Aug 4, 2021 - Podcasts

Officer trauma after Jan. 6

Four officers who responded to the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 have now died by suicide. The news of the most recent two deaths came this week. Officer Gunther Hashida, Officer Kyle DeFreytag, Officer Howie Liebengood, and Officer Jeffrey Smith were among those who fought to defend the Capitol that day.

  • Plus, we can’t just blame social media for misinformation.
  • And, lab-grown salmon is coming to a sushi bar near you.

Guests: Steve Hough, chief operating officer of First HELP, and Axios' Sara Fischer and Alayna Treene.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, August 4th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Biden says Cuomo needs to go. Plus, why we can’t just blame social media for misinformation.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: more tragedy for the January 6 first responders.

Four officers who responded to the Capitol insurrection on January 6th have now died by suicide. The news of the most recent two deaths came this week. Officer Gunther Hashida, Officer Kyle DeFreytag, Officer Howie Liebengood, and Officer Jeffrey Smith were among those who fought to defend the Capitol that day. We’ve learned from last month’s testimony on The Hill from a number of officers, that the mental health repercussions of January 6th have been substantial for many.

Steve Hough is an active duty law enforcement officer and chief operating officer of First HELP, that’s an organization dedicated to the support of first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. Steve, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

STEVE HOUGH: Thank you for having me.

NIALA: So I wanted to play some testimony from one of the January 6th police officers. This is U.S. Capitol police sergeant Aquilino Gonell.

U.S. CAPITOL POLICE SERGEANT AQUILINO GONELL: What we were subjected that day was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion of the Capitol, by a violent mob intent on subverting our Democratic process.

NIALA: Is the idea of hand-to-hand combat...that seems different to me than a police officer's normal line of work?

STEVE: I-I would definitely agree with that. They had to deal with things that the majority of law enforcement officers would never deal with in a lifetime of being a career officer. The terminology of hand-to-hand combat is not normally associated with anything that we deal with in a law enforcement profession. That usually seems to suggest a much higher type of conflict.

NIALA: Do you think the stigma around getting help for mental health has changed among police officers and other first responders?

STEVE: I think you're starting to see a shift. We know that the generations that are up and coming and actually coming into law enforcement, they're more apt to come forward and say, Hey look, you know, I'm not dealing with this too well, I need some assistance. And I think it's going to change even more as more and more of those younger officers come in.

NIALA: How has the news of these suicides of these officers who were involved in January 6th affecting you and your peers?

STEVE: I can tell you that seeing so many officers from one incident who are taking their own lives ... I have not seen it happen before. So we owe it to them not only as, uh, citizens, but their administration owes that to them, to take care of them and, and get them any type of assistance they may need.

NIALA: What do you want those of us who are not in law enforcement to know about this?

STEVE: The bottom line is they need to know we're just like them. We get home. We take off our Superman suit. Um, we still have bills to pay. We still have kids to get to sleepovers. We still get the full spectrum of living just like everybody else. That in itself is one of those things that I think people have a hard time, or at least some people have a hard time, grasping. I literally was talking this morning to a group of new hires, and it's like, regardless of what you do, if you take off the uniform, if you are at a ball game, you're still the police in a lot of people's eyes. They don't just see you as Steve or they don't see you as John. They see you as a law enforcement officer. So with that, we enjoy it when people walk up to us and say, Hey, thank you for what you do. That does more than anything else. That does more than they'll-they'll realize, I guarantee you that.

NIALA: Steve Hoffman, chief operating officer of First HELP, that's an organization dedicated to the support of first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. He’s also an active law enforcement officer. And if you or anyone, you know, is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, you can get help by reaching out to the national suicide prevention hotline. That number is 1-800-273-8255. That's 1-800-273-8255. And we'll have that in our show notes as well. Thank you, Steve.

STEVE: Thank you.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, tracking misinformation around COVID-19 vaccines.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

When we hear about misinformation, say around COVID vaccines, we often think social media is to blame, but that's not the full story. Axios’ media reporter, Sara Fischer joins us now to explain. Hey Sara!


NIALA: Sara, where else are we seeing vaccine misinformation spreading?

SARA: Anywhere where you can get your information, Niala, there's going to be misinformation. We're seeing it in local news, on television, on the radio. I think for a long time, the conversation has centered around misinformation being proliferated in two main areas, which are Fox News or conservative TV, and Facebook and social media. And what this report really finds, Niala, is that misinformation is everywhere you look. It might be more prevalent in certain places, but you can't just take out one platform and get rid of this problem. You need to address the societal distrust in key institutions if you want to solve the anti-vax problem, writ large.

NIALA: So how has this, for example, making its way on-into local TV news?

SARA: A lot of these newsrooms are really short-staffed, they're short resourced. And so oftentimes, you'll have an expert come and pitch a news article or a package. And local newsrooms, just not having the resources to necessarily vet everything as well as they might want to, are taking some of this content. Sometimes it's going out in a broadcast newscast, which then gets clipped and put online. Sometime they get quoted and they get put in local papers or on websites. And that's how misinformation proliferates. It's people with good intentions, putting out misinformation through bad experts or people that are posing to be experts. And that's spreading a lot of this anti-vax misinformation.

NIALA: And this is on top of very unclear messaging from the CDC and The White House. How does that complicate things?

SARA: People are supposed to trust government institutions, including top healthcare officials and agencies, but what one researcher told me was that a lot of these agencies and people, they've been politicized. An example being the fact that there was approvals of hydroxychloroquine last year. Presumably because there was pressure from Donald Trump to approve that type of cure, when it hadn't been fully vetted. And so now people look at these agencies that are supposed to be the arbiters of truth with a little bit of skepticism, and that makes them more likely to believe misinformation about vaccines when they see it elsewhere.

NIALA: Sara Fischer is Axios’ media reporter. She also writes the Media Trends newsletter. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: Last night, President Biden joined a chorus of local state and federal lawmakers saying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign following a 168-page report by the New York Attorney General that said the governor sexually harassed 11 women. Axios’ Alayna Treene joins us now. Alayna, are there any Democrats in Washington who are standing with Cuomo at this point?

ALAYNA TREENE: As of now, it's hard to find anyone, any Democrat in Washington or even across the country really that's going to bat for the governor. And I think President Biden coming out last night and saying he should resign - he joined the chorus of many others, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer in calling for his resignation. So, he just doesn't have many, if any, allies, in Washington right now.

NIALA: Is it notable what they aren't saying?

ALAYNA: It is. I think the big question now is clearly Cuomo is refusing to resign at least in this moment and so if all of these people, including the president are saying that they believe he should resign. The big question now is does New York move forward with impeachment proceedings to try to remove him forcibly from office? As of now, we've asked that question to Chuck Schumer. President Biden got that question. They're not going so far as to say that. So we'll see how this plays out in the next few days. It's definitely going to be a story that continues to be in the forefront of the media and in people's minds.

NIALA: Alayna Treene covers Congress and the White House for Axios. Thank you, Alayna.

ALAYNA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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