Apr 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Capitol Police sergeant says he's reliving Jan. 6 riots as tourists return

Photo of a police officer in uniform as he wipes his eyes with a tissue

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell becomes emotional as he testifies before the House select committee on July 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Pool via Getty Images

As the Capitol Visitor Center gradually reopened after a two-year COVID-induced closure, Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell says he's reliving the Jan. 6 insurrection all over again.

Why it matters: Gonell was one of four law enforcement officers who testified before the House Jan. 6 select committee in July 2021 about their experiences defending the Capitol that day. He spoke earlier this year about the injuries and subsequent surgeries he endured and how they continue to hinder his daily life more than a year later.

What he's saying: In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Gonell wrote about showing tourists around the Capitol, including the entrance he defended against the angry mob on Jan. 6.

  • "I took a deep breath and said, 'This is the tunnel you guys probably saw on TV, where I almost died fighting the mob,'" he said. "They asked if I’d been scared. 'I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,' I admitted."
  • "It was the first time I’d stood on that spot since Jan. 6 — since returning to work, I’d used other entrances and exits just to avoid reliving what happened."
  • "Remembering is hard — I still suffer flashbacks," he added. "But it’s also good to talk to people, to feel that ordinary Americans understand and care about what we did. It helps counter my disappointment in members of Congress who have falsely claimed that 'there was no insurrection,' calling the rioters 'peaceful patriots.'"
  • Though all the visitors he's encountered have been respectful, he noted that he wonders sometimes if any were part of the insurrection. "Could they be coming back to relive their big moment and gloat over the chaos they caused? Do they look at me and think: That’s the Latino officer I shoved?"
  • Though security has been beefed up since Jan. 6, "it’s hard not to be paranoid," he wrote. "I never thought such an attack would happen. Now I’m afraid it could happen again."

The big picture: A majority of Americans harbor the same fear. 57% of those surveyed in a January Axios-Momentive poll said events similar to those of Jan. 6 are likely to occur again in the next few years.

  • Just half said they now have faith in American democracy.

Go deeper... By the numbers: Jan. 6 one year later

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