WASHINGTON — Former Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell is mostly recovered from the brutal assaults he endured from Donald Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. But not completely. His shoulder still has limited endurance and there are screws and a metal plate holding his right foot together after bone fusion surgery.

Emotional recovery has been more difficult. Gonell struggled when he heard that former Trump visited Capitol Hill last month and received what he called a “hero’s welcome” from the Republican lawmakers Gonell had protected that day, and when Trump falsely told millions of viewers in last week’s debate that many of the violent rioters, his supporters, “were ushered in by the police.”

Trump’s Capitol Hill visit was a “triggering mechanism for my PTSD,” says Gonell, who retired from the force in 2022 due to his injuries and has recently participated in several campaign events for President Joe Biden. “We did what we had to do to keep those elected officials safe, and instead of siding with us, the officers, they have sided with a person who put their lives at risk.”

Three and a half years after the Capitol attack, Trump still falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen. He has promised that if he wins the presidency again he will pardon his supporters who violently beat police and broke into the Capitol to try and overturn the legitimate results. To counter the misinformation, Gonell and two of his fellow officers who were there that day are working with Biden’s campaign, attending events in swing states to try and make sure that voters don’t forget.

“I’m a living primary source about an important day in American history,” says Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who became a recognizable face shortly after the attack when a video of him being crushed between two doors went viral. “So I try to make that count, and make it so that people hear the truth from someone who was there.”

Along with former Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, Hodges and Gonell are telling audiences about what they went through that day and trying to lay out the contrast between Biden and Trump. It’s an unusual transition for law enforcement officers who once protected members of Congress and are used to keeping their political views to themselves.

“I’m really an introvert, and I’m not someone to seek a microphone or an audience,” says Hodges, who testified along with Gonell and Dunn at the House Jan. 6 panel’s first hearing in 2021. “But I’m in this unique position where people will listen to what I say about an important issue. So I feel a moral obligation to do so.”

At recent events in Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona, they stood with local officials and said that Trump is a danger to the country after trying to overturn Biden’s legitimate election.

“Three and a half years later, the fight for democracy still continues,” Dunn recently told a group of voters in Arizona, flanked by a handful of politically active Democratic veterans in Phoenix. “It still goes on. Donald Trump is still that threat. His deranged, self-centered, obsessive quest for power is the reason violent insurrectionists assaulted my coworkers and I.”

The officers have also aggressively pushed back on Trump’s comments at the debate, where he falsely said that there were a “relatively small” group of protesters and that the police let them enter the Capitol. More than 1,400 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot, and police were bloodied and injured — some seriously — as they struggled to prevent more from getting in.

Dunn, who recently lost his own bid for a congressional seat in Maryland, said after the debate that Trump’s comments were “a slap in the face, but it’s what we have come to expect from Donald Trump.”

And the officers said they are still supporting Biden, even after he failed to push back on many of Trump’s false claims about Jan. 6 and received widespread criticism for his weak showing at the debate.

“He could have been a little more forceful, but I’ll take the person who doesn’t send a mob to kill me and my colleagues over the other person,” said Gonell, who published a book last year about his experience. “Every single day I’m reminded of that horrible day. Every time I put my shoes on, I see my scar.”

Gonell was caught in the worst of the fighting on the Capitol’s west front as Trump’s supporters protesting his defeat violently tried to push past him and his fellow officers. At one point he was pulled under the crowd and lost oxygen to the point that he thought he would die.

Hodges was nearby, trapped in the heavy golden doors in the center of the Capitol’s west front as rioters beat him bloody. A video of his guttural scream as he tried to escape went viral and was played at Democrats’ impeachment trial in the weeks after the attack.

Dunn, who has said he was targeted with racial slurs by Trump’s supporters during the fighting, says it has been good to travel out of the Washington area, his hometown, and talk to people who may not be watching cable news every day as he campaigns for Biden. There’s a lot they don’t know about what happened on Jan. 6, he says.

“Being able to have somebody who was there bring firsthand experience and facts retelling the story, it’s very beneficial,” Dunn said,

The officers were widely praised after Jan. 6, but their criticism of Trump in recent years has made them less popular with some Republicans. When Gonell and Dunn visited the Pennsylvania legislature this spring, some Republicans booed them.

But they are unbowed by the criticism, and have continued to try and bring more attention to their stories. Gonell was outside the Supreme Court on Monday as the justices ruled on whether Trump has immunity for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election and criticized the justices for sending the federal case back to a lower court. The decision effectively ends any prospects that Trump could be tried before the November election.

On Friday, the court limited a federal obstruction law that has been used to charge some Capitol riot defendants.

“Every single time that the Supreme Court or any other court says that some of these people shouldn’t be held accountable, it’s a disgrace,” Gonell said.


Associated Press writer Jonathan Cooper contributed to this report from Phoenix.

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