Republicans Refuse to Reckon With January 6

Just as striking as the officers’ testimony today is GOP lawmakers’ refusal to engage with it.

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges and U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn are sworn in to testify before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Andrew Harnik / Getty

All along the hallways of the Capitol complex today, members of the Capitol Police stared at their phones and nearby TV screens. Four of their fellow officers were testifying before Congress for the first time about the treatment they’d endured on January 6. They described being beaten with metal flagpoles, sprayed in the eyes with wasp repellent, and shocked with their own Tasers. One of the men cried while he spoke; a colleague patted his back. Their hands shook as they took careful sips of water.

This morning’s testimony was the first time Americans have heard such a vivid and agonizing account from the front lines of the attack—the officers’ growing panic as the mob surrounded them, how the rioters called them “traitors” and threatened to kill them with their own guns, the realization that they might die right there on the marble steps of the Capitol. But just as striking as the officers’ testimony is Republican lawmakers’ refusal to engage with it. The GOP response has been to minimize or even scoff at what occurred.

Early in the hearing, the officers who testified watched as the select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, played a compilation of footage and police recordings that stitched together the day’s events: the frantic calls between officers; the ominous sound of rioters banging on the glass outside the east entrance of the Capitol; Officer Eugene Goodman urging Senator Mitt Romney to flee the mob. A few minutes into the video, the C-SPAN camera panned away to capture Officer Daniel Hodges looking at himself on the screen, which showed him crushed against a door and struggling for air as a rioter pried off his gas mask. While he watched, Hodges’s face was inscrutable, but his cheeks were flushed.

As Hodges was preparing to relive what was perhaps the most traumatic day of his life, the Republican House conference chair, Elise Stefanik, was outside hosting a rival event: a press conference during which she blamed the January 6 violence on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It is a fact that the U.S. Capitol Police raised concerns, and rather than providing them with the support and resources they deserved, she prioritized her partisan political optics over their safety,” Stefanik said. (Pelosi does not oversee the operations of the U.S. Capitol Police.)

Stefanik’s was only one excuse of many. Shortly after January 6, Donald Trump’s allies spun up a story accusing antifa of infiltrating the mob and instigating the assault. In May, the GOP lawmaker Andrew Clyde of Georgia described the riot that threatened the lives of his colleagues as a “normal tourist visit.” Just this morning, a contributor to the far-right American Greatness magazine characterized the testifying officers as “crisis actors,” playing victims for liberal political ends.

Republicans would like nothing more than to stop talking about this day. It’s why they voted to oust Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a fierce Trump critic, from her leadership position earlier this summer, and it’s the reason so many GOP lawmakers voted against establishing an independent committee to investigate January 6. In a recent interview, the freshman Republican Nancy Mace offered a tidy summation of her party’s broader feelings: “I want to be done with that,” she told me. “I want to move forward.”

But the GOP’s sweep-it-away approach will be difficult to sustain. According to Cheney, the select committee plans to investigate “every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack,” which will keep the issue in the headlines for the coming weeks or months. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to pull his appointees from the committee after Pelosi refused to seat Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana seems like it might have been a political miscalculation. Now the GOP has no one on the panel to counter or challenge the investigation. The only two Republicans on the panel are Trump detractors appointed by Pelosi—Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—which will underscore that there are still members of the party who hold the former president and many of their colleagues responsible for the insurrection.

During the hearing, the officers took turns recounting the day’s events. Sergeant Aquilino Gonell said he’d been more frightened on January 6 than he was during his entire deployment in Iraq. Officer Harry Dunn said he was called the N-word. Officer Michael Fanone recounted being dragged into the crowd of rioters, beaten, and tased: “I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice.” Hodges described how a man had hooked his finger into his right eye and tried to gouge it out.

By late morning, they’d finished making their statements, and the question-and-answer portion of the panel was about to begin. Televisions across the Capitol complex flashed with hearing coverage. A CNN reporter asked Clyde, the Republican who’d described January 6 as a “normal tourist visit,” what he made of their testimony. “I have not heard anything yet today,” he responded.

With reporting from Christian Paz