This immigrant police officer has proven to be more of an American than any of the Jan. 6 terrorists

It’s hard to overstate the body blow delivered to the entire right-wing project in the form of the four battle-scarred police officers who testified about their brutal experiences combating the mob of insurrectionists who Donald Trump unleashed against this country’s institutions on Jan. 6, 2021. Much as the nation’s armed forces, who the conservative multiverse leaps to lionize on every possible occasion, the country’s police represent its natural allies, their useful, quasi-military attack dogs against those Black people and brown-skinned immigrants who are the source (and ultimately the target of) nearly all their grievances. It’s a key component of their “us vs. them” philosophy, in which they reassure themselves who is a “real” American and who is not. 

So it’s understandable that the spectacle of these police officers not only impugning the Jan. 6 mob’s actions as criminal but as fundamentally un-American, literally describing them as “terrorists,” evoked such a visceral negative reaction among the right. That interpretation, one which not only right-wing media, but nearly the entire Republican Party has struggled mightily since Jan. 6 to preempt, strikes at the very heart of the conservative mindset. And it’s even more intolerable—galling, even—when that inescapable conclusion presents itself in via an immigrant police officer and Iraq war veteran.

When he got off the plane at New York City’s JFK airport in 1992, setting foot in the country that would eventually become his home—the same country that he would sign up to defend and would send him to Iraq for 545 days—Aquilino Gonell had no idea he’d one day be assigned to protect the U.S. Capitol. Or that 30 years after he came to the U.S., he’d be testifying in front of a congressional panel and television cameras about injuries and attacks he’d sustained in an unprovoked, vicious attack on the foundation of his adopted country’s democracy.

Gonell didn’t know that he’d be called upon to explain, in vivid detail, the barrage of physical blows, hurled objects, racist taunts, and screaming insults disparaging his loyalty to this country that he’d receive at the hands of an all-American mob, bent on killing members of Congress. A mob that a cynical, criminal thug of a president incited into attacking the Capitol for the sole purpose overturning a fair and lawful election in his favor.

The sergeant, now 43, could not possibly have foreseen that after immigrating from the Dominican Republic, he’d ultimately prove himself to be a far better, far more genuine American than millions of others who proudly boast of their citizenship and supposed loyalty to this country, somehow deemed more sincere simply by virtue of their being born here.

James Hohmann, writing for The Washington Post, patiently explains the difference between Aquilino Gonell and the thousands of so-called Americans who found time to take the day off from their busy schedules on Jan. 6 to put on their little baseball caps, pack up their metal pipes, rebar, tasers, mace, and bear spray, and and point their shiny $40,000 pickup trucks into the heart of this nation’s capitol for the purpose of inflicting violence and terror on the American people and its representatives.

Barbarians who ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 called Aquilino Gonell a “traitor” and told him he’s “not even an American.” Those slanderous words wounded the Capitol Police sergeant, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, as badly as the pole someone attacked him and fellow officers with, which was flying a U.S. flag. But Gonell is a bigger patriot than Donald Trump and all the insurrectionists incited by the then-president — combined. He is the one who truly understands — and embodies — what makes America great.

Of the four wounded officers who testified before the congressional select committee to open up its investigation into the attacks of Jan. 6, it’s impossible to say whose testimony was the most affecting. All of them, speaking in unsparing, sometimes truncated and often bitter language, vividly described what transpired that day as the rabid crowd of thousands descended on them, furious that they’d encountered resistance to their well-laid pans for carnage. As Officer Daniel Hodges explained, the officers were constrained by the fact that none of them could know whether the attackers were armed with live weapons (doubtlessly many were), or had set up pipe or other bombs primed to detonate (someone had), and for that reason they could not use their own weapons, since a firefight would inevitably lead to a mass slaughter.  More importantly, as they were vastly outnumbered by the mob, if a firefight broke out the police were likely to lose, leaving the Capitol and everyone in it open to attack.

"There were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms and a couple hundred of us, maybe. So we could not -- if that turned into a firefight, we would have lost," Hodges told the committee. "And this was a fight we couldn't afford to lose."

As Hohmann reports, Gonell, like his fellow officers, described the onslaught and what he experienced.

He described experiencing hand-to-hand combat like “something from a medieval battle,” scarier than any of the 545 days he served in Iraq. The invaders, chanting “Trump sent us,” used hammers, knives, batons and shields. Gonell was punched, pushed, kicked, shoved and bear-sprayed.

