I Was Betrayed by President Trump

An Op-Ed piece by Aquilino Gonell for The New York Times.

As one of the Capitol Police officers who defended the United States against the mob on Jan. 6, 2021, I felt it was important for me to be in the committee room on June 28 to hear the former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony. Along with three colleagues, I went, even though I knew it would be difficult to relive the horrors I witnessed. Although I experienced the brutal onslaught of the insurrectionists, I was shocked to hear Ms. Hutchinson explain the extent to which President Donald Trump incited the people who almost killed me.

I am an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, a U.S. Army veteran and a sergeant who has worked on the force for 16 years, but I’ve never witnessed anything like the Jan. 6 attack — even in combat in Iraq. I was sure I was going to die that day, trampled by the hordes of Mr. Trump’s supporters trying to stop the official transfer of power on his behalf.

Ms. Hutchinson, the former aide to Mr. Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified that her boss said that things could get “real bad” on Jan. 6 and that Mr. Trump was warned that members of the crowd that had amassed were armed. Of course, I never would have imagined that an American president would not only not come to the aid of law enforcement officers defending the Capitol but encourage that crowd to march on it. Instead of being notified about the danger, my colleagues and I were kept in the dark and thus walked into an ambush.

I don’t know what part of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony enraged me most: that Mr. Trump wanted to be driven to the Capitol to lead the vicious riot, that he’d spurred his supporters on knowing they were armed or that he ignored some of his advisers and even his daughter, who told him to call it off, allegedly fighting with his own Secret Service agent after he refused to let the president be driven there.

Or maybe it was the fact that Mr. Trump eventually told the rioters who’d criminally assaulted my colleagues and me while trying to bring down the U.S. government: “Go home. We love you. You are very special.”

Other disturbing details I heard at the hearing had to do with Mr. Trump’s apparent disregard for everyone but himself. Before Mr. Trump addressed his supporters on the Ellipse ahead of the insurrection, he was told that those who were armed weren’t being let through security checkpoints and, according to Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, he said, “I don’t effing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.”

Later, when rioters breached the Capitol, according to Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, the former White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Mr. Meadows that they had to go see the president about what was happening. Mr. Meadows’s response was that Mr. Trump “doesn’t want to do anything,” Ms. Hutchinson recalled. Mr. Cipollone replied, according to Ms. Hutchinson: “Something needs to be done, or people are going to die, and the blood’s going to be on your effing hands.”

The nine people who died as a result of that horrific day — including the four officers who died by suicide after the attack — weren’t so lucky. Neither was I. At the West Front of the Capitol, I was attempting to hold a tactical police line along with about 60 members of my team, as we were taught at the academy, to keep the invaders at bay. We were savagely beaten and easily overpowered. I later learned that the mob was estimated to be 10,000 strong.

It was like a medieval battleground. With our lives in peril, I would have been justified in using lethal force. But I didn’t want to spark a massacre. Over the course of the five-hour struggle, my hands were bloodied from being smashed by a stolen police baton. My right foot and left shoulder were so damaged that I needed multiple surgeries to repair them. My head was hit with such force with a pipe that I no doubt would have sustained brain damage if not for my helmet.

I have spent a year and a half in physical therapy for chronic pain that I have been told will never go away. My young son almost lost his father, and my wife had to quit medical school because of the stress and demands of my ongoing recovery.

Sergeant Gonell being sworn in before testifying at a Jan. 6 committee hearing.

After the riot, I received a Congressional Gold Medal and was recently named a Great Immigrant by the Carnegie Corporation. After recently passing the lieutenant’s test, I hoped to be promoted. Instead, on the day of Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony, I was heartbroken to hear my doctors tell me that at 43, I should no longer work with the police force.

The physical and emotional damage I sustained on Jan. 6 not only cut short my career; it has upended my life. Five of my colleagues in law enforcement died, and more than 850 rioters were arrested. So many families have been ruined because of one man’s lust for power.

Even more galling are the Republicans who still refuse to provide testimony under oath and instead dangerously downplay how close we came to losing our democracy. I applaud the courage of the witnesses who’ve come forward to tell the truth. I know from experience — I have given testimony several times about that day to Congress, to the F.B.I. and in court — how distressing it can be. I just wish we all had been able to testify sooner, right after Jan. 6, when we might have had more impact.

The enabling of Mr. Trump needs to stop now. He should not only be barred from running for any other government office; he should never be allowed near the White House again. I believe he betrayed his oath to defend the Constitution, and it was to the detriment of me, my colleagues and all Americans, whom he was supposed to protect.

3 thoughts on “I Was Betrayed by President Trump

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s