Capitol police officers who battled Trump-backing insurrectionists stumped for Biden in Phoenix

Two former U.S. Capitol Police
officers who carry with them physical and mental reminders of the
violence they encountered at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 stopped in
Phoenix Thursday to campaign for President Joe Biden. 

Sgt. Aquilino Gonell and Officer
Harry Dunn gathered with local Democrats at the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees headquarters in Phoenix to share
their personal experiences on Jan. 6, 2021, and to urge accountability
for perpetrators of political violence.

Gonell was stationed that day at a
tunnel entrance by the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol that became a
focal point for violent clashes that turned deadly. 

Police engaged in a tumultuous three-hour battle
with rioters at the tunnel, who were attempting to breach the Capitol,
some brandishing weapons like sledgehammers and poles. Gonell recalled
for Arizona journalists on Thursday being hit by a flagpole wielded by
one of the rioters in the tunnel. 

Multiple officers were injured, dragged and beaten in the tunnel as police and rioters exchanged blows and chemical agents. 

His colleague, Dunn, was brought into
the Capitol from outside to help injured officers and guard
then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. He has said in
interviews that he bloodied his knuckles during clashes with rioters throughout the day. Dunn unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Maryland as a Democrat this year. 

In an exclusive interview with the
Arizona Mirror, the two men talked about their concerns for the country
should former President Donald Trump get elected again, political
violence and the country’s divided opinions on the events of Jan. 6. 

Both men stressed that accountability
for what happened on Jan. 6 is necessary to deter future political
violence. Gonell was attacked by more than 40 different rioters
throughout the day and he has testified in more than 20 cases against
people who attacked him and his fellow officers. 

But both Dunn and Gonell said that
not only should the rioters be liable for their actions, but so should
those who helped incite and provide the avenue for them to commit those
crimes. Both men said they hope that Trump is held legally accountable
for his role in the Jan. 6 riot. 

Republican Arizona state Sens. Janae Shamp and Anthony Kern both were present at the Capitol that day, with Shamp near the tunnel during some of the more violent clashes. 

Kern later invited Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman who was considered by some to be the face of the Capitol riot, to be a special guest of the legislature. 

“They got into a position of power
even though the state could have held them accountable,” Gonell said
when asked for his thoughts on the two state senators. Gonell said he
would have liked to see Arizona treat the two senators the same way New
Mexico treated Couy Griffin, who was removed from office as a county
commissioner because of his participation in an insurrection. 

Some have made attempts to do the same to lawmakers in Arizona, but those attempts have failed in court. 

Dunn and Gonell also stressed that
politicians are still actively creating an atmosphere ripe for political
violence, like what was seen on Jan. 6, to flourish. 

“They’re downplaying violence,” Dunn
said, citing statements by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia
Republican who has said if she was in charge of the events of Jan. 6,
they “would have won,” later claiming it was a “sarcastic joke.” 

“Donald Trump is the same,” Gonell added. “He’s dangling pardons.” 

The former president has said that,
if he is reelected, he would pardon those who participated in the riots
that day, something that Dunn and Gonell both said gives people the
false impression that they can “willfully break the law.” 

Dunn said that rhetoric is also
creating an “environment of fear.” But rather than give into that fear,
he said that people should “use it” as motivation. 

“We have to make the process of
voting seamless and secure,” Gonell said, adding that fears of alleged
voter fraud are creating political violence in the form of voter
intimidation. In Arizona, ballot drop boxes during the mid-terms became a
contentious point as armed men — fueled by misinformation about
non-existent widespread voter fraud — watched over them and recorded
those who were dropping off their ballots. 

Gonell, who fought with the Army in
Afghanistan, said that everyone has the right to vote and that voting is
one of the only cures for political violence. But false narratives
around the process undermine faith in elections. 

“I don’t win and you don’t see me burning down the lotto,” Gonell said about the way some voters are reacting to the process. 

“This fear is real,” Dunn said of
voter concerns heading into the 2024 general election. “We’re literally
on the brink of dictatorship or democracy.” 

The two each said they believe they
can help voters make competent decisions by continuing to tell their
stories of what happened that day, even as conspiracy theories around
the riot continue to flourish online. 

“January 6 shouldn’t have happened,
and it happened in broad daylight,” Gonell said. The former sergeant
carries around a piece of broken glass from the Capitol building in a
small wooden frame with him wherever he goes as a reminder, beyond his
physical and mental injuries, of what happened on that day. 

“Not on our watch,” Dunn said when asked about the public forgetting about the events of Jan. 6.