Each officer’s testimony provided unique insight into the barbaric nature of the Trump-inspired mob, the blatant racism, unconstrained hate, and the sickening, plainly gleeful and eager exercise of violence displayed to the nation on Jan. 6. Officer Harry Dunn’s testimony in particular explicitly revealed the explicit, virulent racism of that mob, collectively taunting him with a vile racist slur to punctuate and amplify attacks on his person. No officer’s testimony was anything less than wrenching, riveting and disturbing. All of them performed heroically under unbelievable odds, and the trauma each of them has endured was obvious.

But the irony of Gonell, a naturalized American citizen, defending this nation’s Capitol against a braying crowd of self-styled “true Americans” who told Gonell he was “not even an American,” many inspired by xenophobia and Trump’s race-baiting vitriol towards immigrants, is inescapable.

Gonell only stopped working when his right foot swelled so much that it wouldn’t fit in his shoe and his limp became so painful he could hardly stand. Surgeons fused fractured bones in his foot. He recently learned he’ll need surgery on his left shoulder. He also suffered injuries to both hands and his left calf. Now, he’s back on duty, but to his chagrin, deskbound until he can complete more physical therapy.

Hohmann makes the point that immigrants often turn out to be better Americans than many who were privileged enough to be born here, simply because they better understand the value—and fragility—of what democracy really is. That may be why events like the attempted insurrection on  Jan. 6 resonate with Sgt. Gonell. It may also be, as Hohmann points out, why some of the key witnesses against Trump during his first impeachment trial were also immigrants (two of whom, Alexander Vindman and Marie Yovanovitch, emigrated from autocratic regimes in Ukraine and the USSR).

Unlike the thugs who attacked the seat of our democracy on Jan. 6—whether they did it out of sheer malice, race-fueled hate, or blind ignorance—Sgt. Aquilino Gonell acted to protect, rather than destroy, the foundation of that democracy. As Hohmann observes, unlike the thugs who attacked the Capitol, Gonell actually took an oath to defend and protect this country: not once, not twice, but three times. And unlike many insurrectionists who were formerly in the military and law enforcement, who have dishonored and defiled their oaths to defend and protect the nation, its citizens, and its Constitution by abetting or participating in the Jan. 6 attack, Gonell has faithfully kept his oath, putting his own body on the line not only in Iraq, but on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

So which of these folks represents the true American ideal?  Which represents the “real” Americans, as the Jan. 6 insurrectionists are so fond of calling themselves?

It’s really not that hard of a question to answer.

One question the Jan. 6 committee should ask every police officer injured during the insurrection

The response of the Washington, D.C. Capitol Police to the events of Jan. 6 has been closely examined and debated from practically the first moments of the insurrection itself. There have been credible accusations that the police deliberately responded sluggishly or with intentional forbearance given that the thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol were almost entirely white. There is also strong evidence that some of the Capitol officers willingly abetted the insurrectionists by allowing access to the Capitol building at critical times during the event. There has been credible evidence indicating that some in the Capitol police hierarchy were aware of the insurrectionists’ plans to attack Congress beforehand and still did nothing to prepare against the attacks.

All of these assertions deserve to be fully investigated. But one thing remains absolutely undeniable: the Capitol and D.C. police were the only thing standing between the insurrectionists and the elected representatives and senators trapped in the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Had it not been for the presence and efforts of most of these officers, many of the Trump-supporting thugs who violently smashed their way through glass doors for the sole purpose of finding these officials would have inflicted violence on those same officials. Absent the police, some of these representatives and senators would almost certainly have been killed or otherwise assaulted by the members of this uncontrolled mob.

One other thing is clear: about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers suffered injury in their efforts to repulse the attack on Jan. 6. Some of them were so gravely injured, both mentally and physically, that they may never return to work as police officers. Others find themselves now disabled from injuries inflicted during the melee on that day or stricken with PTSD more reminiscent of the wartime experience of Vietnam or Iraq veterans who have seen close combat. 

Many of those injured as a result of the events at the Capitol will doubtlessly be called as witnesses by the select committee now formed to investigate the cause of the insurrection.They will be asked about the extent of their injuries, and how they received those injuries. So here is one simple question that members of that committee should ask each and every one of these officers, preferably at the close of their testimony:

Did President Donald Trump ever contact you to apologize, or express his sympathy, gratitude or appreciation for your sacrifice?

I’m quite certain the answer of each of these officers will be “no.”

This weekend the Washington Post ‘s Peter Hermann highlighted the extent of injuries sustained by several officers defending against the attacks. As Hermann reports, these officers were “bludgeoned with poles and bats, pushed and trampled, and sprayed with chemical irritants.” Others were struck, often in the head, by thrown objects. One who was knocked unconscious could “barely walk, barely talk” in the days following the attacks, and is still out of work, having suffered a severe concussion. Several officers now suffer from ongoing neurological problems after being assaulted with such objects:

Some officers who were assaulted Jan. 6 experienced different or worsening symptoms in the weeks and months that followed, indicating they may have suffered injuries more severe than had initially been believed, in particular undiagnosed head trauma, according to a therapist who has seen hundreds of D.C. officers. She thinks others who emerged exhausted and sore may not have reported injuries, or even recognized they needed medical care.

One officer, Brian Sicknick, succumbed to two successive strokes one day after being assaulted and pepper-sprayed by the Trump mob. Two officers have committed suicide as a result of mental and physical trauma sustained during the attacks. One turned in her weapon, fearing that she would use it on herself. According to their union, several officers present that day are unlikely to ever return to work due to physical injuries they sustained.

Other scars are less visible but no less real. One Black police officer, repeatedly vilified as a “n-----” by Trump’s supporters, screaming it in his face as they assaulted him, has undergone marked changes in his personality. Others have sustained emotional trauma that has impaired their ability to function and impacted their relationships with their spouses and families.

Officer Michael Fanone is already familiar to many. Beaten unconscious by the Trump-incited mob, he has spearheaded a personal effort to obtain recognition for the sacrifices of his fellow officers. Fanone’s post-hospitalization course is emblematic of other officers injured that day: debilitating headaches, nausea, and dizziness symptoms common to post-concussion survivors, along with cognitive impairment, nervousness, and anxiety more akin to sufferers of PTSD. For his efforts in defending the Capitol, Fanone was rewarded by Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, who refused to shake his hand. when the two met in an elevator (Clyde had previously referred to the Capitol attacks as a “tourist visit”).

Another officer, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a veteran of the Iraq war, was interviewed by Hermann for the Post article:

Gonell fought on the Capitol’s West Terrace. He said he and his colleagues were called unpatriotic, scum, traitors and un-American. He didn’t know he had been struck with a speaker until he saw himself on a video.

After the riot, Gonell powered through his injuries and insisted on working through the Jan. 20 inauguration, hiding his limp and shoulder pain and ignoring a doctor’s advice to take it easy. He stopped only after Biden was sworn in, when his foot had become dangerously swollen and he could no longer stand.

All of these injured officers have something in common: they were all injured as a direct result of a mob incited by Donald Trump to attack the Capitol. While these policemen and women were subjected to the full fury of the mob, Donald Trump (who had falsely reassured the rioters that he would be present alongside them during the assault) simply sat watching them being beaten, enthralled, in front of his television set for literally hours. Far from doing anything to stop the mayhem that he had incited, he encouraged it by refusing to do anything at all, even coyly tweeting at one point that the attackers were “very special.”

In his open letter to all members of Congress, Officer Fanone wrote that the “indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful.” 

"As the physical injuries gradually subsided, in crept the psychological trauma. In many ways I still live my life as if it is January 07, 2021. I struggle daily with the emotional anxiety of having survived such a traumatic event but I also struggle with the anxiety of hearing those who continue to downplay the events of that day and those who would ignore them altogether with their lack of acknowledgement. The indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful."

At the time Fanone was referring to the fact that Republican members of the House and Senate refused to acknowledge the viciousness and extent of the assault or even the reason it occurred. Since that time, Republicans have even attempted to ascribe some sort of heroism or justification on the part of these insurrectionists. Trump himself has called them “great people,” and a “loving crowd.”

So, after each officer testifying before the committee sets forth—in painstaking detail—the extent and cause of his/her injuries sustained at the hands of the Trump mob, the committee members will have an opportunity to simply remind Americans that all of those officers’ injuries stemmed entirely from one man’s malice, depravity and complete indifference to their fate. An indifference that he has never once even tried to hide or disguise by the slightest expression of sympathy or appreciation for their sacrifice.

Did President Donald Trump ever contact you to apologize, or express his sympathy, gratitude or appreciation for your sacrifice?

That, at the very least, should leave an impression.

Trump’s army of misogynists had special plans for any women they found

I’m ashamed to admit that this didn’t register the first time I saw video of Donald Trump’s supporters marching through the Capitol, methodically hunting door-to-door for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, smashing down doors and chanting her name.

