded in stripping away my gas mask, and a new rush of exposure to CS and OC spray hit me.

The mob of terrorists were coordinating their efforts now, shouting “Heave! Ho!” as they synchronized pushing their weight forward, crushing me further against the metal doorframe. The man in front of me grabbed my baton, that I still held in my hands, and in my current state, I was unable to retain my weapon. He bashed me in the head and face with it, rupturing my lip and adding additional injury to my skull.

AMY GOODMAN: That was D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges. And this is Mike Fanone, who is also an officer with the D.C. Metropolitan Police. He suffered a heart attack after being beaten by Trump supporters.

MICHAEL FANONE: At some point during the fighting, I was dragged from the line of officers and into the crowd. I heard someone scream, “I got one!” As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge. They grabbed and stripped me of my radio. They seized ammunition that was secured to my body. They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like hard metal objects.

At one point, I came face to face with an attacker, who repeatedly lunged for me and attempted to remove my firearm. I heard chanting from some in the crowd: “Get his gun!” and “Kill him with his own gun!” I was aware enough to recognize I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm. I was electrocuted again and again and again with a Taser.

I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice. My body camera captured the violence of the crowd directed toward me during those very frightening moments. It’s an important part of the record for this committee’s investigation and for the country’s understanding of how I was assaulted and nearly killed as the mob attacked the Capitol that day.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officer Mike Fanone testifying Tuesday. U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn describes the racist abuse he and other Black officers encountered January 6th.

HARRY DUNN: More and more insurrectionists were pouring into the area by the Speaker’s Lobby near the Rotunda, and some wearing MAGA hats and shirts that said “Trump 2020.” I told them to just leave the Capitol. And in response, they yelled, “No, man. This is our house! President Trump invited us here. We’re here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not the president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden.”

I’m a law enforcement officer, and I do my best to keep politics out of my job. But in this circumstance, I responded, “Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?” That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, “You hear that, guys? This [bleep] voted for Joe Biden.” Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in, screaming, “Boo! [bleep]!” No one had ever, ever called me a [bleep] while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.

In the days following the attempted insurrection, other Black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6. One officer told me he had never, in his entire 40 years of life, been called a [bleep] to his face, and that streak ended on January 6. Yet another Black officer later told me he had been confronted by insurrectionists in the Capitol who told him, “Put your gun down, and we’ll show you what kind of [bleep] you really are.”

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, as he continually used the N-word, saying he had consciously decided to say what the people said to him, the rioters that day.

We’re joined now by Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, which sued Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection, citing the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. He’s joining us from Jackson, Mississippi.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Derrick Johnson. Can you respond to the hearings yesterday, the significance of them, and then talk about your lawsuit?

DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, powerful words. You heard individuals who were sworn to uphold and protect the law. And they did that on January 6, in the face of a mob that was encouraged by then-President Trump and many others to — in an attempted coup, an insurrection, a treasonous act. And what we heard yesterday was an account, firsthand, unvarnished, by those law enforcement officers. I commend them for their courage, their bravery, as this commission must get to the bottom of who was behind this and hold people accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Derrick Johnson, you have tweeted that, quote, “If it were Black people storming the Capitol on January 6th, the walls would have been dripping in blood. Not only was it an attempted coup on our democracy, it was white supremacy in plain sight.” Could you talk about that?

DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, you think about the many things that have happened over the last several years, in fact, over the last several decades, where unprovoked violence have been put upon African Americans across the country, whether it was what we witnessed with Rodney King, the killing of Emmett Till, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery. Many of those incidents were done by law enforcement officers or encouraged and protected by law enforcement officers. That’s about race.

What we’ve seen yesterday was a level of white supremacist privilege that individuals felt that they had the agency, the authority to go to the nation’s Capitol to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in a way in which they had — they were entitled to certain rights. The fact that you had law enforcement officers from all backgrounds and walks of life who were being called and treated in that manner is another example of white supremacy. Me, as a Black man, cannot, will not go to a law enforcement officer and take one’s badge, take one’s ammunition, hit with a stick, and expect to survive, to live, because that’s not our reality. And so, that was an example of white supremacy in its most raw, ugliest form. And white supremacy and democracy cannot coexist. Those two things are in absolute contradiction of one another, and we must address it in this country once and for all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And after the January 6th insurrection, the NAACP sued Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Your lawsuit claims that both men violated the Ku Klux Klan Act. Could you lay out what is that act? And also, what is your lawsuit saying?

DERRICK JOHNSON: Well, after the conclusion of the Civil War, and members of Congress was working to bring this country back together, they realized that many members were being threatened when they went back to their home districts and being threatened as they carried out their duty. So, that was an act adopted to protect members of Congress so they can carry out their duty to uphold and support the Constitution. And in that, the act of 1871, they built in there protections against mob violence and racialized groups, like what we’ve seen on January 6. And it became known as the KKK Act because that was one of the leading white supremacist groups at the time in 1871.

We filed, representing members of Congress who were simply carrying out their duty on January 6. And this mob, at the encouragement of President Trump, we believe, Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys, Three Percenters and many others, was seeking to stop the peaceful transfer of governance, stop individuals from carrying out their duties as members of Congress, and as a result, a direct violation of that act. We must hold people accountable. Domestic terrorism in this country has always been around white supremacist activity. And as an African American who understand history, as African Americans who live in the South, we know if you allow domestic terrorism, white supremacist activity to go unaccounted for, we are guaranteed to see more incidents of violence and disruption.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Congressmember Jamie Raskin questioning officer Daniel Hodges.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Why do you call the attackers “terrorists”? And what do you think about our colleagues who think we should call them “tourists”?

DANIEL HODGES: Well, if that’s what American tourists are like, I can see why foreign countries don’t like American tourists.

AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could comment, overall, on what’s going to happen next and how this lawsuit will play in? Interestingly, the chair of the committee, Bennie Thompson, was a part of the lawsuit but had to drop out so that he could continue to chair this committee.

DERRICK JOHNSON: Right. We wanted to make sure, and definitely Congressman Thompson wanted to make sure, there was no perceived or real conflicts of interest. The importance of this commission is profound. They have subpoena power. They would do what we should have already done. If this was a foreign terrorist act, we would have had a commission already established. We would be getting to the bottom of it. We would be declaring war, in some cases, against those who were involved and to make sure it will never happen again.

Domestically, we must do the same. We must investigate and allow that investigation to take us to where it lead us, hold all individuals accountable, to ensure we root out this type of treasonous activity. We cannot promote ourselves globally to be the leading democracy in the world if we are doing domestically this type of harm in our existence, whether it is changing the rules around voting in Texas or Georgia, whether it is trying to identify who should be considered legitimate citizens or not. But more importantly, if there’s a scenario where, in this case, people are committing a treasonous act, we must stand united in this moment to ensure we protect our democracy.

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