Hey. It’s Michael. This week, The Daily is revisiting some of our favorite episodes of the year and hearing what’s happened in the time since they first ran.
You can call me Harry.
Officer Dunn, good evening. How are you?
Good. How are you?
We just got instructed to call Officer Dunn Harry, so—
Not going to happen. [LAUGHS]
Well, I’ll call you Mike, though.
You can call me Mike, but I refuse to call a member of the United States Capitol Police anything other than officer.
Fair enough. If you insist.
Today, we return to the experience of a Capitol Hill Police officer on January 6 as he witnessed the most shocking events of the year and learn how his life has changed as a result. It’s Tuesday, December 28.
OK. Now that you are ready to tell your story publicly, tell us about yourself. Who are you?
I’m a father to a beautiful nine-year-old girl. I am a Black man who happens to be a police officer. I am a caring person who wants to see everybody in life live to their fullest potential and treat each other with kindness. That’s who I am in a nutshell.
Officer Harry Dunn grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C.
Maryland to be exact, Prince George’s County, Maryland. As I was looking for different careers to choose, I found out information about the Capitol Police. And once you learn a little bit more about it— and the benefits were really pretty good at the time.
And from his first day on the job, he says he was awed by the Capitol—
It’s a historic place, you know? It’s such a monumental place. It’s the nation’s capitol. It’s so prestigious.
—but mindful of its history.
Looking at the Capitol as a Black person, just knowing the history of it and how slaves were crucial in the building standing— they are the reason that building is— they built it. And when you take a step back and actually think about it, it gets overwhelming. You’re just like, wow. Look at how far we’ve come. And then you’ve got events like the 6th, and you say, wow, maybe we haven’t come that far at all.
According to congressional testimony, by the morning of the 6th, the leadership of the Capitol Police were aware of the strong possibility for violence that day. But when Officer Dunn reported to work, he says he was expecting a relatively normal day of protests.
Just a First Amendment protest and people coming up there to express their pleasure or displeasure with Congress, which is people’s right.
Part of the condition of Officer Dunn speaking to us is that he cannot discuss the conduct of his superiors or describe their communications with him. But he can share what happened that day from his own perspective. And he says that shortly after noon, he started to receive calls on his radio that the crowd marching on the Capitol had turned violent. He eventually took a position on the west side of the Capitol, and he says that that’s when he realized just how dangerous the situation had become.
I was out there with a long gun, an M4, a rifle. And you’re out there in an elevated position with this rifle, looking down on thousands and thousands of people. And these weren’t people out there passing out pamphlets. They had bad intentions. And we know they were armed because there were guns found and confiscated, and people were arrested. So imagine the ones that we didn’t find. So we know they were armed. You’re out there, and I’m this big target. And I’m thinking to myself, I am going to get taken out. I am going to get shot.
As the crowd stormed the barricades below him, Officer Dunn says he left his position to tend to fellow officers who had come under attack.
So I’m up there helping officers that have been pepper sprayed and gassed. And that is where the first initial breaches happened. And that’s when we teamed up in teams of two to respond inside the building to assist officers inside that needed help. Once we got word that there were people inside, we had to go, because that is uncharted territory. I mean, the whole day was. But you got people inside the Capitol, and Congress is in session. The vice president is overseeing proceedings. So absolutely, we got to go. This is— whoa. Here we go, guys. Let’s go.
And describe that scene inside the Capitol as you respond.
Well, as we’re responding to calls, it was an officer down. It was officer who was trapped, surrounded by rioters. There was a call for officer needs assistance holding the doorway. And then another officer calls out, they’re coming through the windows also. Then there are calls for another officer down, another officer down. We can’t breathe. There’s gas in here. They’re throwing fire extinguishers. There’s some kind of explosion that just went off. There’s shots fired. It’s just— it’s chaos.
The calls became so frequent and so many that we couldn’t do two-man teams anymore because there weren’t enough officers to go around for people that needed assistance. So everybody— now we’re just one-man teams. And then you get upstairs, and you’re looking around. It would literally just look like just a free-for-all, people just running around with their flags out.
There’s smoke everywhere. There’s pepper spray in the air. People are hugging statues and taking pictures and yelling and screaming all in the Capitol, this sacred place what represents a pinnacle of democracy. And we’re seeing all of this. And in your mind, it’s like, I cannot believe what I’m seeing right now. But you don’t have time to process all that because you have to restore some kind of order.
We’ll be right back.
