The Capitol Police and the Scars of Jan. 6
Listen to This Article
Audio Recording by Audm
To hear more audio stories from publications like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Caroline Edwards, a 31-year-old United States Capitol Police officer, was stationed by some stairs on the Capitol grounds when the energy of the crowd in front of her seemed to take on a different shape; it was like that moment when rain suddenly becomes hail. A loud, sour-sounding horn bleated, piercing through the noise of the crowd, whose cries coalesced into an accusatory chant: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Edwards, who is 5-foot-4, tried to make herself look imposing. Behind a row of bike racks, alongside four other officers, she stood in a wide stance, her hands on her hips. A man in front of her whipped off his jacket as if he were getting ready for something, flipped his red MAGA hat backward — and then the rioters were pushing the bike racks forward as the officers pushed back, trying to hold their balance.
A sergeant standing closer to the Capitol looked over just in time to see a bike rack heaved up and onto Edwards, whom he recognized by her tied-back blond hair. She crumpled to the ground, head hitting concrete, the first officer down in what would prove to be a bloody, bruising battle, the worst assault on the Capitol since 1814, when the British burned the building to the ground. The crowd howled and roared, rushing past the barricade as that sergeant started screaming into the radio orders to lock all Capitol doors.
Edwards’s blue cap had been knocked from her head. Once she got back on her feet, she stood, dazed and leaning on a railing for support, her hair loose and disheveled, as rioters flung themselves past the barriers, her colleagues punching back the few they could. Officers around the building heard, over the radio, an anguished call distinct from any other they had encountered on the job: “Help!”
Caroline Edwards near the place where she was attacked by rioters.Credit…Philip Montgomery for The New York Times
On the other side of the Capitol, Harry Dunn, a 6-foot-7 former college football player, thought he recognized that voice. It sounded to him like Edwards, an officer he’d trained, someone whom more officers than seemed possible considered a close personal friend, including Dunn. He started running toward the west front.
Inside, near the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Devan Gowdy was putting on his riot gear when he heard that same call for help — frantic and high-pitched — and then his unit was sprinting through the building, down two flights of stairs and out a door on the west front of the building. Gowdy, blinking, took in a scene that seemed to have been spliced in from some other, unfamiliar world: A crowd of thousands raged before him. Standing on a small wooden stage built for the inauguration, he felt as if he’d been performing for a murderous, violent audience as people started throwing cans, paintballs, bolts, bottles fizzing with hydrogen peroxide. One rioter he saw was wielding a hatchet with the American flag wrapped around the blade.
Many officers who worked riot control knew, from experience, to take their name tags off before heading into the fray, but Gowdy, a slender 27-year-old with nearly three years on the force, had left his on. “Hey, Gowdy! Look at Gowdy!” a rioter screamed. “Gowdy! Gowdy, you’re scared!” another jeered. One of Gowdy’s sergeants, Aquilino Gonell, a 42-year-old veteran of the war in Iraq, who was close by, unable to move from his position lest the crowd burst through, heard the taunts and was chilled to the bone. Gowdy looked at him beseechingly, but what could he do? Gonell saw a rioter pull hard at the shield in Gowdy’s hand, the two of them rocking back and forth. Gonell thought his officer was hit hard in the head with his own shield; Gowdy only knows that a flagpole clattered to his feet just after he felt a blow. Another officer pulled him back to safety inside the building.
Amid the chaos, Gonell lost track of the other members of his unit, a tight-knit crew that usually worked the midnight shift. Soon he was one of a few officers near the lower west entrance to the building who still had a shield — other officers had either lost theirs in battle or never had one in the first place — and was bracing himself in the doorway, barely holding on. A rioter smashed his hand with a baton. Gonell slipped on a pile of shields wet with toxic spray and feared that the rioters, grabbing his leg, his shield, his arm, would pull him apart before he was somehow able to right himself.
Edwards had gathered herself and spent more than an hour — or was it days, time lost all sense — fighting off rioters or helping other officers on the lower west terrace of the Capitol. She was positioned near a friend from her shift, Brian Sicknick, when they were hit with chemical spray directly in their faces. Edwards’s hands flew to her eyes as she bowed down in pain and stumbled. Sicknick retreated to wash out his eyes, then returned to the fight. Another officer escorted Edwards, her lungs searing from toxic spray, away from the scene to get medical treatment.
Anton, a 34-year-old Navy veteran in Gonell’s unit, had been ordered, along with the rest of the officers on the west front, to retreat into the Capitol. Inside, a friend grabbed his tactical vest, screaming, “They’re in the building!” They realized that if the rioters came down the interior stairs near the lower west terrace entrance, they would attack, from behind, Gonell and other officers who were fending off the crowd at that door. Anton (who asked to be identified by only his middle name to protect his privacy) ran up two flights, using his shield to shove clusters of rioters back up the stairs.
Arriving two floors up, at the Rotunda, amid paintings of American generals courteously accepting their enemies’ surrender, he joined a melee that was savage, without rules or limits. By then, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police had arrived in force as allies in the fight, its only audience the presidential statues encircling the room: a beaming Ronald Reagan, a fierce Andrew Jackson, Dwight Eisenhower in a pose of resolve. Anton took none of it in: He was punching, his fists bloody, hitting men, women, equipment, trying to push the crowd back. Even as he fought, his mind was flooding with questions: Was he going to die here? And if he did, would these demonic faces be the last thing he saw? What would it take for him to actually use his gun? And — what the hell happened to Hoyte?
He had been separated from his friend, Lennox Hoyte, a 32-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served in the military police in Afghanistan. Only later did Anton learn, stricken with guilt, just how badly the day had gone for him. Hoyte was pulled into the crowd, yanked so hard that his gear ripped. Someone beat his hand with a pipe; another rioter swung a piece of scaffolding at him before he was able to tear himself free. He ended up trapped with another officer in an enclosure beneath the inaugural stage, its doors, embedded with electric circuitry, serving as their barricade. Injured, he spent hours there surrounded by a mob that kept trying to break through those doors, unable to leave as chemical spray rained down between the planks of wood overhead.
Another friend, Dominick Tricoche, was off duty but drove to the Capitol after a fellow officer texted the unit’s group chat saying something serious was underway at the Capitol. Fighting, plunging into the crowd to try to help another officer who had been swarmed, he wept chemically induced tears, as if his body’s physical reaction matched the grief and terror he felt in a crowd he was certain wanted to kill him. His eyes felt as if they were merely receptacles for pain; even the air seemed to be on the attack. “Traitor! Traitor!” the rioters chanted, as someone flung a bike rack at him and he fell down a flight of stone stairs. The stone, slick and slippery with blood and tear gas, was punishing: An officer on the west front, a large man with a beard, fell hard on the stairs and was out cold for three minutes. A friend threw himself over that man’s body to protect his gun, his own hand breaking amid the trampling horde.
Dunn, when he rushed to the west front, found that he could not make his way through the crowd to find Edwards. He tried to help hold the line by the western lawn, positioned high above the crowd, his rifle aimed at a mob throwing smoke bombs and waving Confederate and Thin Blue Line flags. Like nearly every armed officer that day, he held his fire, out of restraint but also fear: How many rioters would fire right back? The police were clearly outnumbered.
Back inside the building, Dunn positioned himself on the floor below the Rotunda, stopping rioters who were trying to get past him to an area where officers were recovering. Once Gonell was able to retreat inside, he was relieved to see Dunn. Gonell’s left shoulder was badly injured, but he was using that arm to try to help transport Rosanne Boyland, a member of the crowd who had lost consciousness and had no pulse. Dunn joined Gonell and others as they carried Boyland upstairs so she could be administered CPR (she would later be pronounced dead).
By early evening, with the help of the Metropolitan Police, the Capitol Police had all but cleared the building, and the National Guard had finally arrived. Officers downstairs in the Crypt were on their knees in the hallway, racked with coughs, or standing bereft in a long line for the bathroom, which was crowded with colleagues trying to soothe their searing eyes. When Anton saw Tricoche, he looked as if he had been dipped in a vat of flour, covered in the residue of all that chemical spray.
Anton was taking a break from checking that rooms throughout the Capitol were clear when he heard word over the radio that an officer — he didn’t know who — was receiving CPR. He looked down over a railing and saw, one floor below, some close friends from the midnight shift huddled over a body in uniform. He rushed to direct the E.M.T.s to the right elevator. When he joined his friends, he saw that the person they were helping was Brian Sicknick, Edwards’s shiftmate. He realized that a day that he thought could not possibly get even more horrific just had.
In the Rotunda, Dunn collapsed against a wall beside a fellow officer, openly weeping. In a raw moment that would reverberate beyond that day, he called out in anguish: “Is this America?”
Until Jan. 6, Anton, who patrolled outside the Capitol on the midnight shift, considered his most immediate adversaries to be winter’s frigid nights, summer’s suffocating heat and, year round, the possible complacency born of the work. The job, which he held with great pride, required staying alert for the possibility of a threat at all times, even though there were never any real indications of one. Not every officer took the job so seriously; for example, it bothered Gowdy that some officers literally slept on the job. But Anton felt that because the midnight crew was small, his responsibility at this site, whose history never failed to move him, was large. “Good job,” his colleagues used to say when they relieved him in the morning. “The building’s still here.”
A violent clash against a mob of angry rioters was not the battle that the Capitol Police force was prepared or equipped to win. Military veterans like Anton make up only about 15 percent of the force; many officers, before Jan. 6, had never so much as made an arrest, much less engaged in hand-to-hand combat. In law-enforcement circles, the job was considered stable and cushy — average pay nears six figures, with federal benefits on top of that — if less than exciting. Although its budget is larger than that of the entire force serving Detroit, the Capitol Police Department is expected to provide security for lawmakers and staff in a complex of buildings on Capitol Hill covering less than half a square mile. The officers typically stood guard at checkpoints and metal detectors, provided new members and tourists directions around the labyrinthine building and monitored what were almost always small and peaceful protests on the various political issues that bring crowds to Washington.
It wasn’t until around Christmas that Anton started to think that the Capitol might be facing a serious threat. Alarming warnings started coming through on every officer’s official email in the form of what were called BOLOs — alerts about people to “be on the lookout” for. Officers tended to ignore those messages, and Gonell says they did not strike him as out of the ordinary. But Anton, who had been on the force for almost three years, had never seen BOLOs anything like the ones in his inbox. The alerts included photos of people who were saying things in social media posts along the lines of: “My buddies and me are coming up there with our guns”; “People are going to get hurt.”
Anton and several of his fellow officers, especially those who, like him, were military veterans, were worried about the Jan. 6 gathering and repeatedly approached their immediate supervisor, Gonell, to demand that he raise their concerns with his bosses. What was the plan in the event of even one active shooter? Not all members of the riot squad were trained to use long guns, but Anton thought they could strategize about how to make the most of those who were. (Other officers were also alerting their higher-ups to disturbing memes and posts they were seeing on social media.) Gonell confirms that he raised their suggestions with more senior members of the force, including his own lieutenant and the captain, but was repeatedly told to put his concerns in writing, which he did, to no avail. On Jan. 5, after roll call, Lt. Rani Brooks told the officers she brought up the issue with her captain, at their request, but got nowhere. “I’m not going to say she laughed, but. …” Brooks told them, according to four officers who were there at the time. (Brooks said through a police spokesman that she did not recall using that language.)
