One Big Question From The January 6th Hearing: ‘Why The Different Response?’

Today’s news roundup is going to be a bit different. The House select committee that is investigating the January 6th attack just had its first hearing and this issue of The Uprising is focused on key takeaways — and one major question — from the gripping witness testimony given by law enforcement officers who were there that day. If you want to keep getting breaking news and analysis in your inbox please sign up!

U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell was the first witness to testify and he raised a major question about the government’s response that day. Gonell, an Iraq veteran, described the attack as “vicious,” “relentless,” and “like something from a medieval battle.” He also noted the officers from the U.S. Capitol Police and DC Metropolitan Police who defended the halls of Congress as they were stormed by thousands of supporters of former President Trump did not receive support from the National Guard for hours. He contrasted this with the heavy military presence that quickly arrived at last summer’s civil rights protests. 

"As America and the world watched in horror ... we did not receive timely reinforcement and support we needed,” Gonell said. “In contrast, during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, U.S. Capitol Police had all the support we needed and more. Why the different response?”

Earlier this year, ​​Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard testified in a Senate hearing on security at the Capitol that it took about three hours for President Trump’s Defense Department to approve a request for troops to respond to the attack. Walker also said he was subject to “unusual” restrictions in the planning for January 6 protests against the congressional certification of Trump’s election loss. 

During the hours the Guard was kept at bay, rioters breached the Capitol dome and subjected Capitol police and local D.C. officers to brutal attacks. As Gonell noted, this was a clear contrast with last year’s Black Lives Matter protests where a large National Guard presence was deployed throughout Washington and law enforcement was accused of being overly heavy handed with protesters.

A major question surrounding both this select committee and the criminal investigation into the attack is whether they will address the response (or lack thereof) at the highest levels of government — particularly in light of reporting that Trump “gleefully” watched the attack unfold after urging his supporters to march on the Capitol. 

The Witnesses Highlighted The Fact Rioters Were Armed

Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly attempted to minimize the seriousness of the January 6 attack. This has included making the false claim the rioters were not armed. The Uprising has repeatedly debunked this claim and documented the evidence some in the crowd that stormed the Capitol carried guns. 

Gonell noted the various weapons used by the rioters including chemical sprays, knives, metal bars, and riot shields taken from police officers by “force.” He also said people in the crowd told him they had guns. 

"if you shoot us we all have weapons we will shoot back,” Gonell said he was told.

D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was pulled into the crowd, testified that he feared his own weapon would be taken and used against him. Despite this, he explained some of the reason officers didn’t shoot at the crowd. 

“During the assault, I  thought about using my firearm on my attackers, but I knew that, if I did, I would be quickly overwhelmed and that, in their minds, would provide them with the justification for killing me,” Fanone said. 

Daniel Hodges, another D.C. Police officer who was filmed being crushed in a doorway by the crowd, talked about the weapons that were seized that day and the fact there’s no way to know how many more were out there. 

“Over the radio, I heard our gun recovery unit working, constantly monitoring those in the crowd suspected of carrying firearms, making arrests and seizures when possible. Multiple gun arrests were made from January 5th through the 7th against those attending ... Donald Trump’s gathering,” Hodges said. “Unfortunately due to the course of events that da,y we will never know how many were carrying firearms and other lethal weapons.”

The false suggestion the protesters were unarmed and peaceful has become one of the main arguments advanced by people who want to dismiss the seriousness of the attack. It was clearly important to these officers to refute and fact check that claim. 

The Officers Are Frustrated With Efforts To Minimize The Attack

The four witnesses were explicit about the emotional and physical harm they suffered (along with their colleagues and families). They  were clearly frustrated with partisan efforts to diminish the severity of the attack. Gonell noted this has taken place despite clear proof of the high level of violence and coordination in the crowd. 

“Even though there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including hours and hours of videos ... there’s a continued shocking attempt to ignore or try to destroy the truth of what truly happened that day,” Gonell said.

There Was A Racist Component To The Protests

Capitol Police Private First Class Harry Dunn testified that “other black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse” suffered at the hands of the crowd. He also described his own experience being berated by the rioters after they shouted “Joe Biden is not the president, nobody voted for Joe Biden!”

“I responded, ‘Well, I voted for Joe Biden, does my vote not count? Am I nobody?’” Dunn recounted. “That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that guys? This nigger voted for Joe Biden. Then the crowd — perhaps around twenty people — joined in screaming ‘Boo! Fucking nigger!’ No one had ever ever called me a nigger while wearing the uniform of a capiutol police officer.”

Dunn’s experience highlights the fact many of the protesters were members of white supremacist and extremist groups. He concluded his opening remarks with a message for the rioters.

“Lastly, to the rioters, the insurrectionists, and the terrorists of that day, democracy went on that night and still continues to exist today,” said Dunn. “Democracy is bigger than any one person and any one party. You all tried to disrupt democracy that day and you all failed.”

I don’t feel like doing the usual “fun fact” after such intense testimony,  so that’s all for today! If you haven’t already, please subscribe to The Uprising and tell your friends! And if you work in politics, please don’t forget to leave a (news) tip on your way out → hunter.walker@protonmail.com