I was watching this live. I think a lot of us were watching this live. And what stood out was that, yes, there was this huge volume of rioters coming at you all. And you all seem to be making a decision, which I want to try to understand, to not use force. I remember thinking to myself, will they use force? Will an officer raise their gun? Will they shoot their gun given the dynamics here? And with one exception that resulted in a rioter being killed, that really didn’t happen.
That’s a very complicated question to answer. I’m going to err on the side of not saying something without clearly thinking it through and I’m just going to— I’m not going to address that. I apologize. I wish I could. Because I know a low of people want to know, why the hell didn’t you shoot them?
And I’ll just tease it a little bit. When you say shoot them, which one?
All of them?
They were freaking possessed zombies. Like, it was insane. They were just— no matter what, they just kept coming and coming and coming. And there were so many of them. There were so many of them. And they were just wave after wave after wave after wave. And it was like, where does it end?
OK. Again, a question you may find frustrating. Were there ever any instructions given that day about whether or not or how to use force?
No, I’m not going to discuss anything that has anything to do with any instructions we were or were not given. I’m not going to discuss that.
I can only discuss about my specific experiences, what I saw. But that does not have anything to do with talking about my department. Because I’m just speaking for myself now.
I’m going to give this one last try, and you can avoid this last answer too. Was there ever a moment, officer, where, as you surveyed this situation, looked at the numbers, the intent, the stubbornness, everything you just described of these rioters, and thought to yourself, I should use force? I— I should use force?
I thought that I was going to die, but I did not know who it was going to be by. So I think that goes back to the point where, who do you— who? Who do you use force against? You can’t use force against everybody. You can’t use force on somebody because you think that somebody’s going to do something bad. Who? Just because I thought that it was going to happen—
who do I shoot? Who do I shoot? If somebody knows, tell me. Please tell me. Who was I supposed to shoot?
It’s so striking to hear you say that even with a powerful rifle in your hands, as a member of the United States Capitol Police force, you were terrified.
It’s problematic when you start talking about using deadly force against people and using the fear for your life thing because that’s an emotion. Just because I was scared isn’t a reason for why I should have taken somebody’s life. I know I said I wasn’t going to go into force, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. I’m going to move on. I’m going to move on from that. So—
I’m struck by this image that you’re describing of you up against so many people. And it reminded me of that now-viral video of Officer Eugene Goodman, one of your colleagues. He’s running up the stairs of the Capitol on his own with what feels like dozens of rioters chasing after him.
I will— I’m going to stop you real quick. I’m going to say more than dozens. I feel like hundreds.
Right. I mean, watching that, you just have this overwhelming sensation of how outnumbered you all seemed.
There were people around me, but you felt like you were alone because there’s so many people. You know? I’ve had a buddy, coworker, come to me who, at the time, couldn’t see a thing because he got blasted with bear spray to his face. And he can’t see anything. But he told me he was comforted once he heard my voice. And I say, hey, I got you. He was comforted at that moment, you know? But it was— we were extremely outnumbered.
Mm-hmm. I want to ask you a sensitive question. How present was—
Another one? [LAUGHS]
How present was your identity as a Black man, a Black officer, in all of this? We know that there were people in that crowd who espoused hateful, racist, white supremacist point of views.
So be direct, because I don’t understand what you mean, how present was it. Like, what do you mean?
Were you encountering people who were explicit in their views about race?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I didn’t realize that until after I told my story. A couple other of my coworkers, who are Black, shared with me their racist experiences that day. And while I wasn’t surprised, I was just like, wow. I didn’t know.
My experience happened when I encountered a group.
It was a tactic used by me because I was exhausted. I can’t fight nobody else. I’m tired. And it’s, like, 30 or 40, 50 people. I can’t fight y’all. Like, let’s talk, man. So they started talking about how Joe Biden didn’t win the election.
And I was like, all right. OK, good. We’re talking. We’re talking now. That means I’m not fighting, and I’m not being exhausted. And I said, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count?
And then— and then that’s when the girl said, you hear that? This n-word voted for Joe Biden, guys.
And then the whole 20, 30, 40, 50 people that were there said, this n-word voted for Joe Biden. Boo!
I said that I called a couple of dozen times, but it was one instance by a couple of dozen people. So—
What was your reaction to being called a racial slur in that moment when you were being outnumbered, and you’re physically threatened?
It didn’t register with me as I’m being demonized for my race. It didn’t register with me at that time. Why? Because I’m exhausted, and I’m trying to just survive. I don’t have time to process being called names. I didn’t have time to process that. But finally, once we got an opportunity to get the building secure, and it’s finally a little bit of normalcy starting to restore itself, I saw a familiar friend’s face, a close friend of mine.
