On Jan. 6, I feared for my country, my colleagues, my husband. I had no idea how bad it really was.
Before I share my thoughts about the House select committee’s first hearing on the violent Jan. 6 attack on our Capitol, I owe you three disclosures:
I am an American who believes that, despite its many flaws, our democracy is worth preserving. I see the insurrectionists as traitors, egged on by Donald Trump in his last desperate days as a defeated president.
I am a journalist who worried that day for the safety of my colleagues working in and around the Capitol. After four years of Trump calling them the enemy of the people, they were as vulnerable as the members of Congress who fled for their lives that day.
I am the wife of a Democratic U.S. senator. For 40 minutes after the mob stormed the Capitol, I didn’t know if my husband, Sherrod Brown, was safe or even alive. I am one of hundreds, likely thousands, of family members who worried about someone working in the Capitol that day. I would never claim to be a spokesperson for any of them, but I’m the only one who is a columnist. Silence would be a betrayal of the men and women who risked their lives that day to protect the people we love.
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Heroes now and on the scariest day of my marriage
This week, like many of you, I listened to the testimony of Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and officers Michael Fanone, Daniel Hodges and Harry Dunn. They were heroes on Jan. 6, and on Tuesday, they summoned the courage to share their stories with the world. We could see the toll of this on their faces; we heard it in the tremble of their voices.
Most Republicans had voted against a previous attempt to create a bipartisan commission and opposed the formation of this current panel of seven Democrats and two Republicans – Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger – who had voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection.
Connie Schultz:My faith is a source of comfort. Defending that to fellow progressives puts me in a mood.
It is easy to see why the many Trump sycophants in Congress want nothing to do with this reckoning. There is no defending what happened, but there is also no speaking out for anyone still eager to appease this treasonous former president. All of Donald Trump’s power resides in Republicans’ fear of him.
“On Jan. 6 for the first time,” Gonell testified, “I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than during my entire deployment to Iraq. … What we were subjected to that day was 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.”
Fanone was beaten unconscious and suffered a heart attack and brain injury. He described being “grabbed, beaten, tased” and hearing chants of “kill him with his own gun.”
“I was electrocuted again and again and again with a taser. I’m sure I was screaming, but I don’t think I could even hear my own voice. … I thought of my four daughters who might lose their dad. … I said as loud as I could manage, ‘I’ve got kids.’ ”
Dunn described a crowd screaming the N-word at him. “No one had ever, ever called me an (N-word) while wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer,” he said. Another Black officer told him “he had never, in his entire 40 years of life, been called a (N-word) to his face, and that streak ended on Jan. 6.”
'This is how I'm going to die':At Jan. 6 hearing, officers tell of harrowing attacks
As I listened to the testimonies, I kept glancing at a photo of my husband I had tweeted at 5:19 a.m. on Jan. 6. He was standing by the Christmas wreath on our front door, about to leave for the six-hour drive to Washington. His curly hair was still wet from the shower, and the strap of his lunch bag was draped over his shoulder as he held the usual bundle of morning newspapers and a fresh pack of face masks. He was beaming.
It was, we thought, the beginning of a happy and historic day, when Congress would certify the election of Joe Biden as our next president. I was watching the proceedings on C-SPAN until our four kids started texting me, asking if Dad was OK. I switched to cable news. One look at the mayhem, and I began trying to call Sherrod. It was the scariest day of our marriage.
To hell and back for you. Where are you now?
I didn’t know the half of it, I now realize. None of us on the outside, and few members of Congress who were whisked away to safety, knew what those officers and their colleagues were enduring that day.
Gonell said his wife and relatives had texted him for hours. When he finally arrived home at 4 the next morning, 14 hours later, his wife tried to hug him, but he pushed her away. He wanted to protect her from the chemicals on his uniform.
I can’t stop thinking about that, and Fanone’s description of how willful indifference is compounding their pain.
“What makes the struggle harder and more painful,” he said, “is to know so many of my fellow citizens, including so many people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened. I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”
He’s talking to you, Trump Republicans.
Connie Schultz is a columnist for USA TODAY. She is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, "The Daughters of Erietown," is a New York Times bestseller. Reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz