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Ruben Navarrette: Capitol siege quickly turned into war against the thin blue line

Summary:

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

SAN DIEGO — Cops have always been my heroes. And now, near the top of the list, you'll find Mike Fanone, a Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer who wound up in the middle of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and almost didn't make it home to his family.

The 40-year-old, who is married and the father of four daughters, has spent nearly half his life — 19 years — in uniform. Yet he never before experienced anything like what happened that day.

"It was some medieval [expletive]," he told reporters.

Shortly after entering the U.S. Capitol, Fanone found himself in that tear-gas-filled section of the melee that officials called the "hallway of hell." Cut off from fellow officers and dragged into the crowd by the mob, he was knocked to the ground, beaten, kicked, and even pummeled with a flagpole. Fanone was also tased — that's right, tased! — by rioters at least a half dozen times, which probably caused the mild heart attack he was told he suffered when he was treated at a nearby hospital later that day.

But what qualifies Fanone as heroic in my book isn't just what he — along with fellow D.C. police and U.S. Capitol officers — went through defending the building against barbarians at the gate.

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Before we get to that, first let me pause to give a shout out to others deserving of commendation. They include: Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who led the insurrectionists away from the hallway with doors leading to the Senate floor and toward other officers who greeted them with guns drawn; D.C. Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who survived bring beaten with his own baton and crushed between the mob and a door as a couple dozen so-called patriots pressed their collective weight against him and chanted "heave ho, heave ho"; and D.C. Police Officer Christina Laury, who managed to regain presence of mind after she and other officers were blinded by bear mace — yes, this really was the rebellion from "Deliverance" - and helped clear the invaders from the building.

And of course, we must never forget to honor the sacrifice made by Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from his injuries at the hospital later that night after battling the mob and apparently being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. Sadly, Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, who likewise fought his way through the riot, also died a few days later in a suspected suicide.

Still, for me, what makes Fanone and his story noteworthy is the honest, blunt, and salty language with which he has discussed the assault in interviews. It is no exaggeration to say he had a near-death experience.

Washington is full of diplomats who are careful not to say the wrong thing so as not to offend anyone. Fanone is not one of those people. Americans need to hear the unvarnished truth about the attack, and what our brave men and women in uniform had to endure on that ghastly day at the hands of lawbreakers who ironically claim to support law enforcement.

Fanone reminds me of another blunt and undiplomatic cop I know, one who is now retired but who — along with my mom —raised me. My dad became a police officer to help people, and that's what he did for the 37 years he spent on the job. If it breaks my heart to see videos of these savage attacks on law enforcement officers, I can't imagine what he's feeling.

While being a cop is an inherently dangerous job, what happened at the U.S. Capitol was a whole different ballgame. No law enforcement officer should ever have to put up with such treatment — not from anyone. From everything we've all heard in media reports, some of the rioters were apparently ready to advance from protest to premeditated murder.

While on the ground, Fanone heard people around him — several of whom had already stripped away some of his equipment, including his ammunition clips — start to chant: "Kill him with his own gun!"

Fanone decided his only hope for survival was to see if anyone in the mob had even an ounce of humanity. He shouted, "I have kids!" It worked. A few people encircled him and tried to prevent others from continuing the assault. Eventually, other officers rescued him.

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Asked by a CBS News reporter what he would say to the rioters who shielded him, Fanone replied: "Thank you. But [expletive] you for being there!"

Yep. Hero. Definitely. Top of the list.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.
© 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

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