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‘To hell and back’: Police share horror of Capitol riot

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Rioters confront police on the steps of the US Capitol on January 6. Photo: Getty
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Four police officers have told a US hearing they were beaten, taunted with racial insults, heard threats including “kill him with his own gun” and thought they might die as they struggled to defend the Capitol on January 6 against a mob of then-president Donald Trump’s supporters.

Often tearful, sometimes profane, the officers called the rioters “terrorists” engaged in an “attempted coup” during a 3-1/2 hour congressional hearing on Tuesday (local time) in which they also criticised Republican politicians who have sought to downplay the attack.

“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect the people in this room,” said District of Columbia police officer Michael Fanone, referring to lawmakers.

“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” Mr Fanone added, slamming his hand onto the witness table.

It was a dramatic first hearing for a Democratic-led House of Representatives committee formed despite opposition by Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans to investigate the worst violence at the Capitol since the British invasion in the War of 1812.

Some Democrats have suggested Mr Trump, who made an incendiary speech to supporters before the riot repeating false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud, be called to testify.

The officers recounted how rioters fought on Mr Trump’s behalf, seeking to prevent Congress from formally certifying now-president Joe Biden’s election victory.

“He himself helped create this monstrosity,” Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell said of Mr Trump as he described rioters wielding weapons including police shields, batons, sledgehammers, flag poles, Taser devices, chemical irritants, metal pipes, rocks, broken table legs and metal guard rails.

The officers urged politicians to work out what happened, including whether Mr Trump or others helped instigate it.

“There was an attack carried out on January 6, and a hit man sent them. I want you to get to the bottom of that,” Capitol police officer Harry Dunn said.

Mr Fanone said he was pulled into the crowd, beaten, shocked repeatedly with a Taser, robbed of his badge and knocked unconscious, suffering a heart attack. He said he heard a rioter say “kill him with his own gun”.

“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battlefield,” Mr Gonell said.

Mr Dunn, who is black, said rioters repeatedly called him a racial slur. He said he challenged their claims that no one had voted for Mr Biden by telling them that he had done so.

Mr Gonell, a naturalised American citizen born in the Dominican Republican who served in the US Army in Iraq, recalled rioters calling him a traitor who should be executed. He said he thought to himself, “This is how I’m going to die”.

Washington officer Daniel Hodges called the rioters “terrorists,” citing the term’s legal definition. He said they told him: “You will die on your knees!”

Mr Hodges said many rioters appeared to be white nationalists. While his black and Hispanic colleagues faced racial slurs, Mr Hodges, who is white, said rioters tried to recruit him, asking, “Are you my brother?”

The rioters sent lawmakers and then-vice president Mike Pence scrambling for safety.

Four people died on January 6, including one rioter shot by police and three others who experienced medical emergencies. A policeman who was attacked by rioters died the following day. Two others later committed suicide.

“Some people are trying to deny what happened, to whitewash it, to turn the insurrectionists into martyrs,” Committee chairman Bennie Thompson said.

“All of it for a vile, vile lie.”

Democrats created the panel after congressional Republicans blocked formation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the riot.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy acted to prevent fellow Republicans from joining the panel after Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to seat two of his choices amid concerns they would undermine its integrity. Two Republicans picked by Ms Pelosi are serving.

-AAP