Editor’s Note: Michael Fanone, a former Washington, DC police officer who was injured during the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, is the author of a memoir, “Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop’s Battle for America’s Soul.” He is a CNN law enforcement analyst. The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
If Republicans can finally agree on a speaker, the same GOP leaders who spread former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election – and who have consistently downplayed the grave threat to the nation posed by the January 6, 2021 insurrection carried out in his name – will take the reins of power in the House.
Whoever assumes the role will be the leader of what the last few days have shown is likely to be a fractious, even ungovernable, Republican caucus.
But they’ll be getting no sympathy from me: This week marks two years since the most violent day of my law enforcement career, when I almost died defending the US Capitol from armed insurrectionists who tried to overthrow our government – the same violent uprising that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and many others in his party continue to downplay. The violent insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol two years ago, almost taking my life, ignored my pleas that I have kids.
Unfortunately, the nation faces as great a risk from political violence as ever, fueled by inflammatory speech and a refusal by many politicians on the right to acknowledge the ongoing spasms of extremism and conspiracy.
And the conspiracists have a sizable swath of the public on their side: Politically-motivated attacks are on the rise across the nation and millions of Americans now believe that the use of force would be justified to restore Trump to the presidency. It’s important to reverse this dangerous trend.
McCarthy once told me that he couldn’t control the “fringe members” of the party on January 6. But these members are no longer the fringe: they are on the cusp of taking control of the House, and will have unprecedented influence in the 118th Congress. Whoever takes over the top spot, House leadership has a duty to reject the dangerous rhetoric that has led, and will continue to lead, to political violence here at home.
The incoming GOP House leadership must find the backbone to condemn political violence and hateful rhetoric incited by members of their own party. And that starts with finally denouncing Trump, who remains to this day the Republican Party’s de facto leader. The incoming Speaker and the House leadership must demand that members of their party never again amplify language or take actions that put the lives of their constituents, their peers or law enforcement at risk.
There has been no shortage of such reprehensible behavior in recent months, starting with McCarthy himself. As GOP leader, McCarthy once vehemently condemned then-President Trump for his role in ginning up the rioters who stormed the Capitol – and then swallowed those words of condemnation several days later. He traveled to Mar-a-Lago – presumably with one eye on the speaker’s gavel he had coveted for so long – pandering both to the defeated president and election deniers in his own caucus.
Since then, influential GOP House members have called the January 6 assault a “normal tourist visit.” Some have called for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s execution for treason and shared antisemitic messages on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
And that’s just to name a few examples. Without long overdue intervention by Republican top brass, the frightening trend towards violent rhetoric seems certain to continue.
Our leaders’ statements and actions have consequences. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has said that the insurrection on January 6 “would’ve been armed” if she had planned it – the same kind of heated rhetoric Trump used to rile up his supporters before they stormed the Capitol. (She later claimed that she was being sarcastic, and that the comment had been made in jest.)
Many of her rightwing allies in the House have promoted the baseless, unhinged conspiracy theory around “grooming.” Small wonder, in the wake of such outlandish statements, that irate protesters are overrunning story hour at their local libraries, and calling for the banning of books from neighborhood schools.
The examples of recent acts of violence that appear to have been instigated by right-wing rhetoric are almost too numerous to name. MAGA rhetoric fueled the attack at the home of former Speaker Pelosi and the vandalization last month – allegedly by anti-LGBTQ activists – of the homes of three New York council members over opposition to drag queen story hour at libraries in the city.
Rep. Matt Gaetz encouraged voters to arm themselves at polls, and armed intimidation did take place as voters cast their ballots. Research has even shown that MAGA Republicans are more likely than others – including GOP moderates – to endorse violence as usually or always justified to advance their political objectives. And after agents searched Mar-a-Lago, Twitter posts threatening the FBI saw a dramatic spike.
Over-the-top rhetoric by GOP lawmakers is troubling enough. Unfortunately their extremist views also have been all-too-evident in their voting records. That includes the 147 members of Congress who voted against the results of 2020’s free and fair election and the 35 House Republicans who voted against the creation of the January 6th Commission.
And – what was for me a personal affront – there were 21 Republican members who, in an unconscionable action, voted against DC and Capitol Police officers like me receiving the presidential medal of freedom for our role defending the Capitol during the insurrection.
It might surprise some people who didn’t know me before January 6, but I’ve never considered myself to be a political person. Yes, I voted for Trump in 2016, after being turned off by the anti-police rhetoric on the left.
And sure, I dipped my toe into the last election, to oppose a few Trump-inspired candidates who I thought posed a danger to democracy. But I’ve never believed in politicians; I believe in people. And that is why I’m supporting two new groups demanding sanity and accountability from our elected politicians.
This week, at an event calling on lawmakers to ramp up the fight against political violence, I’ll join veterans, members of Congress, and the group Courage for America, (which I’ve helped to found and have a leadership role in). Courage for America is joining forces with another, new group Common Defense to call for a renewed effort to combat the kind of right-wing violence that almost ended my life. The planned venue for the event is the Capitol reflecting pool, where just two years ago, MAGA supporters erected a noose which they threatened they’d use to hang the nation’s Vice President, amid chants by the rioters of ”
hang Mike Pence.”
As a kid growing up, I was always a bit of a troublemaker; law enforcement turned out to be the perfect landing spot for a rambunctious kid without a clear sense of direction. Becoming a cop taught me to stand up for what’s right, and being an investigator taught me to keep revising and refining the conclusions I drew, as I gathered additional information.
In the past couple of years since leaving policing, some of the conclusions I’ve drawn have had to do with the former president who set the disastrous riot on January 6 in motion. And a lot of my now-negative opinions about him, not surprisingly, have to do with the emotional and physical trauma that I and my brother and sister officers suffered that day. Values I’d always lived by as an officer – like “back the blue” – were literally hurled back at me by the same mob that was viciously trying to cut us down.
At that moment, even though I was surrounded by violent, shouting protesters, all I could see were my kids’ faces: My four daughters are the ones I’m speaking out for.
I want them to be able to live in a country where elected officials are accountable to the people they serve. Condemning political violence isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a moral one.
I had hoped, as many others did, that outrage and horror over the insurrection would encourage Americans to unify around what should be a shared belief – that political violence has no place in our society. It’s up to Republican leaders to join other Americans who disavow such behavior and the despotic former president who inspired it.