By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – One thing that stood out after the Capitol and D.C. Metro police testimony Tuesday before the fledgling House Jan. 6 Select Committee was how close this “insurrection” came to being an atrocity that could have ignited a violent nationwide spasm. D.C. Officer Daniel Hodges, who repeatedly referred to those breaching the U.S. Capitol as “terrorists,” was asked why police didn’t use their guns to stop the breach. There were “thousands of terrorists … only hundreds of us,” Hodges said. “If it had turned into a firefight, we would’ve lost.”

That was a chilling revelation. There were five deaths on Jan. 6, including two supporters of President Trump and three Capitol officers who died (two by suicide in its aftermath). There had been only one shot fired, by an unidentified Capitol defender, killing Ashli Babbitt of California as she attempted to jump through an interior Capitol window. Trump has elevated her death to martyrdom.

Dozens of videos compiled by the committee and news organizations such as the New York Times revealed many insurrectionists were heavily armed – with body armor, bear spray and other chemicals, and weaponry. The U.S. was facing a constitutional crisis as Trump sought to “overturn” the election and stop congressional certification of the Electoral College declaring Joe Biden the winner on Jan. 6.

It would be difficult to gauge how a gunfight in the halls and entry steps to the Capitol could have been a total rupture of the civic dynamic, potentially sending thousands of Trump supporters and opponents into the streets of American cities. For that restraint alone, the cops defending the Capitol should have a revered place in our history.

Officer Hodges’ testimony mentioned “terrorists” 15 times and he was pressed by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin as to why. Hodges said that he came “prepared” to explain why he uses the term to describe the rioters. Hodges then recited how U.S. criminal codes describe “domestic terrorism.”

“U.S. Code title 18 part 1 chapter 1.1.3, B as in brown, section 2.3.3.1. The term domestic terrorism means activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state and B, appeared to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

Beginning with a March 26 Fox interview with Laura Ingraham and repeated to Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig for their book “I Alone Can Fix It,” Trump described the insurrectionists this way: “Right from the start, it was zero threat. Look, they went in – they shouldn’t have done it – some of them went in, and they’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know? They had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in, and they walked out.”

Asked about former President Trump’s assertion that rioters were “hugging and kissing” Capitol Police officers, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell replied, “It’s a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he himself helped to create. I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day. Hearing the former president call Jan. 6 a ‘love-fest’ is upsetting, it’s a pathetic excuse for his behavior for something that he himself helped to create, this monstrosity.”

For nearly three hours, the four officers described “medieval” hand-to-hand combat with the insurrectionists.

Metro Officer Michael Fanone: “I was at risk of being stripped of and killed with my own firearm. I heard chants of ‘kill him with his own gun.’ My fellow officers and I were punched, pushed, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants and even blinded by eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob. I was electrocuted again and again and again by a taser. I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and people in this room, but too many people are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or hell wasn’t that bad. I thought about using my firearm, but knew if I did, I’d be quickly overwhelmed and in their minds that would provide them with the justification for killing me. So instead I decided to appeal to any humanity they might have. I said as loud as I could, ‘I’ve got kids.’”

Officer Fanone called out congressional deniers of the insurrection: “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” he said, pounding the table, his voice rising. “What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know that so many of my fellow citizens, including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened.”

Officer Gonell: “To be honest, I did not recognize my fellow citizens who stormed the Capitol on January 6, or the United States that they claimed to represent. On Jan. 6, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than my entire deployment to Iraq. Even though there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including hours and hours of video and photographic coverage, there is a continuous and shocking attempt to ignore or try to destroy the truth of what truly happened that day, and to whitewash the facts.”

“It was an attempted coup,” Gonell said. “If it had been another country, the United States would have sent help.”

Metro Officer Hodges: “To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin blue line flag, a symbol of support for law enforcement more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us. It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians. I saw the Christian flag directly to my front, another ‘Jesus is my savior.’ ‘Trump is my president.’ Another ‘Jesus is king. Men alleging to be veterans told us how they had fought for this country and we’re fighting for it again. One man tried to start a chant of four more years. Another shouted, ‘do not attack us. We’re not Black Lives Matter,’ as if political affiliation is how we determine when to use force.” Hodges was seen on Jan. 6 trapped in a Capitol door in deep anguish.

Capitol Officer Harry Dunn called for a “moment of silence for my fallen colleague, officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries he sustained in the line of duty defending the Capitol of our beloved democracy. 

“Jan. 6 still isn’t over for me,” Dunn said, describing how insurrectionists wearing MAGA hats and “Trump 2020” T-shirts repeatedly called him and his Black colleagues the n-word, the first time he had heard that while wearing a Capitol PD uniform. “How is this America?” he asked.

Questioned by Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson on what the panel needed to learn, Officer Hodges replied, “As patrol officers, we can only, you know, deal with the crimes that have happened on the streets, the misdemeanors and occasionally the violent felonies. But you guys are the only ones we’ve got to deal with crimes that occur above us. I need you guys to address if anyone in power had a role in this, if anyone in power coordinated or aided and abetted or tried to downplay, tried to prevent the investigation of this terrorist attack because we can’t do it. We’re not allowed to. And I think a majority of Americans are really looking forward to that as well.”

Fanone urged the committee to look into “whether or not there was collaboration between those members [of Congress), their staff and these terrorists.”

Officer Dunn said that Jan. 6 rioters had “marching orders” that led to violence during the insurrection.

