Dramatic new video was introduced on Tuesday as a committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., opened its first hearing with a focus on the law enforcement officers who were attacked and beaten as the rioters broke into the building.
The footage of violence and mayhem shown at the hearing includes the sort of blunt language, profanity and racial slurs rarely heard on daytime television, and yet it was shown live widely on several television networks with warnings of graphic material.
Four police officers — two from the Capitol Police and two with the metropolitan force — shared the witness stand as a special select committee began its long-awaited investigation into the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6.
The officers wiped away tears, denounced their attackers and even pounded the witness table in anger as they recalled a "meat grinder" of Trump-fuelled fury that nearly cost them their lives and left lasting physical and emotional scars.
Collectively, they told a harrowing story of violence, bitterly racist vitriol and a public and political betrayal — both from being mercilessly attacked by an enraged mob of Donald Trump supporters, the same ordinary Americans they had sworn to protect, as well as partisan Republican efforts to "whitewash" the riots in the weeks and months that followed.
'I feel like I went to hell and back'
"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful," shouted D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, slamming his fist on the table for emphasis, as he singled out Republican efforts to thwart or play down the hearings.
"I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room. But too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist, or that hell actually wasn't that bad."
Tensions on Capitol Hill have only worsened since the insurrection, with many Republicans playing down, or outright denying, the violence that occurred and denouncing the Democratic-led investigation as politically motivated. Democrats note that officers sworn to protect the Capitol suffered serious injuries at the hands of the rioters.
Fanone, who rushed to the scene on Jan. 6, told the committee — and millions watching news coverage — that he was "grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country." That assault on him, which stopped only when he said he had children, caused him to have a heart attack.
Lawmakers grew emotional watching videos
Daniel Hodges, also a D.C. police officer, said he remembered foaming at the mouth and screaming for help as rioters crushed him between two doors and bashed him in the head with his own weapon. He said there was "no doubt in my mind" that the rioters were there to kill members of Congress.
The lawmakers on the committee, too, grew emotional as they played videos of the violence and repeatedly thanked the police for protecting them.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida told them she was hiding near an entrance they were defending that day and said that "the main reason rioters didn't harm any members of Congress was because they didn't encounter any members of Congress."
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, his face wet with tears, described how at one point he found himself struggling to breathe under the crush of rioters trying to force their way into the building.
"I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, 'This is how I'm going to die, defending this entrance,'" he told the hearing.
"What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle."
Fanone repeatedly described the crowd's efforts to wrestle his sidearm away from him, all the while hearing shouts of "Get his gun" and "Kill him with his own gun."
"They tortured me," he said. "They continued to do so until I yelled out that I had kids … a few did step in and intervene on my behalf."
Harry Dunn, one of Gonell's Capitol Police colleagues, described how some in the crowd peppered him with racial slurs after he told them that he voted in the presidential election for Joe Biden.
"That prompted a torrent of racial epithets," including the N-word, which Dunn proceeded to describe in detail, adding that he later heard similar stories from other Black officers.
Dunn was also speaking to the experience of being an African-American police officer, who make up 29 per cent of roughly 2,300 officers and civilians serving on the Capitol Police force.
The panel's chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, pressed Dunn further about how he felt being an African-American officer facing down racists and enduring racial slurs in the halls of democracy.
"It's just so disheartening that people like that will attack you just for the colour of your skin," Dunn replied. "Once I was able to process it, it hurt. My blood is red. I'm an American citizen. I'm a police officer. I'm a peace officer."
While Black Americans make up roughly 13 per cent of the U.S. population, they were roughly 11 per cent of all police officers in 2016 across a sampling of 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Over 71 per cent of officers were white in 2016.
Officers said they felt betrayed by some Republicans
The hearings have been ensnared in the very same partisan angst that was on display on Jan. 6 and beyond.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of only two Republican members on the committee, briefly lost his composure as he reminded the witnesses that despite their trauma, they ultimately prevailed in defending the seat of U.S. democracy.
"You guys may, individually, feel a little broken … but you guys won," he said, his voice breaking.
America was attacked, and we deserve to know why and how it happened. This moment is bigger than all of us—the future of our country is on the line. And we must be fearless in our pursuit of the truth. <a href="https://t.co/MU5YrEqOgf">https://t.co/MU5YrEqOgf</a>
"Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We're defined by how we come back from our bad days, how we take accountability for that. And for all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple: It's to find the truth, and it's to ensure accountability."
All of the officers at Tuesday's hearing expressed feelings of betrayal at the Republicans who have dismissed the violence.
At the hearing's end, the witnesses all pleaded with the lawmakers to dig deeper into how it happened.
With files from The Associated Press and CBC News
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca