Defending an entrance to the U.S. Capitol from an armed mob of Trump supporters on Jan. 6, police officer Michael Fanone was dragged into the crowd, beaten unconscious and repeatedly shocked with a taser at the base of his skull. One man tried to take his gun and shoot him with it. He suffered both a heart attack and a concussion.
As shaken as he was by that violent attack, Mr. Fanone told a congressional committee on Tuesday that he was equally outraged by the subsequent efforts of Republican legislators to minimize its severity and shift the blame away from former president Donald Trump.
“So many of the people I put my life at risk to defend are downplaying or outright denying what happened,” he said, pounding the table. “I went to hell and back to protect them … but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
Mr. Fanone was one of four policemen who testified at the first hearing of the House of Representatives panel investigating the storming of the Capitol. All four laced into Mr. Trump and his congressional supporters for inciting the mob, defending the rioters and trying to block investigations of the attack. The group variously labelled the riot “terrorism,” a “coup” and an “insurrection.”
Such condemnations have been widespread over the past seven months. But to hear them directly from front-line law enforcement – typically revered by Republican voters, at least in theory – made for an extraordinary and often emotional hearing.
The officers called on the committee to hold accountable those who instigated the riot, which sought to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Mr. Trump in the presidential election.
“If a hitman is hired, and he kills somebody, the hitman goes to jail. But not only does the hitman go to jail, but the person who hired him does,” Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn said.
The Department of Justice on Tuesday made such accountability more likely when it informed all current and former government officials that it will not prevent them from co-operating with the committee. The move, first reported by The New York Times, allows the committee to subpoena former White House insiders to testify about Mr. Trump’s actions during the riot.
In his testimony, Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell took aim at theories that Mr. Trump’s perceived enemies somehow instigated the storming to make him look bad. He also slammed Mr. Trump’s contention in a Fox News interview that his supporters were “hugging and kissing” officers at the Capitol that day.
“If that was hugs and kisses, then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him,” Sgt. Gonell said. “It was not Antifa, it was not Black Lives Matter, it was not the FBI. It was his supporters that he sent over to the Capitol that day.”
Sgt. Gonnel described in searing detail the hours-long battle, in which thousands of Trump supporters beat police with metal pipes, fire extinguishers and other objects, lobbed projectiles and used bear spray against officers. Once inside the building, roving gangs of insurrectionists tried to hunt down Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then-vice president Mike Pence and any lawmaker deemed disloyal to Mr. Trump.
At one point, Sgt. Gonnel was among a group of officers trying to prevent a crowd of rioters from breaching a narrow hallway leading into the Capitol.
“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch,” he said. “I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance.’”
Officer Daniel Hodges, like Mr. Fanone a member of the Washington Metropolitan Police called in as backup by the outnumbered Capitol Police, said he was crushed in a doorway by the press of rioters in front of him.
One Trump supporter, making “guttural screams” and “foaming at the mouth,” used Mr. Hodges’s gas mask to bash his head against the door, he said. Others beat him in the face with stolen police shields and batons. One tried to gouge out one of his eyes.
“I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this, if anyone in power co-ordinated or aided and abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack,” Mr. Hodges told the committee.
He said some rioters, ironically, carried pro-police “thin blue line” flags. At one point, he recalled, a rioter shouted that officers should not fight them because “we’re not Black Lives Matter.”
Mr. Dunn, who is Black, said rioters, many of whom waved Confederate battle flags, repeatedly called him the N-word. “This is our house: President Trump invited us here,” he quoted the insurrectionists as telling him.
One officer and four protesters were killed that day. Two more officers who were present later died by suicide.
The committee is proceeding mostly without the participation of Republican legislators. Kevin McCarthy, the party’s leader in the House, earlier this week derided the only two of his members who would take part in the investigation. He attacked Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Congressman Adam Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans” at a White House event on Monday.
Ms. Cheney, one of 10 Republican representatives to vote for Mr. Trump’s impeachment over the riot, said the investigation had to unravel what happened at the White House that day.
“If those responsible are not held accountable, and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic,” she told the committee.
Both the officers and members of Congress sometimes teared up during the hearing.
Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, credited police with saving her life by buying her time to escape from the rioters, who at one point were just a few metres from her hiding spot.
Mr. Fanone said that, as insurrectionists attacked him, he wondered if he would ever see his four daughters again.
“They tortured me, they beat me,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that members of our government, I believe, were responsible for inciting that behaviour.”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.