He had been involved in other protests, saying, “There were some skirmishes, but never the attempt to overthrow democracy. This was maybe their second or third time that they had came up on Jan. 6. And even then, as belligerent as they were, it didn’t account to this violence. So the only difference that I see in that is that they had marching orders, so to say.”

“When people feel emboldened by people in power, they assume they’re right,” Dunn said, echoing officers who quoted rioters as saying, “President Trump sent us.”

“One of the scariest things about Jan. 6 is that the people that were there, even to this day, think they were right. They think they were right,” Dunn said. “And that makes for a scary recipe for the future of this country. I think that’s why it’s important that you all take this committee seriously and get to the bottom of why this happened and let’s make it never happen again.”

Rep. Banks reacts

Last week, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, was poised to join the panel after being appointed as one of five Republicans by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yanked Banks and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan off the committee in an unprecedented action. Both had backed contesting the election certification. Banks had met with Trump twice this summer, once at Bedminster and another time on the Texas/Mexican border. Banks’ communications director is Buckley Carlson, seen by Pelosi and committee Democrats as a potential leak to Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson, his father.

Banks surfaced during the testimony, tweeting, “Pelosi Republicans do not want GOP to win back the majority in the midterms.”

After the hearing concluded, he was interviewed by Fox News anchor Bret Baier, who noted, “The testimony was damning, to see the video again today was jarring. You cannot watch this testimony and say this is not a big deal. We don’t know where this is going to go yet.”

Fellow Fox anchor John Roberts added, “To say that it was violent was not in doubt today.”

Baier asked Banks a two-pronged question on why Republicans are saying the committee is a partisan effort, and why were the Capitol Police so ill-prepared.

Banks responded, “Let me first say these were tragic stories on a tragic day on Jan. 6. These stories the officers tell should never have happened. I heard Officer Harry Dunn say something that is most notable in this entire hearing in that they were not prepared for what happened that day.

“If I had been able to be in that room and do my duty as the ranking member, I would have asked the question that neither Republicans and Democrats asked which would be to unpack that statement: Why weren’t they prepared on Jan. 6 when there was intelligence three weeks before that told us something dangerous was going to happen that day?” Banks continued.

Banks stressed that he wanted the Capitol PD union chief to testify. “Why would we not allow another voice of the capitol police union to be on hand to give his testimony? He was rejected. He would have unpacked that question as to why weren’t they prepared? Because it was a systemic failure of leadership at the highest level of the capitol police that left them unprepared, no training that left they ill equipped on Jan. 6. That’s a travesty and that’s a part of the hearing that was left unexamined because no one asked those questions.”

Baier asked Banks if he believed the committee was designed to “malign conservatives” and is an example of the  “Democratic Party’s authoritarian agenda.”

Banks replied, “I do. Today was the beginning, but imagine where it goes from here. Keep in mind that without the minority leader being able to submit my name and Jim Jordan’s name to actually be there today, the voice of the minority wasn’t there. This has never happened before in this institution. Congress was created before to hear the majority view, the minority view. Never before has the speaker rejected names from the minority party to participate in a hearing like this. This has a long way to go. It’s not lost on the American people that every word that comes out of Liz Cheney’s mouth or Bennie Thompson has been scripted by Nancy Pelosi to talk about her narrative, and not other narratives like why was the Capitol vulnerable to begin with.”

Banks cited Republican committee member U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger as having a “deep hatred for Donald Trump.” He added, “Clearly, this is politically designed by the Democrats to stop Republicans from winning back the majority in the mid-term elections. Democrats want to talk about Jan. 6; they want to beat up on Republicans. They don’t want to talk about rising inflation, crime waves in the cities, immigration at the border, anti-Americanism and critical race theory ... they want to talk about this. Every word that comes out of every mouth on this committee has been strategically supplied by Nancy Pelosi for her narrative.”

Cheney vows to get testimony

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said in a statement that she wants the committee to attain testimony from all involved. “If those responsible are not held accountable and if Congress does not act responsibly, this will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic, undermining the peaceful transfer of power at the heart of our democratic system,” she said. Cheney, who was ousted from House GOP leadership earlier this summer, said subpoenas for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump are possible. “The American people ... deserve to know about every phone call that was made, in and out of the White House.”

She told the media after the hearing, “We will investigate every aspect.”

HPI’s takeaways

President Trump summoned his MAGA supporters, said to be 30,000 to 40,000 strong, to a “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse, promising, “It will be wild.” In addressing the crowd, he added, “We’re going to walk to the Capitol.”

As recent published books reveal, Trump watched the ensuing insurrection from his dining room just off the Oval Office. Trump received a phone call from McCarthy during the insurrection, who told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace in January, “What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on. He didn’t see it. What he ended the call was saying – telling me, he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.”

Jan. 13 on the House floor, McCarthy said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump, (to) accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term.”

Two weeks later, on Jan. 27, McCarthy visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring. “Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022,” the statement from McCarthy’s office reads. Trump’s team told Fox News the former president would promote GOP House candidates in the next election.

McCarthy waffled for weeks on how to handle the proposed Jan. 6 bipartisan commission, which he ultimately rejected. He then pulled his five select committee appointees after Pelosi bounced Banks and Jordan.

From a messaging and crisis communication standpoint, McCarthy, Banks and House GOP leadership are on shaky ground, particularly with independent voters who could determine control of Congress in 2022. As Banks articulated on Fox News Tuesday, their key talking point appears to be: Ignore that man behind the curtain (i.e. Trump) and his exhortation for supporters to help stage his coup; it’s Speaker Pelosi’s fault that the Capitol was so vulnerable.