The intelligence failures that left police officers, members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence at risk are now well documented. Three days before the attack, an internal police intelligence report described what would occur with almost prophetic accuracy: “Unlike previous postelection protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counterprotesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th. Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members and others who actively promote violence may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.” Yet the agency failed to distribute such intelligence warnings to rank-and-file officers; to fully staff the force for what was increasingly predicted to be a large and unruly event; to allow officers to use their most powerful crowd-control weapons, like stun grenades, to confront the mob, or even to train enough officers on those weapons; to equip enough of the force with riot gear; or even to produce a plan for the situation. Given the obvious and disastrous failures, Chief Steven Sund, who was in charge of day-to-day force operations, resigned shortly after the riot, as did the sergeants-at-arms of the Senate and the House, figures elected by the leaders of each chamber to serve on a board that oversees the Capitol Police force and is ultimately responsible for the building’s security.
Understand the U.S. Capitol Riot
On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
- What Happened: Here’s the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why.
- Timeline of Jan. 6: A presidential rally turned into a Capitol rampage in a critical two-hour time period. Here’s how.
- Key Takeaways: Here are some of the major revelations from The Times’s riot footage analysis.
- Death Toll: Five people died in the riot. Here’s what we know about them.
- Decoding the Riot Iconography: What do the symbols, slogans and images on display during the violence really mean?
Unlike most police departments, which report to an executive-branch leader like a mayor, the Capitol Police Department is the rare force controlled by a legislative body. The structure has helped create a notoriously secretive agency — one that is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests and until recently has rarely held news conferences — and a sense among officers that with two often competing chambers of Congress in charge, no one is in charge.
Capitol security officials have offered conflicting explanations for why the threats weren’t taken more seriously, but it has become clear that they and federal law-enforcement agencies were in a state of denial, unable to perceive what had seemed unimaginable: that a threat to Congress could be emanating from the president himself.
Despite the department’s own dire prediction of an extremist attack on the Capitol, the leaders of the force were lulled into a false sense of security because they had handled two postelection rallies of Trump supporters with little incident, and because federal intelligence agencies weren’t ringing alarm bells. The Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. never issued an elevated or imminent alert, and the Capitol Police’s final intelligence report before Jan. 6 stated that the probability of civil disobedience was “remote” to “improbable.”
Yogananda D. Pittman, the agency’s chief of protective and intelligence operations at the time, apologized to Congress for the failures, but Sund, the former chief, has blamed the F.B.I. and other agencies for missing the threats, arguing that the Capitol Police Department is mostly a “consumer” of information provided by the intelligence community and that the “entire intelligence community seems to have missed it.” There has been more blame to go around: Sund has faulted Congress’s two sergeants-at-arms for not more quickly heeding his calls to send in the National Guard, as well as lower-ranking intelligence officers who did not alert supervisors to warnings of threats.
“The department expected and planned for violence from some protesters with ties to domestic terrorist organizations,” Chief J. Thomas Manger said in a statement, “but nobody in the law-enforcement or intelligence communities imagined, on top of that threat, Americans who were not affiliated with those groups would cause the mayhem to metastasize to a volume uncontrollable for any single law-enforcement agency.”
It is widely known that about 150 officers from the Capitol and Metropolitan Police Departments and local agencies were injured during the violence, more than 80 from the Capitol Police alone. Less understood is how long-lasting the damage, physical and psychological, to the Capitol Police force has been, damage that informs many officers’ outrage about what they perceive as a lack of accountability for those responsible. Interviews over many months with more than two dozen officers and their families (some of whom requested not to use their full names to speak frankly without permission from the department or to protect future employment prospects in the federal government), as well as a review of internal documents, congressional testimony and medical records, reveal a department that is still hobbled and in many ways dysfunctional. Among those still on the force and those who have left, many significant injuries and psychological disorders remain, including serious traumatic brain injuries and neurological impairment, orthopedic injuries requiring surgery and rehabilitation, post-traumatic stress disorder and heightened anxiety.
Deep frustrations remain with the leadership of the force. Most of the commanders widely viewed as failing the rank and file remain in positions of authority, including Pittman, who served as acting chief before Manger was hired in July. “Officers are still in disbelief that Assistant Chief Pittman is still in her role, where she failed miserably on Jan. 6,” says Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the Capitol Police union. “I’ve heard from officers and supervisors who’ve retired; they didn’t want to work under her.” Tim Barber, a Capitol Police spokesman, said in a statement that “Chief Manger has expressed confidence in the department’s leadership team that remained” after the high-level departures in the wake of Jan. 6.
In the year since the siege on the Capitol, about 135 officers on a force of about 1,800 have quit or retired, an increase of 69 percent over the year before. (One officer quit after enduring a string of tragedies: He suffered a stroke shortly after the assault on the Capitol and then contracted the coronavirus twice because of what he viewed as the department’s lax enforcement of mask-wearing protocols.) More may soon join them: Papathanasiou, the union chairman, warns that more than 500 additional officers will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.
Officers we interviewed about their decision to leave said the failures of Jan. 6 were the most egregious of a series of management crises and errors. If Jan. 6 was a national tragedy, it was also one that the officers who served at the Capitol that day experienced cruelly and intimately in their own bodies, compounding the psychic fallout that has been especially profound in people who believed that their daily work reflected the country’s highest ideals: to protect members of Congress, regardless of party, in order to protect democracy itself.
It was not unusual, the first week back at the Capitol after Jan. 6, for officers walking by a bathroom or one of the many small, hidden rooms in the building to overhear the sound of weeping. Anton thought his colleagues’ eyes looked vacant, and he was pretty sure they would have said the same of him. Officers were fearful and on high alert as bomb threats were called in every few days. Some officers, certain they’d never be given the equipment they needed, went out and bought their own helmets and Kevlar. On the morning of the 6th, members of the midnight shift had been sent home; now the Capitol Police called on officers to work long hours of overtime, even as they were surrounded by thousands of National Guard members, whose numbers dwarfed that of the force.
