Publisher’s note: Michael Fanone is a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst who spent 20 years with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. The opinions expressed here are my own. Read more opinions on CNN in Spanish here.
(CNN) — At the commission’s first public hearing on January 6 last Thursday, US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards described how, flanked by hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the Washington region, she fought for hours to fend off a violent attack by a mob intent on upending American democracy and nullifying the presidential election.
His testimony was the emotional core of a dramatic day that also featured a chilling documentary-style video of the Capitol assault. For those of us in law enforcement who risk our bodies defending the pillar of American democracy, watching the harrowing images and hearing Edwards recount the events of January 6 meant reliving an unspeakable nightmare.
His descriptions of the chaos he faced on January 6 weren’t just dramatic; they were horrible. The protest was bloody and unspeakably violent. Dozens of officers were seriously injured.. A Capitol Police officer lost his life after suffering a stroke following the assault on the Capitol. Four other officers were so emotionally devastated after hours of brutal hand-to-hand combat with the rioters that they took their own lives.
I was in the courtroom during Edwards’s testimony and, like millions of people watching the hearing on television screens across the country, I listened to his every word.
described slip in the blood of his colleagues while the police fell around him. His haunting words described the “scene of war” on Capitol Hill that day: “There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were vomiting. I saw friends with blood on their faces.”
And yet, inexplicably, there are conspiracy theoristsincluding current and former government officials and prominent members of the media, who maintain that January 6 did not happen, or that the violence experienced by those of us on the front lines was greatly exaggerated.
I’m no longer a cop, but that day I spilled my fair share of blood and nearly lost my life defending our democracy. Don’t tell me that January 6 didn’t happen. I was there. I have the scars, visible and those not easily seen, to prove it.
So, hasn’t the country already found out about all this? Does America really need another account of the near-medieval combat agents endured on the front lines? The answer is absolutely yes.
The Capitol Attacks and the Congressional Hearing
It is important for Americans to see the hell depicted in the video to get a sense of what the police endured on Capitol Hill that day. It is imperative that the country see how bravely we fight to save our system of government. And it is vital that the public understand how close the country came to losing its democracy.
If the police had not been successful in containing the protesters for as long as we did, giving our legislators and congressional workers a chance to get to safety, we could be led by a very different and illegitimate government today.
Many people have a vested interest in believing the lies being told about January 6th. But if members of the public pay attention, they will hear the commission expose the truth. You will hear the truth about the origins of the violence on January 6 and the role our political leaders and their minions played in the violence that day. And they will learn about the central role then-President Donald Trump played in trying to overturn a free and fair election.
How I remember the assault on the Capitol
More than a year has passed since January 6, 2021, and although the terrible events of that day are etched in my memory, they may be vague in the public consciousness. It was important to the select commission to take the American people back to the day of the insurrection and hear first-hand testimony from an agent who was on the outer perimeter, who experienced the violence at the beginning of that terrible event. And I think it’s important for the public and our legislators to listen to as many of the officers and former officers who were there that day as possible.
My memory of the horrible events of that day is not very different from Edwards’s. Like her, I was seriously injured fighting the crowd of heavily armed protesters on Capitol Hill. I suffered a concussion, was attacked with my own Taser, and went into cardiac arrest. I consider myself lucky to be alive.
I know from my own earlier testimony on Capitol Hill after January 6 how difficult it must have been for her to appear before the committee. I’m proud of her for finding the courage to do it.
I think it’s important that people know what happened so they don’t forget. And I think it’s important that posterity record the brutality of the attack and the malevolence of those who sought to overthrow our government.
But to be perfectly honest, I also understand that there are large sections of the public whose hearts cannot be changed. They refuse to accept even the moving testimony and compelling video footage shown during the hearing that provided irrefutable evidence of the horrors police faced that day. They don’t understand that the attack on our democracy it was serious, significant and continuous.
What I really hope at this point is that the Justice Department takes notice. Those who tried to overthrow our democracy must be held accountable, and the select commission is methodically laying out the road map to bring them to justice.
I am so proud of Caroline Edwards for her courage on January 6th. She was a warrior. And I’m also proud of her bravery in testifying before the commission. My concern is that her experience resembles mine in some way: being ostracized by current and former brothers and sisters who wear the badge. I hope the law enforcement community knows how lucky she is to have her in their ranks.
I paid a high price for January 6. But perhaps what hurt me more than even the serious injuries I sustained is that I lost a police career that I loved. The curses and epithets hurled at me by protesters on Capitol Hill pale in comparison to what I experienced from co-workers and colleagues in my own department and from Americans across the country. I have never received an insult worse than being called a badge disgrace by my fellow police officers. That is the same kind of disgraceful treatment that I also other agents have been subdued who defended the Capitol on January 6.
And I think the leadership of the US Capitol Police owes it to their officers and the agencies that responded that day to help be transparent about their failings and also to show accountability.
At this point, our country is so polarized, with people entrenched on their respective sides of the political aisle, that I can’t be sure how far the critically important work of the January 6 commission will go. Hearings will resume on Monday and there is sure to be more harrowing testimony.
Responsibility for the January 6 betrayal rests primarily with the top of our government. And the American public is not the only audience the select committee is addressing in these hearings.
Just as the agents on Capitol Hill were the last line of defense on January 6, the Department of Justice is our democracy’s last line of defense to ensure that those responsible for this affront to our democracy pay a heavy price. As the commission resumes its work, I hope prosecutors will listen carefully.