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Officers from the frontlines of the 6 January Capitol riot have expressed frustration at Republican members of Congress for downplaying the nature of the insurrection and blamed former President Donald Trump for inciting it.
Officers Harry Dunn, Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, and Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone spoke about their experiences trying to protect lawmakers from rioters who sought to overturn the election results as Congress sought to certify them.
Mr Dunn and other officers, speaking at the first public hearing of the Select Committee to investigate the 6 January riot, were also quick to blame Mr Trump for whipping up the crowd, provoking them to go to Capitol.
“When a hitman is hired and kills someone, not just the hitman goes to jail,” he said. “The guy who hires them does. There was an attack carried out on 6 January and a hitman sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
Mr Gonnell compared the day to his time in Iraq.
“My time, compared to Iraq, totally different,” he said. “This is our own citizens, people who we’ve sworn an oath to protect, yet they’re attacking us with the same flag they claim to represent.”
Mr Fanone delivered a particularly fiery testimony, criticising conservative members of Congress whom he had tried to protect for attempting to downplay the events.
“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” Mr Fanone said during his opening statement, acknowledging that he expects to be in danger in his job. “But nothing, truly 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.”
Mr Dunn said before then he had never seen anyone assault Capitol police officers, and saw people using weapons. He also said rioters told him nobody voted for President Joe Biden, to which he said he voted for Mr Biden and in turn led them to call him the N-word, which had never happened to him before.
“In the days following the attempted insurrection, other Black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on 6 January,” he said. Conversely, Mr Hodges, who is white, said rioters tried to recruit him to their cause.
“One of them came up to me and said ‘are you my brother,’” Mr Hodges said.
Throughout much of the hearing, members of the committee replayed images from the riot and insurrection, including moments the officers themselves experienced. At the same time, plenty of them praised the officers for their actions.
“Long after you are gone, you will be remembered as heroes to our country along with your fellow officers,” Rep Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who could be heard talking about the fact his daughter was in the Capitol on the day of the riot, told the officers. “Those who attacked you and beat you are fascist traitors to our country, and will be remembered forever as fascist traitors.”
Similarly, after Rep Stephanie Murphy of Florida played video of Mr Hodges’ experiences, she said she and Rep Kathleen Rice of New York were only feet away from them hiding from the rioters because the basement was a safe choice.
“And it turned out, we ended up at the centre of the storm,” she said. “Imagine if they had caught the two members of congress that were just 40 feet from where you all were.”
Similarly, Rep Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a Republican who was added to the committee after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled his members from the committee, praised the officers through tears.
“You guys talk about the effects you have to deal with and you talk about the impact of that day. But you guys won,” Mr Kinzinger, a US Air Force veteran who now serves in the Air National Guard, said. “You guys held.”
Similarly, Rep Liz Cheney, the committee’s other Republican, praised the officers’ service.
“It is because of you – you held the line, you defended all of us, you defended the Capitol, and you defended the Constitution and our Republic, and every American owes you our undying gratitude,” Ms Cheney said.
Both Republicans lambasted members of their own party for playing politics.
“It’s toxic and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and the employees on the Capitol Complex, to the American people who deserve the truth and to the generations before who went to war to defend self-governance because self-governance is at stake,” Mr Kinzinger said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped Ms Cheney to serve on the committee. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had initially selected Reps Jim Jordan, Jim Banks, Troy Nehls, Kelly Armstrong and Rodney Davis. But after Mrs Pelosi rejected Mr Jordan and Mr Banks, Mr McCarthy pulled the rest of his members, which prompted Mrs Pelosi to select Mr Kinzinger.
But Mr McCarthy’s team was not the group of Republicans who were expressing their displeasure. Reps Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, two of the staunchest defenders of the former president, led a group of other members of Congress to stage a press conference to protest the treatment of riot suspects in prison. But that press conference was derailed by protesters with a brass band staging a counter protest and accusing the group of treason.
Mr Dunn said while the Republicans on the select committee deserved credit, it was also a low bar.
“And while I agree with that notion, why? Because they told the truth? Why is telling the truth hard? I guess in this America, it is,” Mr Dunn said.