Reports of possible security risks that would most likely have once been dismissed by leadership were now triggers for riot-control officers to throw on what they called their turtle gear — helmets and shields and full tactical gear — and go running to position for threats that never materialized. “We were chasing ghosts,” Anton says. The sergeant who watched Edwards go down on Jan. 6 (he has since retired) worried that he was sending officers to work crowd control who were in no condition to be there. “This is bullshit,” one officer started screaming as her unit geared up, just days after the 6th, to patrol a Black Lives Matter protest near the Capitol.
Before the midnight shift on Jan. 7, officers received grim news: Brian Sicknick was in critical condition and not likely to survive (the Washington chief medical examiner would later report that he had succumbed to two strokes). At roll call for the riot squad, Capt. Ben Smith acknowledged widespread critiques of the force, reminding officers that they weren’t in it for public praise. No one needed a pat on the back, he told them, his affect flat, as three officers recalled; this was what they had signed up for. The room fell silent, stunned. For Anton, Smith’s comments confirmed that the Capitol Police leadership would handle the aftermath of the 6th as badly as they handled the run-up to it. Anton knew what he had signed up for, he thought as Smith spoke. But he had not signed up to serve a force so incompetent that it ignored all obvious signs of trouble ahead, and he had not signed up to fight an army of terrorizing Americans.
Anton’s desire to serve his country was born on Sept. 11, 2001, when he and other students crowded around a television at his high school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and watched the south tower of the World Trade Center crumble to the ground. His mother worked on the 10th floor of that building. He waited with dread for hours in his apartment, convinced that she was never coming home. Even after his mother walked through the door late that night, safe but shaken, his protective impulse remained.
“I just wanted to help,” Anton said many months after the assault on the Capitol, after his disillusionment with the force had swelled and spilled over into so many aspects of his life that he barely recognized himself. “In the Navy, I was always the damage-control man, which is essentially like a firefighter-slash-emergency manager. So I was always in a job where I wanted to help protect people, to prevent bad things from happening. That’s who I am at the core of my life.” All he wanted to do, in those days leading up to the 6th, was help ensure that this federal agency would fiercely protect its leaders and citizens; by the time the captain was addressing him and his peers at roll call on the 7th, the damage was done.
Morale took another blow on Jan. 9 with the death of Officer Howard Liebengood, who was on duty during the attack and took his life three days later. His wife, Serena Liebengood, wrote in an open letter to her Virginia congresswoman, Jennifer Wexton, that her husband had been called on to work “practically around the clock” after the 6th and was severely sleep-deprived.
The entire force had been thrust into similarly punishing overtime shifts, exhausting officers whose nervous systems were already jarred. Mental-health resources were so insufficient that the sergeant who since retired received permission to ask for help from his hometown pastor, who arrived at the Capitol with two other pastors to offer immediate counseling.
On the job, officers traded information about the ones who were missing. Gowdy, a baby-faced officer who clearly found great satisfaction in the authority his uniform lent him, was back home in Pennsylvania Dutch country, recovering from a concussion. Edwards had scabs under her eyes from the chemical burns, as well as a concussion; for the first few days after the attack, she could barely speak or walk. Her husband was also an officer who was in the fray that day, but he was uninjured and felt he was needed at the Capitol, so Edwards flew down to Atlanta, where her mother could help her recover.
Gonell, Anton’s sergeant, tried going to work after the 6th, even though he was clearly in pain. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Gonell was proud to be a sergeant; he sometimes wondered whether he might have gone even further if his accent were less strong, his English a little better. Now he wanted to be there for his officers, but his supervisor, noticing that Gonell was limping, told him not to come back until he’d seen a doctor. Even after that appointment, he continued going to work until the pain was so overwhelming that he could barely drive. M.R.I.s revealed that he would need a bone fusion in his foot and surgery to repair his shoulder. Gonell reluctantly put in paperwork for an extended leave.
Tricoche spent the first two days after the 6th taking care of a hand so black and blue, so swollen, that his thumb could not meet his forefinger. The gashes all over both shins from his fall on the steps would leave scars, but he was more worried about his state of mind. He was working 12- and 16-hour shifts with few days off. He was also in a perpetual state of disgust: The orders coming down, as officers worked cheek by jowl with thousands of National Guard members on the premises, seemed chaotic. Even after what they’d all just lived through, could no one fix what was so clearly broken in management?
In the days after the attack, Dunn, usually an extrovert, felt himself grow depressed. Someone known on the force for speaking his mind (to some, more often than warranted), he instead started isolating himself from his colleagues, eating lunch alone in his car. On social media and sometimes in the press, critics were suggesting that the officers were riot sympathizers who looked the other way; Dunn desperately wanted to offer the contrary facts (which an internal investigation by the Capitol Police and federal prosecutors would eventually confirm): Officers were overwhelmed — and, in a few cases, had shown poor judgment in an effort to assuage the crowd — but they generally had acted heroically and were not complicit. (In the aftermath, six officers would face internal discipline for their actions on Jan. 6, and one would be charged criminally for obstructing justice afterward.)
Just days after the 6th, Dunn gave an anonymous interview to BuzzFeed News, in which he recounted his anguished cry in the Rotunda: “Is this America?” During Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and the lead impeachment manager, quoted those very words in his concluding statements. Dunn, moved to see how his words were used, received clearance from the force to speak more widely to the press, giving interviews to ABC News, CNN, The New York Times. He shared some of the most personal aspects of the day for him — like being called the N-word for the first time in uniform.
Not everyone on the force, which is mostly white (as opposed to the Metropolitan Police Department, which is 50 percent Black), was thrilled that Dunn was the single voice self-designated to speak for all of them. To some, when Dunn talked about the racism he endured on Jan. 6, he made it sound as if it was “all about race,” as one officer put it, especially given that the two Capitol Police officers who died soon after the attack were white. Dunn, aware of that criticism, felt that his critics were focusing on only one aspect of what he discussed on-air: He was also trying to defend the bravery of the force as a whole.