Thanks to Monica Hesse, writing for The Washington Post, I get it now.

As rioters made their way through the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, some went looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. New footage of this was released at Wednesday’s session of the impeachment trial. The mob roamed hallways, searching for her office, and as they did, they called for her. “Oh Nancy,” one man cried out, three syllables ricocheting off the walls. “Oh Naaaaaaancy.

Sure, they wanted to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence. And they would have, in a heartbeat. But they had something special planned for the women they encountered, Nancy Pelosi most of all—and they wanted her to know it.

The video below, played during the House managers’ case, is just one example.

It wasn’t some high-minded notion about the election that motivated a lot of these folks. Yes, they all were avid Trump supporters, but, for many of them, Trump was just an authority figure who finally validated their anger and hostility. He was someone who had confirmed and stoked their deep-seated hatred and made them feel good about themselves. He was a soothing presence telling them that it was okay to be a racist and okay to be a misogynist. When he told them it was okay to march on the Capitol, they felt a sense of freedom. They could be exactly the people they always wanted to be, unbound by any constraints.

And that’s exactly how they behaved, Hesse explains.

Oh Naaaaaaancy is said in a singsongy voice. It is the same voice that a child would use to say, Come out, come out, wherever you arrrrre in a backyard game of hide-and-seek tag. It is playful. It is sinister. It says, I am planning to take my time, and it will not be pleasant, and it will not end well for you. The men looking for Pelosi in the Capitol were strolling, not running.

Hesse cites a revealing investigation by Alanna Vagianos, conducted for Huffington Post in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Vagianos looked into the history of several of the prominent faces arrested in connection with the riots, and found that a startling number had something singular in common: “a history of violence against women―ranging from domestic abuse accusations to prison time for sexual battery and criminal confinement.”

By acting out their innermost misogynistic fantasies, these men, caught on camera roaming the halls in search of Speaker Pelosi, revealed their intentions as clear as day: They intended murder, but they also intended sexual assault. “Nancy” was the name that popped into their head, but it could have been any woman that they met in those hallways. The goal was to terrorize, and if the opportunity arose, well, who could say?

For those who may still not quite understand, Hesse patiently explains what these people were really about:

Oh Naaaaaaancy is also self-aware. It knows it sounds like a horror movie. It is the sort of affectation a bad man might pick up after too many viewings of The Shining. It is what a man stalking a woman thinks a man stalking a woman should say.

Retired Air Force veteran Larry Brock, famously photographed in tactical gear and carrying zip-ties (also known as flexible restraints) was one of these men with an ugly history of violence towards women. While in the process of finalizing a divorce, Brock was apparently fond of sending abusive text messages to his then-wife, such as. “Do the right thing and kill yourself already.”

“I have better things to do than speak to a whore”; “Nobody loves you”; “Narcissistic whore.” Her ex-husband, Larry Rendall Brock Jr., had been sending them like clockwork for three years. A court had ordered the couple to communicate through a specialized portal while their contentious divorce was finalized. Larry often used it for threats.

Another man arrested for the riots, 48-year old Guy Reffitt, was also an abuser.

In 2018, police responded to a domestic disturbance at Reffitt’s home during which he and his wife were physically fighting. Reffitt and his wife, Nicole Reffitt, were both drunk, their children were present and he had a gun, according to the police report. At one point, Reffitt pushed his wife onto a bed and started choking her until she almost lost consciousness, the report states.

There’s Jacob Lewis, a 37-year old gym owner, who gained national notoriety by refusing to close his California club in light of COVID-19 restrictions. Lewis had a restraining order against him for potential domestic violence.

There was 26-year-old Samuel Camargo, who had previously attacked his sister. There was Matthew Capsel, another abuser who had violated his own restraining order, threatening a woman with violence even after his arrest for the Jan. 6 rioting. There was Proud Boy Andrew Ryan Bennett, who had previously assaulted his sister and attacked a woman in a tattoo parlor.

And then there was this guy:

Another Capitol rioter, Edward Hemenway of Winchester, Virginia, was released from prison in 2013 after serving five years on rape, sexual battery and criminal confinement charges. According to court records, Hemenway lured his estranged wife to a hotel in 2004, where he handcuffed her and duct-taped her mouth shut.

Of course, these are only the ones who’ve been arrested, and whose newfound notoriety permits their histories to be explored. But there were doubtlessly hundreds more of these types in the crowd that day. As Vagianos’ article points out, the white supremacist ideology driving many of these people meshes perfectly with misogyny, because both attitudes thrive on white male insecurities—about race and about women, respectively. Trump deliberately played to these men’s insecurities, so it took little effort to convince them that a threat to him was equally a threat to themselves.

