UVA honors law enforcement for Jan. 6 service
As the House Jan. 6 committee wraps up its investigation, the University of Virginia's Center for Politics honored nine police officers who protected the Capitol during the 2021 attack. UVA presented the officers with the first-ever “ Defender of Democracy” awards in late September during a ceremony. About 140 officers were assaulted and seven people died in connection to the events that day.
“It was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand-to-hand, inch-by-inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process,” said Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, of the U.S. Capitol Police, in his July testimony before the Jan. 6 select committee. Gonell was one of the award recipients.
After accepting the awards in the Rotunda at UVA, the group of officers spoke about their experiences and about what the nation can learn from the event.
Pfc. Harry Dunn insisted that the events of Jan. 6 should never be forgotten: “Everybody knows how bad it was. Even the people that are denying it. They know how bad it was.”
Carah Ong Whaley, academic programs officer with UVA’s Center for Politics, said the award was created to bring attention to the threats facing democracy.
“We need to be thinking about truth and accountability. But also, the need to have more responsive government institutions,” Whaley said as she pointed out the officers’ lives were threatened during the attack. “They've continued to face threats as they were the first to really testify before Congress and to call for accountability for what happened,” she said.
“Five years from now, 10 years from now, 100 years from now, what's going to stop people from doing the same thing?” asked Officer Daniel Hodges, of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.
Following his Jan. 6 committee testimony, Capitol rioter Stephen Ayres apologized to the officers. Whaley said moments like that are a step forward.
“I think we need to lean into the conversations about January 6 and why it happened. And to try to understand how people ended up where they did at the Capitol. But also having really deep conversations with people that we don't agree with,” she said.
D.C. police officer Michael Fanone was pulled into the mob that day, tased until he had a heart attack and beaten with a Blue Lives Matter flag as shouts to kill him rang out. He has since left the police force and recently published a memoir about the insurrection and its aftermath called “ Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop's Battle for America's Soul.”
Fanone, who grew up in Alexandria, was a 20-year police veteran and former Trump supporter. In his book, he issues an urgent warning about what he calls the growing threat to our democracy.
After receiving the award from UVA, Fanone said, “I've realized how fragile our democracy really is, how lazy we as Americans had become taking things for granted like peaceful transfer of power. You know, now we are suffering the consequences of that.”