Dunn knew that the Capitol Police Department was depleted, emotionally and numerically: Many were out recovering from their injuries, or they were out sick with Covid, or they were out because they had quit, which put more pressure on the officers still on the force. Still expected to provide security for long and unpredictable sessions of Congress, officers say they were typically receiving only one or two days off per month. Those who served on Jan. 6 were granted only two eight-hour shifts of administrative leave, but many officers felt they were unable to take that leave, much less ask for more. Officers feared that if they went on leave for their mental health, they would only burden their colleagues or jeopardize their job prospects. “I would not be surprised if down the road the department gets sued — big time — for their lack of action after Jan. 6,” one officer said, referring to the mental-health effects of such long hours after the attack.
Tricoche had started to feel he was not entirely himself even before the 6th, exhausted and distressed after working at protests throughout 2020. He was called an Uncle Tom at a Black Lives Matter rally, then called the N-word at the first big MAGA rally, and felt, particularly at the MAGA event, a sense that the Capitol Police officers were little more than costumed props, instructed to simply walk alongside large mobs, with no viable plan for what they were supposed to do if protesters easily overwhelmed the few officers between them and the building.
Although Tricoche was close to his unit — they worked from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. — he felt increasingly alienated from the force itself, where the divisiveness of the outside world inevitably filtered in. On election night, he and Anton watched the returns in a small room where other officers occasionally passed through. Officers kept tossing out predictions about how things would go down if Joe Biden lost — Man, Black Lives Matter was going to get crazy, they said; the protesters were going to get out of hand; it would be a nightmare at the Capitol. Tricoche waited until they were alone in the room and then turned to Anton. The real question, he said, is what happens if Trump loses and doesn’t leave. The two of them went back and forth, playing out the scenarios. Did they trust certain colleagues not to let Trump walk right into the Capitol after Biden was supposed to take office? Did they even trust those colleagues not to turn their guns on Anton or Tricoche if they tried to stand in Trump’s way? The answer, they both thought, might be no.
Tricoche’s colleagues knew him as an officer who had a fierce sense of duty but was otherwise an unusual figure on the force. In quiet moments on midnights, he worked his way through F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Bukowski, poets like Baudelaire and T.S. Eliot. He received a full R.O.T.C. scholarship to Penn State but dropped out when he suffered an episode of deep depression. Now 29, he’d become one of Gonell’s most reliable underlings, someone Gonell described as “an excellent officer — always willing to step up and do the job, very responsible.”
At work, Tricoche continued to be the leader Gonell knew — taking charge of the unit with Anton in Gonell’s absence — but at home, he was suffering from insomnia, still jacked on adrenaline and anxiety. He couldn’t rest, and he couldn’t plan, because they were often slammed with an extra shift at the last moment. As he crumbled under the stress of the previous weeks, a relationship important to him started falling apart, and now he counted that among the other failures that tormented him. He kept going over the events of the 6th — surely he could have done something more in the face of all that madness. He felt himself spiraling downward, writing in his journal, “I dream of a darkness darker than black.”
Nicole, the wife of the officer who tumbled down the stone stairs under the scaffolding for the inaugural stage, was watching Fox News when she first learned something was amiss at the Capitol. Soon after that, she got a call from the wife of a fellow officer, telling Nicole that her husband was receiving medical care. When he finally came home early on the morning of the 7th, he was dazed, quiet and drained. A doctor he saw that night in the emergency room told him he probably had a concussion and could not return to work until he had been cleared by his primary-care physician. Nicole (who asked to be identified by her middle name to protect her family’s privacy) wasn’t too worried. They’d see how he felt tomorrow; she went to bed disturbed but not particularly alarmed about her husband’s health.
The next day, her husband was supposed to rest and stay quiet, but his phone was blowing up with texts from his best friends, a group of men who were known as the North Barricade Crew after the spot where they were usually stationed. Irreverent, tight-knit, they brought a certain insult-comic humor to roll call (after one member mooned a sergeant near his post, another sergeant started calling them the Motley Crew). If they were rowdy, it was a privilege that came with more than a decade of experience for each, and friendships just as long. The group texts that day, however, were somber, as they tried to piece together who had been where, how it all went down. Even those who were not there that day were suffering. Billy Evans, a good friend of her husband’s, was off duty watching his kids when the events unfolded. Now he was stricken that he had not been there to support his colleagues.
Her husband couldn’t stay away from the news, online and on television, even though it only fueled his anger. He was angry at the rioters, angry that some of them had dared to say they were on the officers’ side. His memories of the day were impressionistic, dreamlike, spotty, scenes from a zombie movie he never wanted to star in; it was days before he learned from a friend that he had been knocked unconscious and was out for three minutes. When he walked on his right foot, he felt as if he were stepping on gravel, and he felt dazed, with bouts of grief and rage searing through the fog. Now on leave himself, he worried that another attack would happen while he was sitting at home. “I just know something bad’s going to happen, and I won’t be there to help,” he often said to Nicole. He could imagine little worse.
By the 9th, Nicole and her husband were starting to have more serious concerns about his symptoms. Sometimes when he stood up, he tilted backward, on the verge of falling. All three of their children had names that started with the same letter, and several times he tried to address one of them only to stutter on that first consonant, unable to get out a simple sentence. His friends corresponded mostly by text, and one was shocked when they finally did speak by phone. “He can’t even get his words out,” he texted the others.
Nicole, an organized person who had worked in operations for a small business for decades, always believed there were few crises that could not be managed by the effective deployment of checklists. So she started making them: Find neurologist, find paperwork for neurologist appointment, schedule appointment with orthopedist, file paperwork for disability leave. She took out a bright yellow folder and neatly labeled it: “January 6.”
The bronze door near the Rotunda still had a huge spider crack in its pane, a sight that made Anton feel a splinter in his own heart. Windows where the sun had shone through on countless elected officials were now boarded up, so that the whole building looked as if it were about to go into foreclosure.
On March 4, Anton and Tricoche showed up to their midnight shift and discovered that instead of serving on riot control, they would be assigned elsewhere. Senator Tammy Duckworth had requested an escort. Duckworth, an Army veteran and the only senator who uses a wheelchair, had a harrowing experience on the 6th, coming within minutes of crossing paths with the mob. There was no specific cause for concern that night, but in case of something unexpected, she wanted officers waiting at the Senate chamber to help her get out of the building.
Anton and Tricoche considered protecting a member of Congress to be the highest honor of their roles as Capitol Police officers. They had the official training to use long guns, so they retrieved M4s and magazines from the armory and escorted the senator to the chamber, as she thanked them profusely. But while she was in the bathroom, someone else — they later learned it was the acting Senate sergeant-at-arms — approached them, agitated, and demanded to know what they were doing there. At that moment, Duckworth exited the bathroom and said she had specifically asked for them to be there for her. (Ben Garmisa, a spokesman for Duckworth, declined to comment.) But as soon as she disappeared into the Senate gallery, Anton’s phone rang: Their acting sergeant told them to return those weapons immediately. They later learned that either a senator or a staff member had told the acting sergeant-at-arms that the body armor and weapons made them uncomfortable.
Anton had sworn to protect the lives of those senators with his own body, if it came down to it, and now he felt he was being chastised for providing safety to one of them. Both he and Tricoche appreciated that Congress had always operated free of military guard. But they felt the overwhelming sense that those in charge of the Capitol did not grasp the new reality in which they were operating — or the country’s new reality, for that matter.
Tricoche’s frustration was rising, his mental health declining. Exhausted from work, emotionally strung out, he was feeling a kind of slippage, especially when he was alone. On March 8, he felt so utterly bereft that it overwhelmed him, and he called in to say he would be missing work. Over the next days, he remained home but couldn’t summon the energy even to call in or to respond to the worried texts he was receiving. “You here tonight?” Anton wrote. “Yo yo yo man you hanging in?” Ten days ticked on, with Tricoche ignoring text after text, from two sergeants who he knew cared about him, and from Anton. “Hey bro I don’t know what’s going on but everyone is looking for you and they are going to request a welfare check on you and send people to your place,” Anton wrote on March 13. He’d driven to Tricoche’s apartment with a sergeant, pounded on the door, heard nothing. “I hope you are at home doing well,” he texted later that night. “Miss ya man.”
Tricoche knew enough to seek help from a doctor, who told him his hours were doing him harm and prescribed anti-anxiety medication and sleep aids. And yet, at some point that week, consumed by a feeling of failure, convinced that he was only adding to others’ suffering, he swallowed a large amount of over-the-counter medication. He woke up, unsure how many hours later, in a pool of vomit with aching liver pain.
Key Figures in the Jan. 6 Inquiry
The House investigation. A select committee is scrutinizing the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as Congress met to formalize Joe Biden’s election victory amid various efforts to overturn the results. Here are some people being examined by the panel:
Donald Trump. The former president’s movement and communications on Jan. 6 appear to be a focus of the inquiry. But Mr. Trump has attempted to shield his records, invoking executive privilege. The dispute is making its way through the courts.
Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a trove of documents that showed the extent of his role in the efforts to overturn the election, is now refusing to cooperate. The House voted to recommend holding Mr. Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.
Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. The Republican representatives of Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a group of G.O.P. congressmen who were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the election. Mr. Perry has refused to meet with the panel.
Phil Waldron. The retired Army colonel has been under scrutiny since a 38-page PowerPoint document he circulated on Capitol Hill was turned over to the panel by Mr. Meadows. The document contained extreme plans to overturn the election.
Fox News anchors. Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade texted Mr. Meadows during the Jan. 6 riot urging him to persuade Mr. Trump to make an effort to stop it. The texts were part of the material that Mr. Meadows had turned over to the panel.
Steve Bannon. The former Trump aide has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, claiming protection under executive privilege even though he was an outside adviser. His trial is scheduled for next summer.
Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser attended an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers. Mr. Flynn has filed a lawsuit to block the panel’s subpoenas.
Jeffrey Clark. The little-known official repeatedly pushed his colleagues at the Justice Department to help Mr. Trump undo his loss. The panel has recommended that Mr. Clark be held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate.
John Eastman. The lawyer has been the subject of intense scrutiny since writing a memo that laid out how Mr. Trump could stay in power. Mr. Eastman was present at a meeting of Trump allies at the Willard Hotel that has become a prime focus of the panel.
After one of his sergeants reached out to Tricoche’s mother, he finally called in to say he was alive. He returned to work the next day and told a sergeant he trusted what happened. Then he turned in his badge and his gun. “I was so destitute spiritually that it didn’t matter,” he says. “I was feeling nothing.”
Tricoche took time off from work, alternating between his lonely apartment and his crowded childhood home in Levittown, Pa., where he crashed on the couch, immobile, silent, near catatonic, as family life swirled all around him: several half or stepsiblings, most of them young adults. His mother, stepfather and the rest of the family were white, but Tricoche’s father is Black, and he describes himself as mixed race. Almost every person of voting age he was living with, he knew, voted for Trump, and Trump signs stood all over the neighborhood. For all he knew, the neighbors felt the same way as the people who came to attack the Capitol — who came to attack him. For all he knew, they were even there that day.
When people told Caroline Edwards that it was a radio call about her fall on the 6th that marked, for them, the start of that day with so many horrors to follow, it embarrassed her. She hated being the first officer down; she hated that she was taken to get medical help, while Brian Sicknick stayed on and kept fighting, only to die the next day. All those details pained her when she went over everything she lived through on the 6th, which she did, over and over and over.
Edwards was anything but a pushover. She was one of only two women on the union board, a slot she landed at age 29. But now she shook when she tried to talk about what happened. She had ongoing symptoms from what was diagnosed as a traumatic brain injury: Her balance was off, and she experienced so much vertigo that she could barely walk. For months, her speech would be slow and labored; at the end of March, she was still fainting with troubling frequency.
