Wisconsin Examiner

Police Officer Who Survived Jan. 6 Has a Warning for America

Michael Fanone was beaten, tortured by rioters, had a heart attack and concussion.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Apr 10th, 2024 11:12 am
Former D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, standing in front of the Wisconsin Capitol building, is touring the country to tell his story of being injured during the attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)

Former D.C. Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, standing in front of the Wisconsin Capitol building, is touring the country to tell his story of being injured during the attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)

Michael Fanone began his career as a police officer after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

It all but ended after the attack on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021 — a day he was beaten, tortured, suffered  a heart attack and was left with a concussion at the hands of rioters who hoped to prevent the orderly transfer of power from then-President Donald Trump to the new president-elect, Joe Biden.

The 9/11 attacks changed his occupation: Fanone had been a construction worker when jets plowed into the World Trade Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing hundreds. His job site in D.C. shut down early that day and he recalls seeing police deployed throughout the city — “in case the plane tried to crash into the Capitol,” he said. “God only knows what they would have been able to do to prevent that.” He felt moved to join the force.

But the Jan. 6 assault on that same building changed his life.

“I think this is an incredibly important moment,” Fanone said in an interview Tuesday in Madison. “I don’t even think about the outcome. I just think about doing absolutely everything that I can do to ensure that people are made aware of what happened on January 6.”

Fanone left the D.C. Metropolitan Police in the long aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack. Now he’s touring the U.S. under the auspices of Courage for America — a group formed after the insurrection whose message combines a response to political violence with opposition to the current U.S. House Republican majority in Washington.

In a tour of Wisconsin this week, he visited with student journalists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and met with local leaders.

The mission, he said, is “educating people about January 6, using my experience that day, in the hopes that if they recognize the severity of it, the brutality of it, that maybe they will investigate further into how it is that we got there, and come to understand the lies and manipulation that politicians used to inspire Americans to storm the Capitol.”

A stop in La Crosse was an opportunity to address “probably what interests me most, and that’s accountability,” he added. The 3rd Congressional District, he observed, is represented by Derrick Van Orden — “who was also at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, but not as a police officer or someone there to protect. He was there as a member of the mob. And so his tenure in Congress is a personal affront to me.”

Fanone is particularly upset because Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, “served his country in the military in the capacity that he did,” he said. “That son-of-a-bitch knew better.”

A Virginia native, Fanone has become a familiar face in continuing news about the Capitol attack — giving testimony before the House select committee that investigated the events of Jan. 6 and speaking up ever since.

In his select committee testimony Fanone described the harrowing minutes as he and fellow officers were corralled in a Capitol tunnel, potential targets for a thick mob of rioters.

On his regular assignment with the D.C. police Fanone was a narcotics investigator. On Jan. 6, fellow officers were already assigned to assist the Capitol Police with tasks such as protecting local businesses and manning streets that had been closed for the day due to the rally organized by Trump supporters.

By his mid-afternoon shift start, the outer perimeter around the Capitol had been breached. Fanone left for work early, heading straight to the Capitol. On the scene, he heard a distress call from an access tunnel to the building and headed to the area with a fellow officer.

A group of officers, mostly from the D.C. department, were holed up in the tunnel after they were overrun by rioters while in the Capitol itself. Injured cops had sequestered themselves in some adjacent tunnels, and fellow officers were trying to help them “because we couldn’t get paramedics or any type of medical assistance into the building, because it wasn’t secure at that point,” Fanone told the Wisconsin Examiner.

Had the crowd of rioters swarming outside the tunnel managed to break through the defending line of cops, “we would have been trampled to death,” he said.

Fanone told the committee that some in the crowd were “trying to grab hold of my gun.” He heard some shout “kill him with his own gun,” he testified. “I believe there were individuals in that crowd who intended to kill me.”