And we just looked at each other, and we sat down. And you kind of just locked eyes. And you’re just like, what the hell happened? What the hell just happened? And I told him my experience throughout the day and my experience about what happened, me being called a racial slur. And that’s where the whole freaking phrase, “is this America—” that’s my phrase, you know? But I wasn’t trying to say no damn catch phrase. Like, whatever. You know? I didn’t know that that was going to be used in the impeachment trial. I didn’t know that.
- archived recording (jamie raskin)
One of our Capitol officers who defended us that day was a longtime veteran of our force. For several hours straight as the marauders punched and kicked and mauled and spit upon and hit officers with baseball bats and fire extinguishers, cursed the cops, and stormed our Capitol, he defended us. And he lived every minute of his oath of office.
And afterwards, overwhelmed by emotion, he broke down in the Rotunda, and he cried for 15 minutes. And he shouted out, I got called an n-word 15 times today. And then he reported, I sat down with one of my buddies, another Black guy. And tears just started streaming down my face. And I said, what the F, man?
Is this America?
I wonder what it was like for you the next day, January 7th. You wake up.
How are you feeling?
You’re angry. You’re tired, but you’re angry. Like, I was. I was. Hell, there’s probably people that haven’t really processed what happened even now, two months later. It’s a traumatic, traumatic historical event. You know? Like, I don’t think people are— realize the magnitude of this. So at this particular time, at the 7th of January, I didn’t have time to process my hurt, my pain. I didn’t have time for that. Because it’s right back to work, and do your job. Let’s keep this place safe. Y’all come back today if y’all want.
Did you come back?
Yeah, absolutely. And you know what? My coworkers did too. They fought their asses off, and they was ready to do it again the next day.
I’m sure you’ve given some thought to the fact that two of your colleagues ended up in so much pain after January 6 that they took their own lives, which would suggest that the psychological scars from that day are very, very deep. How do you make sense of that? Or is it not something anyone can make sense of?
You— I think it would be almost selfish to try to make sense of that.
I can’t say what somebody felt. I don’t know, just like somebody can’t tell you what I felt.
Everybody fought their own personal hell that day.
Well, Officer Dunn, I know this has been an exhausting couple of months. And I really appreciate you spending so much time talking about this with us. And I want to thank you for your service.
Thank you so much, Mike. I appreciate you. Thank you for having me. And anytime you want to talk, just give me a shout.
There’s no therapy like a good interview.
[LAUGHS] Shoot, I might need therapy after this interview. [LAUGHS]
Well, I’ll talk to you soon.
All right, Mike. Take care, man.
When we come back, an update from Officer Dunn.
There we go.
Officer Dunn, can you hear me?
Hey. Are we going to go through the Officer Dunn thing where I say call me Harry?
Are we going to go through that again? Yeah, we are.
OK. We got to go through that again? That’s fine with me. That’s fine with me.
Well, how are you? How have you been since we last spoke?
You, know I’m doing all right. I’m different, but I’m OK, though. You know? I’m definitely different.
What does that mean?
I kind of remember, like, the last time we talked, I was telling my story. And I was still confused and trying to process what happened. You know? I mean, hell, I still am. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions about that day. The main difference I noticed in myself as I’ve transformed from this depressed— I was sad, had a ton of anxiety, PTSD, which I guess that’s still exists. But it’s transformed to anger now. And that anger is fueling me even more to press on for accountability, this mission that I’m on to seek justice, answers, and accountability for what happened that day.
Well, what does that look like, this new phase of your experience and your journey here, the part where you’re looking for justice and accountability?
I’m able to see members of the January 6 Committee daily as I work at the Capitol. I’m able to tell them while I appreciate their hard work for this and seeking the truth, there’s been nothing that’s happened, that’s been done, that’s been assured that makes me feel comfortable that this will never happen again. I mean, hell, you look at some of the sentences that these guys are getting. I just saw one sentence that was issued today. A guy’s got 20 days in jail. This was the guy that was in Nancy Pelosi’s office with his feet on her desk. He got 20 days in jail, but those 20 days are to be served on the weekend.
So it sounds like you have been monitoring two things as you’ve been trying to understand what justice might look like for the people who participated on January 6. The first is the prosecution of those who actually stormed the Capitol, and the second is you’re closely watching the January 6 investigation that’s being conducted by Congress, which, among other things, is trying to understand who organized it and is responsible for it. So let me talk about that, because that committee actually called you as a witness. And I want to understand what that was like to go inside the building that you are paid to protect and become a participant in one of its proceedings and a witness.