She had met her husband, a fellow officer, on the job. Sometimes people told her they thought it must be easier for her, at least, to have a spouse who was going through the same thing; so many officers found that their spouses simply could not understand what they were going through. “No,” she told them. “There is no easy. It just all sucks.” They were each short-tempered; they had both experienced the 6th but now were in different emotional places at a time when they had never needed each other more.
Edwards was one of many on the force who suffered concussions; of the seven or eight officers in Gonell’s squad who served on the 6th, he counted three, and a possible fourth. By March, Devan Gowdy was past the acute phase of his concussion: sleeping around the clock, waking from nightmares that left him pumping with feelings of murderous rage. Still, he knew he was not himself, or was not the self he was before the 6th. An unusually sensitive person — his best friend, growing up, was the elderly antiques dealer who lived next door — he had turned into someone who could be roiled with fury. He often woke up weeping, turning to his fiancée in bed to tell her how scared he was, even if he couldn’t identify any threat.
Nicole’s husband was also showing uncharacteristic volatility, his anger sometimes explosive. She did not hold her husband responsible for it. She thought that if she could just be even more organized, control any possibility of chaos — as if the chaos of life with three kids could be controlled — she could spare her husband exposure to stress, spare them all his reactions to that stress. So she stayed up late, folding every piece of laundry, writing more lists for the coming week, making sure that her son’s baseball uniform was where it needed to be so there would be no last-minute panic, no hassle, no outbursts.
In early spring, some of the officers who had been on leave were starting to return. But her husband was still receiving treatment for his brain injury, mental exercises to help restore his balance that left him nauseated and drained. He had memory lapses; he had frustration with those memory lapses. Complicated paperwork like the kind she was always churning through overwhelmed him quickly, so she stopped trying to explain the mind-numbing, arcane logistics of his medical care. He was still on the group texts that his friends from the North Barricade Crew sent around regularly, but because he had been gone so long, he didn’t always know what they were talking about.
On April 2, Nicole’s family and in-laws were at Luray Caverns, outside Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, trying to take her husband’s mind off his troubles, when she saw him check his phone. Then he was down, a tall lumbering man with a long beard, fallen to his knees. Texts were coming in: There had been an attack at the Capitol. Two men at the north barricade were hurt, one much worse than the other. One of them was Billy Evans. It was a knife — no, it was a man with a gun. No, a car drove into them, colliding most directly with Evans. That was confirmed. Nicole’s own phone started pinging with messages from other officers and lieutenants: She needed to prepare herself — her husband — for the worst. Her husband told his parents to take the children to the gift shop, and then he stayed where he was, weeping uncontrollably over a guardrail. He regained his composure enough to get into the car, but that was impossible to maintain when, a few minutes into the drive, he got the text: Billy was gone.
As a matter of habit, Anton usually parked his Jeep up on Delaware Avenue, right near the north barricade where Billy Evans lost his life. He lived only 15 minutes away, and he often felt, when he arrived, that he had never left work. He was still, in April, working a never-ending series of 12-hour shifts with rare days off. Especially after Evans died, a feeling of dread came over him with such force that he sometimes struggled to leave his car. He tried to summon reserves of discipline. “May we pass every test,” he’d say when he pulled in, to prepare himself for the grueling day ahead. It was something he and his mom, who raised him Baptist, used to say whenever he had a big exam or another challenge, and they always said it together, three times, half chanting, half praying. Pulling the key out of the ignition, he could sometimes say it only once before he felt something give way, the emotional equivalent of his knees buckling. He’d walk toward the Capitol, pacing himself as he neared the street he needed to cross. By the time the light turned red, he had wiped his face and prepared himself to enter the building.
Anton wondered how long he could continue on the job. He had always enjoyed perfect health, but now he was having heart palpitations several times a day that forced him to stop whatever he was doing; more than once he wondered if he could be having a heart attack. His sleep was erratic, his blood pressure and cholesterol sky high.
Like many other officers, he found it a boost to morale when Caroline Edwards returned to work in May. Because of her injuries, she was assigned to a desk job, but she had also taken on an additional role that was natural for her: She was becoming a peer counselor, someone in whom officers could confide. She had already been functioning informally in that capacity, reaching out to Nicole’s husband to offer whatever she could share about traumatic brain injuries and sending Shannon Terranova, the grieving former wife of Billy Evans, thoughtful gifts for their children.
Work was like one vast crime scene they all had to keep revisiting, day after day. Informal memorials for Billy Evans and Brian Sicknick had been set up on two separate tables, with fresh flowers and photos and badges, that everyone passed in the hallway as they walked down to reach the Capitol Police locker room. Sicknick had served on the mountain-bike unit that patrolled around the building, and his bicycle was placed in front of the display. Jason DeRoche, a Capitol Police officer for 18 years who drove to Massachusetts for Evans’s funeral, was already angry about the events of the 6th, and he became even more so after the death of his friend. He decided to join a lawsuit brought by seven officers against Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack.
Gowdy had returned to work from medical leave just a few days before the attack that took Evans’s life. Walking by the display every day, seeing the smiling, proud faces of Sicknick and Evans, was excruciating for him, a reminder of what partisan warring had wrought. He used to love being a Capitol Police officer, had considered that position to be the greatest accomplishment of his life. Working in the Capitol Visitor Center had been his favorite assignment; he loved meeting the tourists, making them feel welcome, and had even learned to say, “Please take off your belt” in Mandarin, which never failed to make Chinese tourists laugh. But now that he was back, he viewed everybody through new, suspicious eyes, especially anyone wearing a MAGA hat. He felt uncomfortable being back in Washington. Everywhere he went, he looked at the people milling around and wondered: Were you there on the 6th? Was it you?