Rioters seized Fanone, dragging him down the steps of the Capitol. They beat him with pipes, stunned him with a Taser and sprayed him with bear spray, he recalled. In the midst of the assault he had a heart attack, and he got a concussion from the blows to his head. In a broadcast months later CNN aired footage of the assault on Fanone from his own body camera.

The experience left him shaken, but even more shocking was watching how some in Congress who had themselves endured that day turned dismissive toward the violence and to what that violence revealed.

“That something, like, that catastrophic could play out, like 9/11, in front of the whole country, on television, and people would just choose to either be indifferent toward what happened or to sympathize with the attacks,” Fanone said. “That’s been the most difficult pill to swallow. I think, for me personally, it feels like you’ve been betrayed by the country.”

One of many comments excusing the rioters, Fanone recalled, was made by U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican.

“He described January 6 as a normal tourist visit — you know, a normal tourist day at the Capitol,” Fanone said. “And you know, he understands fully what actually transpired that day, because he was in the House chamber. And there’s photos of him barricading the chamber doors to prevent people from, entering and probably kicking the living s- -t out of him. That’s egregious. It’s outrageous.”

He sees the unvarnished story of Jan. 6 as “politically inconvenient” for GOP lawmakers. And he’s appalled that many “served in our military, understand the sacrifices that are made by police officers and by people in public service, and the dangers that somebody like a Donald Trump pose to our democracy — but they’re more concerned with keeping their job,” Fanone said. Regardless of whether lawmakers have publicly minimized the Capitol assault or simply stayed silent, “to me they’re equally cowardly acts.”

The persistence of that sort of disregard for what that day revealed has left him angry, Fanone said. He went through a phase of feeling compassion and empathy, he adds, but attacks on him for his testimony have worn that down.

If there’s a central lesson to Jan. 6, “It’s an understanding [for] each of us [about] the responsibility that we have to maintain the democracy,” he said. “It’s a tremendous gift that we have in this country to be able to choose our leaders. But when taken for granted, it becomes a tremendous burden to try to right the ship.”

For too many people, the events of Jan. 6 appear not to have touched them personally, Fanone says. And many, he adds, have decided that politically, “the ends justify the means and to hell with our democratic system.”

He worries that ideology appears to override all other values. “It’s scary to me to think that we’ve become so polarized in this country — that the way you react to an incredibly violent event is dictated by your political stance or your political ideology,” he said.

After months of recovery from his injuries, Fanone returned to the police force in the autumn of 2021, but in the end he didn’t remain for long. Shifted into jobs where he believed he was simply being shunted aside by the department brass, he quit a few months later. Since then he has thrown himself into the work of calling attention to the enormity of what happened on Jan. 6.

The change has opened his eyes in new ways.

“I was a cop — everybody that I socialized with were cops,” he said. “Now I’ve had the benefit of having conversations with people that I never would have met and heard about other people’s experiences in this country, and I can’t help but be changed by that.”

The work has also been cathartic, he added. And he finds it absolutely necessary.

“It’s not an option for me to do nothing,” Fanone said. “And so now, every interaction that I have is significant. Every conversation that I have is significant.”

Police officer who survived Jan. 6 has a warning for the country was originally published by Wisconsin Examiner.

3 thoughts on “Police Officer Who Survived Jan. 6 Has a Warning for America”

  1. Jhenry1131 says:

    I will never forget this day. I watched it on TV and my heart was breaking. But then to have Republicans defend those actions and act like it was no big deal just mind blowing. Our former leaders probably turned over in their graves. I was brought up to respect these institutions and never would have ever imagined that something like this would happen here in America. So shameful! I am glad Mr. Fanone has recovered from his injuries and I thank him for his service!

  2. JonErik says:

    I agree Jhenry1131. It’s unbelievable that Trump has parlayed his treason into a candidacy for President. If he’s not the anti-Christ, he certainly is the “anti-George Washington.”

  3. kaygeeret says:

    I can add nothing more to the comments above.

    THey express my experience and feelings perfectly.

    Thank you

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