By Beatriz Pascual Macias
Washington, Jul 27 (EFE).- The United States on Tuesday is being forced to confront the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol with the testimony of four of the police officers who faced the mob of former President Donald Trump’s followers and had to endure blows, insults, punches and death threats from them.
Some of the officers said they thought they were going to die defending both the building and the lawmakers who were inside to certify the November presidential election victory of Democrat and current President Joe Biden.
“I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die, trampled defending this entrance,'” Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell said, wiping away tears as he spoke.
The testimony of Gonell, born in the Dominican Republic, captivated the audience in the first hearing held by the committee convened by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate the assault in which five people – including one police officer – died.
Gonell described the insurrection on Jan. 6 as a “medieval battle” in which officers tried to defend “inch by inch” the Capitol from a mob whose members were “vicious and relentless” and who were armed with knives, sticks, baseball bats, pepper spray and riot shields that they had wrenched from the hands of police.
The police sergeant, who at age 25 was deployed to fight in the Iraq war, said that on Jan. 6 he was more afraid than during any time in his military service in the wartorn Middle Eastern country.
He said that in Iraq, “you were in a war zone” but nothing in his experience in the Army or as a police officer prepared him for what he faced on Jan. 6.
On that day, Gonell was beaten with a pole bearing a US flag and, as a result, suffered injuries to both hands, his left shoulder, his left thigh and his right foot. In addition, the Trump rioters doused him with so much chemical spray that his skin burned for hours afterwards.
After the assault, he had to take medical leave, undergo surgery and is expecting to have to go through a year of rehabilitation.
“We are not asking for medals or recognition. We simply want justice and accountability,” said Gonell. “I hope that everyone in positions of authority in our country has the courage and conviction to do their part by investigating what happened on that terrible day, and why,” he added.
The hall listened in silence to Gonell’s testimony and that of the other three officers, who on occasion expressed anger over the attitude shown by certain members of the Republican Party, the political grouping that traditionally has dubbed itself the “law and order” party.
On that subject, officer Michael Fanone said that what hurt him more was not being close to death on Jan. 6, but rather the “indifference” that members of Congress had shown to his fellow police officers. “It’s disgraceful!” he shouted, slamming the table with his fist.
Fanone explained how he was beaten and “electrocuted again and again and again” with a taser, adding that he could hear rioters yelling, “Get his gun and kill him with his own gun.”
“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,” said Fanone, who works for the Washington DC police and on Jan. 6 ran to help officers at the Capitol.
The testimony of the officers was called for to provide a human face to the violence on the day of the assault and the confused investigation of it, with its transformation into a vehemently partisan political issue.
The GOP leadership has tried to downplay what occurred on that day and some lawmakers close to Trump have even floated conspiracy theories alleging – without any proof – that those who assaulted the Capitol were members of leftist movements and not sympathizers of the ex-president, who was still in office at the time of the attack and, in fact, had egged the rioters on prior to their march on Congress.
Before the hearing, at a press conference, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that the investigation was a “fraud” and accused Pelosi of trying to extract political advantage from it.
Pelosi, however, has tried to ensure that the committee has a bipartisan makeup and designated two moderate Republican congresspeople to serve on it: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and who was ousted from the House Republican leadership spot for refuting Trump’s unfounded claims that massive fraud denied him reelection and tilted the vote toward Biden.
The hearing on Tuesday marked the beginning of a long road. In the coming weeks, the committee will exercise its power to compel testimony from former members of the Trump administration and members of the Republican Party who spoke with the ex-president on the day of the Capitol assault.