On May 28, Gonell was lying in bed, his foot elevated after an operation, when he saw Harry Dunn on CNN. He was paying a visit to the Senate, along with Sandra Garza, the longtime partner of Brian Sicknick; Sicknick’s mother; and Michael Fanone, a Metropolitan Police officer who fought alongside Gonell at that crammed doorway at the lower west entrance of the Capitol. Seeing Fanone was emotional for Gonell: Fanone relieved Gonell on the 6th, taking over the precise spot where Gonell was standing before he headed back into the building for water and reinforcements. Just moments later, Fanone was dragged into the crowd and tased, suffering a heart attack as a result, as well as a traumatic brain injury. Had Fanone not taken his place, Gonell might have been the officer who was tased, who could have suffered a heart attack, or worse, for all he knew.
Dunn and the others were there that day to try to visit Republican senators, hoping to persuade them to support an independent commission that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other key House members had negotiated to investigate the Jan. 6 siege. Ten senators would be enough to overcome a filibuster from a party eager to consign the events of that day to the past. In every office, the Republican senators told the officers how tragic they found the Jan. 6 attack, shook their hands and made eye contact, thanked them for their service. As Fanone recounted his experience of the attacks, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina struck Garza as so bored and distracted that she made clear her irritation. Garza, along with Sicknick, was a Trump supporter and had doubts about the validity of the election before the 6th, but her opinion of Trump had radically changed after Sicknick’s death. “I said, ‘I feel like you’re being very disrespectful, and you’re looking out the window and tapping your fingers on the desk,’” she recalled. Another senator at the meeting tried to tell her she was misreading Graham’s body language, which only infuriated her more.
Dunn found the senators’ failure to commit to what seemed like the minimum they could do equally enraging. There were no cameras there, so couldn’t they just tell him straight: Were they going to vote for this thing or not? Graham, who had made a big show of how angry he was about the violence on the 6th, indicated that he would be voting against the independent commission. Senator Tim Scott, also in the room, told the officers that while he and Graham agreed there should be accountability for the attack on the Capitol, they didn’t like the vehicle that was being used to drive to the destination, as Dunn recalled. It was typical political talk, the officers thought, and sure enough, the independent commission failed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate, leaving Pelosi with little other option than to appoint a select committee dominated by Democrats to carry out the inquiry.
Gonell, watching the news, seeing the dejection in the body language of the five people leaving the Senate, was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. His wife, hearing the sound of him sobbing, came running in, fearing that he’d fallen and reinjured his foot. That was it, he told her. For months he’d been saying he wanted to speak out about the 6th. His wife was a private person and thought that going public could open them to harassment, maybe even worse. But this hypocrisy — the refusal to support the officers who had ensured those same senators’ safety — was more than he could silently stand by and take. He had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was clearly depressed; if he could speak his mind, he thought, his recovery might begin.
After the vote that day, he reached out to Dunn, who was at a store when he got Gonell’s call and walked the aisles in circles as he listened to the sergeant in tears on the other end of the line. Gonell apologized to Dunn for not joining him sooner. He knew how hard it must have been to be the lone voice of the Capitol Police. Dunn put him in touch with his own lawyer and with CNN. “As courtesy and respect,” he wrote to his supervisor, “making you aware that earlier today (Friday afternoon) I conducted an interview with cnn regarding my experience and ordeal I went through. These last few days has been very hard for me emotionally after seeing Officer Sicknick family literally begging these people to support the commission. I felt I couldn’t stay quiet anymore.”
A month later, Gonell, Dunn, Fanone and Officer Daniel Hodges of the Metropolitan Police were asked to testify before Congress about the attacks. The hearing on July 27, the first of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, was a somber and emotional affair. The officers entered the room, one by one, stately in their decorated dark blue uniforms. The lawmakers played graphic video showing the violence the officers endured, eerie and disturbing footage that filled the small room. Hodges described how the rioters called him a traitor and how one tried to gouge out his eye. Fanone told of how he was beaten and tased until he was unconscious and how, to this day, he believes that he is only alive because he pleaded with his assailants, telling them he had children. Dunn, tearing up, told of the racist abuse he endured. Gonell, still recovering from his injuries, described the fight as a “medieval battle.” If Dunn was persuasive because he was so naturally telegenic, Gonell had a different power onscreen, a humility and indignation that was equally affecting.
Going in, the officers felt hopeful that their open accounting of the facts of Jan. 6 would refute the right-wing conspiracy theorists; instead they would be attacked as “crisis actors” faking their tears. Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and member of the committee, tearfully credited the men with successfully fighting off the mob, clearing the Capitol and ensuring that no member of Congress was injured. He called the officers heroes. “You guys may individually feel a little broken,” he said. “You guys all talk about the effects you have to deal with, and you talk about the impact of that day. But you guys won. You guys held.” He added, “We are only here now because you guys were here then.”
But while the members of the committee were visibly affected, afterward, Gonell felt, some Republicans realized that the more they leaned into their denials, the more they saw their poll numbers rise. The divisions that had devastated the country, that had literally left him and so many others wounded, were just useful tools, with politicians grabbing whatever was on hand that they could use as weapons in their own daily fights.
On Nov. 2, Caroline Edwards, still on desk duty because of her injuries, was working the phones in an office at the Capitol when she started to feel faint — so faint that her husband heard a call go out over the radio: A 31-year-old female working in the office needed medical assistance. Edwards had been pushing herself of late, working on a master’s degree in intelligence analysis at Johns Hopkins University while still serving at the Capitol, though with reduced hours because of her injuries. Her doctors had not figured out how to prevent her fainting spells. But that day marked the first time she’d fallen so ill on the job. A colleague, noticing that she was fading in and out of consciousness, called an ambulance; to Edwards’s mortification, she was taken out of the building on a gurney. A memo went around to ranking officers, apprising them of what happened, an unnerving reminder that the suffering that befell them on Jan. 6 still had many of them in its grip. It was as if the person who was there to help the officers move forward was embodying, in plain sight, just how difficult that was prov