WASHINGTON (CN) — Officers who protected the U.S. Capitol from a violent mob that tried to kill them, gouge their eyes out or impale them, as their screams echoed above the chaos, come to Congress next week to testify for the inaugural hearing of the select committee probing the Jan. 6 insurrection.
It is a hearing for a bitterly divided Congress a little over six months after the attack on the Capitol that killed five people, left hundreds injured and traumatized hundreds more.
The first witnesses to appear Tuesday will be U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonnell, U.S. Capitol Police Private First Class Harry Dunn, and Metropolitan Police Department officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges.
In an interview with CNN last month, Gonnell reflected on his experience in the simplest of terms: “While they were running, we held the line.”
“They” are the lawmakers that Gonnell took an oath to protect as wave after wave of former President Donald Trump’s supporters, extremists and other rioters poured into the Capitol.
It was Gonnell, Fanone, Dunn and Hodges, along with hundreds of other police and National Guard, who kept the crowd at bay for hours and ultimately prevented them from taking the building to fulfill their objective: overturning the results of the 2020 election.
What most officers endured on Jan. 6 was on par with medieval hand-to-hand combat.
Sergeant Gonnell, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a child and later served in the Army Reserve in Iraq, was beaten with an American flagpole and rocks. He was beaten by the mob, maced and his hand was lacerated.
Officer Michael Fanone remembers his attackers in moments and voices. One screamed, “I got one,” as he fell to the ground inside of the Capitol’s crypt. Another voice chided rioters with pleas of “don’t hurt him,” as Fanone continued to grip his weapon desperately so it would not be used against him.
Tased by rioters multiple times at the base of his skull, causing traumatic brain injury, Fanone has told interviewers it was clear the “intent was to kill” him that day.
Capitol Police Private Harry Dunn meanwhile endured a battery of racial slurs during a bare-knuckle brawl with rioters that lasted over an hour.
In February, the Black 13-year veteran of the force told The New York Times how he turned to a fellow officer, his knuckles swollen and bleeding and as he choked back pepper spray that filled the air of the Capitol Rotunda, and said: “I got called a nigger a couple dozen times today.”
Tears streaming down his face, he recalled asking: “Is this America?”
Daniel Hodges of the Metropolitan Police Department, who will also testify Tuesday, was relatively new to the beat on Jan. 6. He was nearly crushed to death in a doorway. Immobile for several minutes, footage shows Hodges hollering in agony with his arms pinned to his sides as rioters tried to force their way in.
Hodges told NBC the crowd was “foaming at the mouth” when they grabbed the filter on his gas mask, beat his head against the door frame, ripped away his riot baton before beating him with it, maced him and then mercilessly tried gouging his eyeball out.
“I was able to shake him but that was the second time I was afraid that might be the end or when I would be maliciously disfigured,” Hodges reflected.
National-security and whistleblower attorney Mark Zaid, who represents officers Dunn and Gonnell, said in an interview this week that his concern for the officers’ safety is renewed as the first hearing looms, though the immediate danger for the men has passed.