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Capitol Police officer to Jan. 6 investigators: Rioters said 'Trump sent us'

Sgt. Aquilino Gonell of the U.S. Capitol Police wipes away tears Tuesday as he testifies before members of the Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Pool Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo

July 27 (UPI) -- In gripping testimony Tuesday in front of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, police officers who were injured while fighting off rioters described in emotional detail what it was like on the front lines.

The hearing was the first for the committee, which was formed to probe the attack by radical supporters of former President Donald Trump. The rioters were attempting to disrupt the official certification of Joe Biden as president.

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U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell told lawmakers how he was attacked by rioters and how he tried performing CPR in an attempt to save a woman who had breached the building.

"What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle; a violent mob intent of subverting our democracy," Gonell said. "My fellow officers and I were committed to not letting any rioters breach the Capitol.

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"It was a prolonged and desperate struggle. The rioters were shouting, 'Trump sent us. Pick the right side.'"

Gonell said at one time he was crushed by the pushing bodies and feared for his life.

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"This is how I'm going to die," he recalled thinking, adding that family members were frantically trying to call him to see if he was okay.

"After giving CPR to one of the rioters who breached the Capitol in an effort to save her life, I finally had a chance to let my own family know that I was alive," he said.

Michael Fanone, an officer of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police, said rioters overpowered him, attacked him with his own stun gun and tried to take his firearm.

"As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, stripped me of my radio and seized ammunition that was secured to my body," he said. "They began to beat me with their fists and what felt like hard metal objects.

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"I heard chatting from some in the crowd, 'Get his gun and kill him with his own gun,'" he added. "I was electrocuted again and again with a Taser. I'm sure I was screaming, but I don't think I could hear my own voice."

Fanon said later at the hospital, doctors told him that he suffered a heart attack and a brain injury. He noted that his own body camera footage of the attack remains "extremely" difficult for him to watch.

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During his testimony, Fanon grew upset when talking about the Republican members of Congress who have tried to downplay the Capitol attack.

"I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room," he said. "But too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist, or that hell wasn't that bad.

"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful."

Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges told the committee that the attack was filled with contradictions, with rioters carrying the U.S. flag but carrying out an assault on the Capitol, leading him to call them "terrorists."

Hodges said he also saw some showing emblems of supporting the police while attacking him and fellow officers.

"To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin blue line flag, a symbol of support from law enforcement more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us," Hodges told the committee.

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said the riots were different from many other protests and large demonstrations often seen in Washington, D.C.

"I'll go a step further and talk about the ones that had the potential to be not so peaceful," Dunn said under questioning from Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. "You had the Million Man March rally, the 20th anniversary of it. [There] was a lot of opposition to that. You had the Klan that came up here. You had people [who were] pro-gun that wanted to come up here.

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"All of those had the potential to be very violent and frankly, quite deadly, but they did not. This wasn't the first time if I can use this quote, that the 'MAGA' people came up before. There were skirmishes but never the attempt to overthrow democracy," Dunn said.

Before the testimony began, committee Chairmen Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said they would ensure a fair and impartial investigation.

"We cannot leave the violence of Jan. 6 and its causes uninvestigated," Cheney said in her opening remarks. "The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with the knowledge of the planning and preparation for Jan. 6. We must know what happened here at the Capitol.

"We must know what happened every minute of that day at the White House -- every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during and after the attack."The committee is facing opposition from Republicans after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected two members -- Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. -- who were appointed by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The rejections led McCarthy to withdraw all of his picks.

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Pelosi named Cheney and Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who have been highly critical of the attack, to the committee.

"Let me be clear, I'm a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution -- and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer," Kinzinger said in a statement after accepting Pelosi's appointment.

Other Democrats on the select committee include Reps. Adam Schiff, Zoe Lofgren and Pete Aguilar of California, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Elaine Luria of Virginia.

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Supporters of President Donald Trump riot against the Electoral College vote count on Wednesday in protest of Trump's loss to President-elect Joe Biden, prompting a lockdown of the Capitol Building. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

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