Jan. 23, 2023
Officers who defended the Capitol during Jan. 6 insurrection recall their experiences
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Danny Hodges describe the front lines of the 2021 riot at the Capitol and their feelings about those involved.
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U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Danny Hodges defended the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. They want accountability “not for just the people who did it but the people who emboldened it, the people who inspired it.”
Hodges and Dunn have been publicly telling their stories in recent months and were at Virginia Commonwealth University on Thursday for “Memories of January 6th: A Conversation with Two U.S. Capitol Police Officers,” a joint event of the political science departments at VCU and Randolph-Macon College. Both officers have testified in court against people who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and they also provided testimony to the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the attack. Hodges and Dunn said former President Donald Trump, former U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and others have not been held accountable for the lies about the election and encouraging the disruption of the legal transfer of power.
Of the rioters, Dunn said, “They were under orders from the most powerful person on the planet. I don’t know about you all, but if I get that kind of reassurance from somebody that powerful, then yeah, I’m going to do whatever I’m told to do. That is one of the reasons that I and Danny also want accountability all the way to the top, not just the people who did it.”
Day started with an eerie feeling
The officers said Jan. 6, 2021 felt strange from the beginning. The nation was still in the middle of the pandemic, and it was a cold winter day. Dunn recalled driving into Washington, D.C. for work and seeing hundreds of people wandering the streets and crowds had already started to form around the Capitol.
“The city is shut down,” Dunn said. “We are in the middle of the pandemic. Nothing’s open. The Capitol is not open. The museums aren’t open. There was nothing for tourists to see except be outside. And it’s the beginning of January. It’s cold, dark. To see that many people coming into the city at six in the morning was an eerie feeling. I just knew, ‘This ain’t right.’”
Hodges and Dunn have experience with riot control and protests. Hodges worked large protests such as the 2017 Women’s March and the annual Right to Life march. He worked heavy hours during the 2020 civil unrest that happened in Washington, D.C. and across the country.
“People come from all over the world to protest in D.C., because they have that right to air their grievances,” Hodges said. “We have a lot of experiences with protests.”
Dunn said Capitol Police were not made aware of the magnitude of the protests until it was too late. He remembers another officer screaming into the radio that she needed help, because so many rioters were storming her position.
“She was just screaming, and you could hear the panic and desperation in her voice,” Dunn said. “‘Send us more units. Help. We need help. Help’ You could hear the fear in her voice.”
Dunn ran to the other side of the Capitol and saw a sea of people. Hodges was near the White House where Trump and others had been speaking at a rally and raced to the scene. Dunn and Hodges engaged rioters in hand-to-hand combat for extended periods of time until help arrived from other agencies. They both sustained concussions and other significant injuries. Dunn said one of his offers, who was in training, was knocked out. Hodges did not work for several months after the attack, and Dunn said he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since the events of Jan 6.
“They went in everywhere,” Dunn said. “They completely surrounded the Capitol building.”
Hodges added, “It sounds pretty ridiculous, but calling it a zombie movie is pretty accurate.”
People try to tell Dunn and Hodges that the Jan. 6 riot was not that bad and compare it to the 2020 civil unrest. The difference, they said, was the Jan. 6 insurrection was meant to disrupt Congress from certifying the election. The rioters marched across the city and stormed the Capitol building with the purpose of disrupting the democratic process. Hodges has no problem calling the people who participated in the insurrection domestic terrorists.
“I refer to them as terrorists not lightly,” Hodges said. “I looked up the definition beforehand. It fit what they were doing to a T. It’s important that everyone acknowledge what it was because people have this notion that we can’t have domestic terrorism here in the United States. That is what happens in some other countries or overseas, but it absolutely did happen here.”
One of the saddest parts for Dunn was the desecration of the halls of democracy. He said not only did the rioters break windows and the marble floors, but they also defecated in the congressional chamber. He remembers going to work for months and seeing the destruction before everything was repaired.
“It was like going to a crime scene,” Dunn said.
The officers are proud that they played a role in saving democracy in the United States. They know that people deny the severity of the riot and whether it even happened. They said people can discuss the meaning and reasons behind the Jan. 6 event, but there is no arguing it happened, they said.
The moderator, Alex Keena, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, part of the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, asked Dunn and Hodges whether either of them had heard from former President Trump thanking them for their service. Both laughed.
“What would he say?” Dunn said. “Come on, man.”
Hold people accountable
Political violence was normalized prior to Jan. 6 and now has become a part of political discourse, but they said leaders must be held accountable. Elected officials can be voted out of office, and people, such as Flynn, who receive military benefits should be stripped of those benefits, the officers said.
“You have to take responsibility when you are a person in a position of power,” Dunn said. “Elected officials, police officers, professors. Whatever. You have to take some responsibility. Words matter, what you say matters.”
Dunn is set to publish a memoir about the event of Jan. 6 and the aftermath. The book is titled, “Standing My Ground: A Capitol Police Officer's Fight for Accountability and Good Trouble.” Keena asked Dunn about the “good trouble” language.
Dunn said the late congressman John Lewis used the term. Lewis was a renowned civil rights leader who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights marches in the 1960s. Dunn said he was nervous at first to speak out initially about the insurrection. He and other officers who had defended the Capitol have been heckled and received death threats.
“In no way am I going to compare myself to John Lewis and Martin Luther King, but for them to stand up was something they felt right about, it was the least I could do,” he said. “Martin Luther King lost his life for what he believed in. And I have to just tell my story about what happened, especially as the echo of people denying what actually happened. … We saw it with our own eyes.”
Securing the Capitol to certify the election
The officers, who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of Thursday’s event, were humble about what they accomplished. They did not think about the implications of the riots and the fight to save democracy while it was happening. They still see new footage video of that day and often do not remember the events. They were so in the moment.
“A lot of people asked, ‘How did you keep going?’” Dunn said. “If you didn’t, you would have died. A lot of people say you saved democracy, but we really saved our asses. As a law enforcement officer, your job and No. 1 goal is to make sure you go home every night.”
A person in the audience asked the officers why deadly force was not used that day. It is complicated, they said. Officers’ protocols for the use of deadly force were never meant to apply to an insurrection at the Capitol, they said. Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed when she tried to breach the chamber inside the Capitol, but in the end, law enforcement officers largely did their job without deadly force. They secured the Capitol building after hours of battling with the rioters.
“It made me proud,” Dunn said. “Our job was to provide a safe environment, and we made it safe eventually. (The certification of the election) was able to go on later that night. That made me very proud.”
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