Yeah. I mean, just like the way you framed that— it’s like, wow. When I got the request to testify before them, I, without a doubt, went, hell yeah, yes. Because I felt like I was in a position to tell my account. And I also had questions which I asked the committee to get to the bottom of. So one, I took it as a honor, and I took it as my duty to do so. You know?
Well, that investigation, the January 6 Committee, as I’m sure you know because you’re monitoring it, has become profoundly partisan. All but two House Republicans refused to participate in it. And beyond that, the Republican officials that the committee has subpoenaed to show up and provide testimony and materials, many of them have just refused those subpoenas. Some are now being held in contempt.
I don’t necessarily—
And I wonder how that—
I don’t necessarily know, though, if it’s made—
How does that make you feel?
So I was— they interviewed close to 300 people, but how many contempt charges have there been voted on? It’s only been, like, three. So if you’re looking at three out of the 300 people they’ve talked to, they’re getting a lot of cooperation out of the people.
So you got to put that in perspective. The reason why the people are not cooperating are a big deal is because it’s Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows. Everybody knows those names. So of course that’s going to be a huge story. It could take away from what is actually going on with the committee’s work. So I’m not discouraged by three people.
So it sounds like you have faith that the January 6 Committee will deliver some meaningful report and that that will mean some form of justice.
Maybe. I have no clue where I’m getting this hope from. There’s nothing that’s been done or said that gives me hope or faith or anything, but maybe that’s just the kind of person I am. I do believe that they are doing their due diligence not just because it’s their job, because they’re personally invested in this also. They were close to being victims that day.
If they investigate this and it turns out they say, hey, the president said some incendiary things, or hey, these people did this, but everybody was within their rights to do this— after they investigate it and the truth is all out, and there’s no punishment of it or something, I would be extremely disappointed because I disagree with that. But I cannot live with it not being investigated at all.
I imagine that you have heard from a lot of people about what you have said about January 6 to us, to other journalists, to Congress in that testimony. And I wonder if you can describe some of the feedback that you have gotten over the past almost year.
Well, I’ll focus on the positive. But there was some negative things, but I’m going to focus on the positive. The outpouring of love and support that I’ve gotten from people has just been overwhelming. It’s great. I get hundreds of messages on Twitter in my inbox, and I get handwritten letters written to me.
Do you? Wow.
Oh, it’s been thousands and thousands of letters I’ve gotten. I talked to Michael Fanone the other day, and he told me that he—
Who is Michael Fanone?
Michael Fanone is the police officer who was dragged out into the crowd on January 6. And Michael Fanone told me that they stopped counting at 500,000 pieces of mail that they’ve gotten. And they stopped counting there. But just the overwhelming support of people saying, don’t listen to the haters. Hey, the majority of Americans stand with you. And that’s what I got to focus on.
Mm-hmm. As you know— and this is part of the reason we’re talking to you— it’s been almost a year since January 6. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been that long.
And I am curious how present this feels in your day-to-day life. It feels very present.
I mean, do you think about this every day? Do you think about it every hour? How big does this loom in your life?
Think about this. If you’re at home and somebody breaks into your house in a burglary, even five years later, you’re still going to remember it going into your home. You’re going to see something that triggers you. I go to work every day at the crime scene, you know? That’s where I work. So yeah, it’s fresh on my mind.
And even without that— take that out of it. You said I’ve been following this and monitoring this. A lot of it ain’t been by choice. Every day, there’s a new indictment. Every day, there’s a new batch of subpoenas that came out. So I couldn’t escape it if I wanted to.
Officer Dunn, after your experience on January 6, you told us something that I think about a lot. You asked yourself a question about what was occurring that day. And that question was, is this America?
And I’m wondering whether you’ve gotten any closer to answering that question. Was that America, and is it still America?
It’s a part of America.
Reasonable people, a majority of the people, will say that that was terrible, and that shouldn’t have happened. But yes, it is a part of America. But it’s not who we are as a whole. And I’m encouraged by that, you know?
Well, I very much want to thank you for your time once again.
And wish you the best. Happy holidays to you.
Thank you. I appreciate it. And yeah, Harry, not Officer Dunn. [LAUGHS]
Harry, happy holidays.
Thank you. Too, Michael. Thank you.
Today’s episode was produced by Jessica Cheung with help from Diana Nguyen and Luke Vander Ploeg. It was edited by Michael Benoist, Lisa Tobin, Anita Badejo, and Marc Georges, and engineered by Dan Powell and Corey Schreppel.
That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.