US Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell battled an angry mob at the Capitol building in January, but today he broke down in tears as he told a panel investigating the attempted coup d’état that he has lingering physical difficulties caused by the attack, as well as emotional traumas associated with that day.
Sergeant Harry Dunn, another U.S. Capitol Police officer, describes himself on his Twitter profile as an “insurrection stopper,” has spoken openly about his experience in trying to suppress the violent, and at times racist, mob.
“Tomorrow I’ll be testifying before congress, and while I don’t think I’m nervous, I am definitely anxious,” Dunn wrote in a Monday tweet, requesting that his supporters watch the broadcast and send him “good vibes” ahead of his testimony. Dunn challenged “anyone who doesn’t believe January 6th was an insurrection” in a previous tweet, which received 1,376 retweets and 5,018 likes.
They are among the first to testify before the committee established largely along party lines, after a majority of congressional Republicans blocked an effort to create an independent bipartisan commission similar to the 9/11 commission.
Along with Gonell and Dunn Washington Metropolitan Police Department officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges shared testimony describing the January 6 breach of the US Capitol.
The proposed commission was modeled on the one established to investigate the 9/11 terror attacks, with 10 commissioners — five Democrats and five Republicans — who would have subpoena powers. A Democratic chair and Republican vice chair would have had to approve all subpoenas with a final report due at the end of the year.
After the House approved the measure 252-175 last week with only 35 Republicans joining all Democrats in support, Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, staged their first filibuster since President Joe Biden took office to block the inquiry.
“To my friends on both sides of the aisle – I welcome honest, vigorous, and civil debate. At the end of the day, I strongly believe this is a fair and necessary legislation,” said Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican who struck a deal on the commission with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson to conduct a nonpartisan investigation. “I encourage all members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to put down their swords for once, just for once, and support this bill.”
“There is an equal number of members on both sides, appointed by both sides, they have equal subpoena power – they can’t subpoena one person without the other person on the other side of the aisle agreeing, they have to hire a staff together, all those things,” said Katko, whose pleas for cooperation were largely unsuccessful.
Thompson is now leading the nine-person select committee, alongside six additional Democrats and two Republicans. The selection process for the committee has been steeped in political spats, culminating in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking the drastic step of blocking two Republican nominees from serving on the panel.
Pelosi rejected two of the five Republicans selected for the panel by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio — essentially inciting the melee and continuing to fan the flames with lies about the election.
Banks and Jordan both voted to overturn the election results on Jan. 6 and Pelosi said their appointments could impact “the integrity of the investigation” because they would seek to disrupt the investigation instead of seeking truth.
Pelosi eventually picked Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Wyoming’s Liz Cheney to serve on the panel.
Kinzinger and Cheney were among the 10 House Republicans who voted in support of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment, citing his role in inciting the insurrection as Congress was counting the Electoral College votes that formally certified Democrat Joe Biden as president.
The two Republicans have been isolated and ostracized by their party for accepting Pelosi’s offer to perform their duty on the special committee investigating the attempted coup d’état at the Capitol on January 6.
Gonell is a 42-year-old Capitol Police officer and Army reservist is also seeing a therapist to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), first diagnosed after he served in the war in Iraq.
He said bouts of anxiety returned after his battle on American soil in the Jan. 6 riot.
“I can be fine now and see or hear something and next thing I get tears and get emotional,” said Gonell, who was hurt when rioters tried to yank away his ballistic shield, threw a speaker at him, struck him in the face with a pole and sprayed him with chemical irritants.
“I tried to be strong,” he said of the months following the riot. “I tried not to show my emotion.” But once, he said, he retreated to a quiet space at his home in Virginia, away from his wife and 9-year-old son: “I completely broke down.”
During today’s House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol hearing, Cheney questioned members of the United States Capitol Police and the DC Metropolitan Police Department about their experiences that day and how they felt when they heard former President Trump say: “It was a loving crowd. There was a lot of love in the crowd.”
“It is a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he himself helped to create this monstrosity,” replied Gonell. “I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day — that he claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us that day. If that was ‘hugs and kisses,’ then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him.”