And that’s exactly what played out inside the Capitol halls as they chased down their prey.

Since Republicans won’t convict, turn the second impeachment into a trial of the Republican Party

Quavering under explicit threats from Donald Trump that he will start a neo-fascist third party (grossly named “The Patriot Party”), Senate Republicans, led by Kentucky blowhard Rand Paul, have signaled that there is no way they would ever vote to convict Trump for inciting the deadly insurrection that killed five people on Jan. 6, and sent hordes of stinking Trump supporters to smear feces all over the House and Senate chambers while trying to hunt down members of those legislative bodies.

Now that we know this, now that it’s clear, let’s just remember who controls the trial and the admissible evidence in that trial: the Democratic Senate. Just like then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell constrained the first trial by admitting no witnesses or evidence, Democrats are free to admit whatever it takes to paint a clear picture of the environment Trump created, which motivated and aided his incitement of the mob.

Max Boot, writing this week for The Washington Post, makes an excellent point.

When the impeachment proceedings begin in the Senate, it will not be just Donald Trump in the dock. The entire Republican Party will be on trial. And there is every reason to believe that the GOP will fail this test — as it failed every other during the past four years.

As Boot emphasizes, Trump’s guilt here is crystal clear and becoming even clearer than that with each passing day. Boot notes the Center for Responsive Politics report revealing that Trump’s corrupt campaign funneled $2.7 million to groups that organized and participated in the violent insurrection. Many of the participants in the event itself have directly characterized their actions as a response to Trump’s siren call.

There’s no doubt that Trump is guilty of inciting the insurrection. As an added bonus, it’s also clear that he had exhausted all other means to overturn the election, even trying to force the attorney general’s office to involve the Justice Department in the coup attempt. Many witnesses may now be called to attest to Trump’s desperation, further providing evidence for his motives in inciting the Jan. 6 attack.

As Boot observes, we caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of our eyes, of Republicans possibly, maybe, kind of considering doing the right thing and convicting this criminal president of the worst offense any president could possibly commit against this nation: willful insurrection.

But no, it was not to be. Because … they’ve all suddenly become Constitutional scholars!

To avoid having to defend Trump’s indefensible conduct, many Republicans are taking refuge in the argument that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a president who has already left office. This is simply untrue, as more than 150 legal scholars — including a co-founder of the Federalist Society! — point out. “In 1876,” they note, “Secretary of War William Belknap tried to avoid impeachment and its consequences by resigning minutes before the House voted on his impeachment. The House impeached him anyway, and the Senate concluded that it had the power to try, convict, and disqualify former officers.”

Never mind that this vast concern for the Constitution wasn’t on display during Trump’s first impeachment trial, or throughout his entire months-long effort to delegitimize a national election and disenfranchise 80 million Americans. Nothing unconstitutional to see there, I guess.

But there actually was something to see, after all. It was the sight of House and Senate Republicans doing absolutely nothing to stop that effort, and in fact aiding and abetting it through their votes to negate the verdict of the American people—though not in their own elections, mind you. In fact, there was a whole lot to see. And there’s a whole lot of complicity to explore.

We saw Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley raise his fist in support of the insurrectionists, practically egging them on, as long as he could ride the coattails. We saw Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lending his own voice to the treachery, along with 140 members of the House of Representatives.

These people not only supported this lie, they campaigned on it in their own elections. The rot runs right down into the state legislators who wanted to get in on the action. Local party organizations are supporting Trump’s insurrection efforts in state after state, from Wyoming to Arizona.

The GOP appears more eager for retribution against Republicans who upheld their oaths of office than against a president who violated it. All 10 of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are now facing a backlash at home, with local party organizations scolding them for disloyalty and primary challengers lining up against them. Pro-Trump House members are  also demanding Cheney’s ouster as chair of the House Republican conference.

The cancer cuts down to the bone. It isn’t just Trump, but a culture of Republican-abetted sedition that needs to be presented to the American people on Feb. 8. Call some witnesses from those state legislatures who met with Trump as he hemmed, hawed and threatened them. Call Hawley as a witness and obtain all his contacts and communications with the administration before the insurrection. Same with Cruz. There’s no privilege attached, not when you’re trying to commit a crime, boys.

Americans really need to see the big picture.  Let’s give it to them. And let Hawley and Cruz—and Trump—squeal their seditious little asses off.