© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Police attempt to clear the U.S. Capitol Building with tear gas as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather outside, in Washington, U.S. January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo
By Richard Cowan and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack by a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters trying to overturn his election loss featured harrowing violence resembling a medieval battlefield, a police officer hurt in the melee told a congressional panel on Tuesday.
At the Democratic-led House of Representatives investigatory committee’s first hearing, the officer, Aquilino Gonell, described in prepared testimony being pummeled by rioters fired up by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battlefield. We fought hand-to-hand and inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process,” added Gonell, one of four police officers called to testify. “The physical violence we experienced was horrific and devastating.”
The nine-member panel was formed after Senate Republicans blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the attack. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, named the committee’s members. Its chairman is Democrat Bennie Thompson.
In his opening remarks, Thompson pledged that the panel’s work will be “guided solely by the facts” and that there is no place for politics or partisanship. He also showed video of the violence.
Gonell and Harry Dunn, officers with the U.S. Capitol police, and Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges, officers with the District of Columbia police, were the panel’s first witnesses.
The four officers sat the witness table wearing their police uniforms, with photographers snapping pictures as panel members shook their hands.
Dunn, who is Black, said in prepared testimony that rioters called him a racial slur while he was trying to defend the Capitol after he challenged their claims that no one had voted for Biden by telling them that he himself was a Biden supporter.
Fanone was pulled into the crowd of rioters, beaten, attacked with a Taser device and robbed of his badge, police radio and ammunition. As one rioter tried to pull his gun from its holster, Fanone could hear him saying he planned to take it and kill him.
Four people died on the day of the violence, including one rioter fatally shot by police and three others who died of natural causes. A Capitol police officer who had been attacked by protesters died the following day. Two police officers who took part in the defense of the Capitol later took their own lives. More than a hundred police officers were injured.
Police were overwhelmed when hundreds of Trump supporters intent upon stopping Congress from formally certifying now-President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory stormed the Capitol, smashing windows, fighting with officers and sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence scrambling for safety.
The riot followed Trump’s speech to supporters in which the Republican repeated his false claims about voting fraud. Pelosi has called the attack “an attempt to overthrow the government.”
Most House Republicans have fiercely opposed the creation of the committee, saying it is politically motivated by Democrats.
In his opening remarks, Thompson took aim at Republicans and Trump allies who have sought to minimize the riot.
“Some people are trying to deny what happened, to whitewash it, to turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th,” Thompson said. “The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.”
The gallows to which Thompson referred were erected near the Capitol even as some rioters called for hanging Pence for refusing to subvert the certification of now-President Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump.
“And all of it: for a vile, vile lie,” Thompson, referring to Trump’s false claims of election fraud. “Let’s be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As chairman of this committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground.”
Pelosi last week rejected two of five Republicans chosen by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the panel amid concerns they would undermine the committee’s integrity, leading McCarthy to withdraw the three remaining Republicans names.
The committee will be include two Republicans – Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom have denounced Trump’s false statements about the election and voted with the Democrats in January to impeach him.
Ahead of the hearing, McCarthy tried to shift blame for the attack onto Pelosi, saying she had been responsible for security arrangements at the Capitol. McCarthy declined to say whether he thought Trump bore any responsibility.
More than 535 people face criminal charges arising from the riot including four charged in the attack on Fanone.