A select committee of the US House of Representatives launched an inquiry into the January 6 Capitol riot earlier this week. The committee, formed specifically for this purpose, will strive to provide an authoritative and complete account of the attack.
At the first hearing that was held on July 27, members of the committee revealed that former president Donald Trump’s activities on that day were the central focus of the investigation. The hearing centred on the compelling testimony of four police officers who helped protect the Capitol from violent Trump supporters armed with hammers, iron rods, knives, and clubs.
Six months after hundreds of Trump supporters executed the worst attack on the Capitol, for the first time in two centuries, more than 535 people have been arrested, according to CBS news. However, it was the emotional explanations of the officers that created the solemn atmosphere of the hearing for over three hours. The investigation is expected to last for months.
A series of riveting accounts was used as opening testimony in the first hearing of the House Select Committee. It began with a series of recorded video clips of the deadly spree.
Witnesses recounted being hit, kicked, pepper-sprayed, threatened with death, and labelled traitors by raging mobs, who intended on stopping Joe Biden’s election victory from being validated.
It was “something from a medieval battle“, Capitol Police’s Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, an immigrant US Army veteran formerly stationed in Iraq told the panel as he wiped away tears. Gonell claimed in his opening statement that he could hear his fellow officers “screaming in agony” as the mob crushed them. He heard threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the ceremony to verify Biden’s election. In his account, Gonell described the events surrounding the rescue of two Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers that were being dragged into the crowd.
“I fell on top of some police shields on the ground that were slippery because of the pepper and bear spray. Rioters started to pull me by my leg, by my shield and by my gear straps on my left shoulder,” he said, according to NPR. “My survival instincts kicked in, and I started kicking and punching as I tried in vain to get the MPD officers’ attention behind and above me. But they could not help me because they were also being attacked,” he added. When asked about Trump’s claim that they were a “very loving crowd”, Gonell replied, “I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses.”
Gonell said that the protesters branded him a “traitor” as they attacked him. “If that was hugs and kisses, we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him,” he said. Gonell later clarified that he did not mean for anyone to do the same, and apologised for the “outburst”.
A profane and threatening voicemail was left for Michael Fanone, a D.C. MPD officer on the day of the hearing. In the roughly one-minute-long voicemail that he provided to CBS News, Fanone was accused of lying about the violence against him and other officers who defended the Capitol. The sender used homophobic slurs throughout the voicemail.
Describing the events of January 6, Fanone recounted how he was dragged into the crowd, beaten, shocked repeatedly with a taser, robbed of his badge and knocked unconscious, eventually suffering a heart attack. Fanone said he heard a rioter say, “kill him with his own gun.”
“I yelled out that I have kids,” Fanone said, appealing to his assailants’ humanity.
A woman wearing a pink MAGA t-shirt yelled, “This nigger voted for Joe Biden!” at Harry Dun. As Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn recalls, the rioters responded, chanting, “Boo! Fucking Nigger!”
The story Dunn told wasn’t unique. According to NPR, another black officer said that insurrectionists yelled at that officer: “Put your gun down, and we’ll show you what kind of nigger you really are!”
As a result of the events of the day, Dunn has sought counseling and peer support, and encouraged others to do the same.
“Trump sent us,” one officer recalled the rioters telling him. All the officers, black, white, and brown, claimed or implied that Trump was responsible.
Trump’s political influence was driven in part by racial resentment, with followers seizing onto his statements against Spanish-speaking immigrants or his scepticism of black Americans’ IQ and attitudes. These sentiments were also visible on January 6. Several Republican lawmakers maintain that the January 6 protests were peaceful, and have endorsed Trump’s baseless allegations of interference in the election. Due to the popularity of these narratives, members of the select committee have stated that their investigation is a call for the truth.
The nine-member select committee of the house was created in response to Republican opposition to an independent commission like the one that examined the September 11, 2001 attacks, notes the BBC. The House of Representatives approved legislation to establish a panel in May, with full support from Democrats and 35 out of 211 Republicans. Despite the support of six Republicans, the plan perished in the Senate.
Some opponents such as minority leader Mitch McConnell have argued that a commission will not achieve its purpose to “promote healing”. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded by establishing the select committee. A commission of this kind has the power to subpoena and is composed of hand-picked members. This commission, however, is dominated by Democrats as they are in the majority. A total of two Republicans voted in favor of creating the committee: Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, who had lost her Republican House leadership post due to her vocal criticism of Trump; and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger.
In the hearing, Cheney said, “If those responsible are not held accountable… this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic,” and condemned the attacks.
In an apparent effort to control his tears, Kinzinger, one of the only two Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the riot, critiqued his colleagues. “We still don’t know exactly what happened. Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families,” he said, according to the BBC.
Following the House’s approval of the select committee, Pelosi explained that it had eight members, including Adam Schiff of California and Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who led the first and second impeachment trials of former president Trump. The committee was chaired by Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, one of the original authors of the bipartisan commission proposal.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy named five members he had selected for the committee. The list included the names of Jim Banks and Jim Jordan. To the shock of many, Pelosi rejected Jordan, the Ohio congressman famous for his theatrical speeches defending Trump during the impeachment trial, and Banks, the Indiana congressman who had been nominated to be the committee’s most senior Republican. She said that she made the decision out of respect for transparency and concern for the Republican nominees’ remarks and actions. McCarthy immediately contended that this demonstrated the committee’s true intention: to harm Trump. On the first day of the investigation, Elise Stefanik, McCarthy’s third-in-command, accused Pelosi of being behind the insurgency.
In retrospect, he said that the former president had done all he could to end the disturbances, and that the only question was why the Capitol had not been better prepared for the assault of 10,000 insurrectionists. McCarthy was also adamantly opposed to a Democratic proposal for a bipartisan probe modelled after the 9/11 panel.
Previously, McCarthy and his colleagues in the House of Representatives had hounded Hillary Clinton in a similar fashion, over a “mendacious” claim that she was behind an attack on American officials. The earlier incident in Libya’s Benghazi was largely ignored by Americans. In their attempt to minimise Trump’s involvement, McCarthy has misrepresented or wished away the violence that occurred on January 6.
Just hours after the hearing ended, leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee struck an agreement of a $2.1 billion emergency supplemental funding bill to shore up the financial hole needed to safeguard the US Capitol in the aftermath of the riot.
Accordion to the NBC, the bill will provide almost $1 billion for Capitol security, including $100 million for Capitol Police, $300 million for security measures, and $500 million for the National Guard, whose role in the Capitol ended in May. In a letter this month, officials stated that the National Guard was still waiting for compensation for the cost of the deployment. Senate’s majority leader Chuck Schumer of the Democratic Party said that he intends to approve the bill this week, but Republican minority whip John Thune said that he expects senators like Rand Paul to oppose the measure. The plan also contains around $1.1 billion for a special immigrant visa programme to help Afghan interpreters travelling to the United States as American troops leave the country’s longest conflict.
The horrors retold here have rarely been heard on Capitol Hill. Some Republicans, however, believe that there has already been too much emphasis placed on the insurgency, that president Joe Biden was mainly responsible, and that the investigation has little chance of changing that.