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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Officer Fanone

Officer Fanone, who was injured defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 speaks to a Cardinal reporter in Vilas Hall on April 9, 2024. 

This officer nearly died at the Jan. 6 riot. He hopes young voters will spur political change

Officer Michael Fanone went to the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021 to stop an insurrection. Following recovery, he said young voters can use the insurrection as motivation to vote.

Content warning: This article contains profanity. 

Officer Michael Fanone saw his life flash before him outside the marble walls of the U.S. Capitol.

Thousands of insurrectionists broke windows, fought officers and planned attacks on members of Congress to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021

Fanone is one of 140 U.S. Capitol police officers who were beaten and repeatedly tased that day. 

“It was absolute chaos,” he told The Daily Cardinal. “It was terrifying how close I came to losing my life.”

In the weeks leading up to the certification, former President Donald Trump openly discussed plans to encourage his supporters to storm the capitol. Conspiracies circulated that the election was stolen from Trump, with momentum from elected U.S. officials such as Rep. Mo Brooks, Rep. Paul Gosar, Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz. 

Fanone was a Washington, D.C. police officer for 20 years and spent most of his career working in narcotics. He said he dealt with serious situations in his law enforcement career, but nothing came close to what he witnessed that day. 

“Fuck no,” Fanone said when asked if he felt prepared. “I mean, I was questioning the decision to leave the comfort of my office and fucking come to that shitshow.”

It wasn’t an easy decision for Fanone to go to the Capitol that day, he said. 

“I didn't go there, [to] save democracy, and go there to protect a bunch of members of Congress or their staff, not to say that those responsibilities aren't important, but they certainly didn't play into my motivations for dropping what it was that I was doing and deciding to go to the Capitol. It was to help other police officers,” Fanone said. 

When he arrived, Fanone looked through a glass pane and saw remnants of tear gas deployed by officers and rioters. It was difficult to breathe and see, he said. There was intense fighting and hand-to-hand conflict in confined spaces. 

“We were beaten with every object you can imagine. I remember metal baseball bat pipes, scaffolding that had been stripped from the inaugural stage that was used as a battering ram to try to break through the police, and at one point there was an individual or individuals that were deploying commercial grade fireworks into the tunnel,” he said. “It was absolute chaos.”

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Fanone suffered a traumatic brain injury and heart attack as a result. After he gained consciousness, he said the first thought he had was to ask his colleagues if they held off a door from insurrectionists.  

“When people ask the question of whether or not those individuals intended to kill people, I don't think you can take what happened to me and think anything other than absolutely. That was their intention,” he said.

Fanone said he visited doctors three to four times a week and was committed to mental health recovery as well.

Following the insurrection, 25% of Americans said it is “probably” or “definitely” true that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) instigated the attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. Among Republicans, more than three in 10 have adopted this falsehood, despite law enforcement officials repeatedly denying these accusations. 

“These are not pro-American organizations. These are anti-government organizations,” Fanone said. “They're looking to enact change by using violence, and that's what they did on [Jan. 6]. They used the cover of the mob to storm the Capitol and attack police officers. That's what happened on Jan. 6, and anybody that tells you otherwise is full of shit.”

Political inconvenience an obstacle for reconciliation

Fanone said he observed how the events of the insurrection have deepened the political divide, particularly among older Americans, moving them further away from reaching a middle ground.

“What really gets me is how many Americans are completely indifferent to my experience and the experience of hundreds of other police officers on Jan. 6. who just don't care, or those that have chosen not to believe the reality of Jan. 6 who refuse to allow themselves to be educated as to what happened simply because they feel like it's politically inconvenient,” he said. 

Additionally, Fanone said many of these Americans live in “disillusionment” and have not come to terms with Trump’s defeat in 2020. 

“I definitely struggle with finding any degree of compassion or empathy for those people,” he said. “They believed the lies peddled by the former president and so many other elected leaders in this country — people that are supposed to be credible sources of information, people who have an obligation to tell us the truth.”

Fanone said young voters should vote against Trump because of the threat he poses for the country and organize around strengthening democracy more than previous generations. 

For Fanone, Biden “has been around a long fucking time,” and has a proven track record of respecting the Constituion and peaceful transfer of power, whereas Trump had a tumultuous tenure where “his biggest accomplishment in four years was inciting a fucking insurrection and trying to subvert democracy.” 

“I spent the better part of my adult life disillusioned by politics and politicians. That being said, we do have a responsibility in maintaining our democracy, and voting is the most fundamental part of that,” he said. “I've got [a] 21-year-old daughter, and there's nothing she enjoys more than hearing her father say, ‘I fucked up.’ We fucked up royally. We need you guys to bail us out.” 

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Ava Menkes

Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.

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