U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, a 14-year veteran of the force who spent Jan. 6, 2021 in survival mode fighting for his life and the lives of his fellow officers, would like the truth, please, and nothing but the truth.
He has spent the last year giving interviews about his experience on that day. He has offered harrowing, painful testimony to what he lived through. It was hell. It was terrifying. His humanity and his dignity, like many other officers who defended the Capitol, were utterly disregarded by the mob incited by the former president and in effect, by the then-president himself.
Dunn, like other Black officers, endured a torrent of racial slurs on Jan. 6. He endured cruelty. He listened to people tell him—without a hint of irony—that they were there for him as their compatriots meanwhile kept up a medieval-style assault on his coworkers and friends.
In the year since he first laid eyes on the sea of people mobbing the citadel of American democracy and scrambled to defend it, Dunn has offered the United States his honesty, service, and loyalty. He continues to serve on the U.S. Capitol Police force and does so with pride. He also continues to speak unwaveringly about the need for transparency into the attack. He does this in the face of ever-present criticism from some that say he—and others like him—use their voices to push a political agenda.
I recently interviewed Dunn for Daily Kos and after speaking to him, the following became abundantly clear: Harry Dunn doesn’t have a political agenda—he has a service agenda. He wants transparency. He wants accountability when laws are broken because he believes in the principles of justice for all. He also wants a fair hearing of the evidence that the select committee investigating the Capitol attack has obtained so that the public—be they left, right, or center—can reach their own conclusions about what happened that day with all of the available information.
He is not naïve and knows that no matter what he says or does (or what the committee says or does, for that matter), there will be those who disagree with his assessments or choose to disbelieve what they saw and heard on Jan. 6 with their own eyes and ears.
But that has not discouraged him yet from speaking up about his experience. As he tweeted a few days after our interview, he’s not forgetting about it anytime soon, either.
Dunn got to the Capitol around 6:30 AM on Jan. 6 and did not leave until midnight.
“I was outside. I work outside, so I was there all day. I started out on the east side of the Capitol and I responded to a call from over on the west side. I heard officers saying, ‘Hey, we need some help, they have breached the line,’” Dunn said as he reflected on those early hours of the insurrection.
The first thought that popped into his head when he made it to the west side of the Capitol was awe.
It was the sheer size of the mob that struck him.
“I’ve dealt with hundreds—at least up to a thousand—protests in my career, demonstrations for all kinds of people and for all kinds of stuff. The pro-Trump people had been up there before, even. I’ve seen pro-Bush people, pro-whatever, anything, I’ve seen it all,” he said.
But that familiarity did not include this sight. It was unsettling, but Dunn did not wallow in that moment for long and quickly threw himself into the fray.
“There was one time where I was worried about if I was going to get shot or something like that,” he said.
Even in a crush of uniformed officers, Dunn towers in a crowd at 6’7”. He is undeniably an easy target at a distance for a sharp shot.
“But honestly? The thought was just survival. Let’s make it home. Let’s get home. Let’s stay safe. Then the thought was, ‘How is this thing going to go on? When was it going to end?’ There was no concept of time that day for me,” he said.
Other reporters have asked him, “What time did this or that happen?” or, “How long were you here or there?” and Dunn can’t recall those specific details now. Time seemingly stood still.
“I can’t even estimate,” he said, sighing as he searched his memory. “I do know that at one time, I was able to—once we got a little help in the building—I was able to gather a group of officers and say, ‘Hey guys, we got a moment now. Call your family, all your friends. Send them a text. Let them know you are okay because I’m sure a lot of people are watching this now are wondering if we are okay.’ Then we got back to work securing the building.”
Dunn wore a 20-pound steel chest plate and carried an M4 carbine rifle on Jan. 6. According to his testimony before the Jan. 6 committee this July, he was flushing chemical irritants out of other officers' eyes when the alert went up that the mob, which had been battling in hand-to-hand combat with police officers on the lawn and around the complex, had finally breached the building.
He rushed first to the basement on the Senate side of the Capitol where a Metropolitan Police Department officer needed a defibrillator. He took off next to the west terrace to assist other officers in distress, and then he went back into the building. He trudged up a flight of stairs to the crypt and it was there that he saw invading rioters carrying a Confederate flag, a red Make America Great Again flag, and a Gadsden flag.
At one point, Dunn stood his ground in that spot to prevent any rioters from going downstairs to the lower west terrace entrance. Once at the top of the stairs, he confronted a group and ordered them to turn back. One of them displayed a law enforcement badge and told Dunn, “We’re doing this for you.”
Yet another rioter approached, this one maneuvering like he meant to get past Dunn.
Dunn knocked him down.
Then, again, another rioter came upon him. This one told him “We’re here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not the president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden.”
Dunn said he voted for Joe Biden. This prompted the crowd of roughly 20 people to scream at him and boo him before calling him racial slurs.
He had never experienced that a day in his uniformed life.
He said he made the remark about how he voted because by then, “people were physically tired and exhausted,” Dunn said.
He had already spent so much time fighting them off. He was pushing through exhaustion.
“I thought to myself, ‘Y’all are obviously not listening to my orders. I can’t pick up 1,000 people and haul them out of the building. What the hell can I do?’ There was no training for this. People didn’t know what to do. You go through all sorts of training in the police academy and in life, but well, really, I haven’t had insurrection training!”
Dunn, with persistent good humor, laughed at this thought during our interview.
In seriousness, he said, it’s hard to actually be prepared for those moments.
“That’s where having regular instincts, just being aware, worked out. It just worked out. I was able to use my human instincts in survival mode. I didn’t have any training for that,” he said.
On Jan. 6, his eyes were burning from chemical sprays, his breathing labored from the same. But he pushed through and he survived.
Others did not. And Dunn is not one to forget that sacrifice.
Nor does he forget how callously some people have treated that sacrifice.
When the Jan. 6 committee convenes its public hearings, Dunn is adamant that he just wants one thing: the truth.
“I want to see the truth. Let all the facts come out and like I said, people can make their determinations about this or that and then go from there. Until then, I just want the facts to come out so everybody knows—well, reasonable people know—what the hell really happened,” Dunn said.
“I don't think people have a full understanding of what really happened that day, even reasonable people,” he added.
Even for someone smack in the middle of the attack, with their face pressed right up against it all, Dunn said, there are still so many things that happened that day that he doesn’t quite understand.
There are questions that still need answering and to be candid, Dunn said he doesn’t even know some days where to begin with that line of questioning.
“I think we don’t even know what we don’t know at this point,” Dunn said.
And to that end, that’s very much the case today.
The Jan. 6 probe has largely played out in private as investigators ready their case for public scrutiny. Former President Donald Trump is still trying to keep key records related to the attack away from investigators, and a decision by the Supreme Court that could influence that outcome has not yet been reached. Hundreds of witnesses have cooperated with the probe. Over 35,000 pages of records have been remitted to the committee.
But that cooperation has generated many more questions about Trump’s conduct and who abetted him.
Even on the very last day of 2021, Bernie Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner and stalwart to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, finally turned over a privilege log to the committee. That log featured a list of documents that Kerik would not give up willingly, arguing they were protected by executive privilege.
One of those documents was entitled Draft letter from POTUS to seize evidence in the interest of national security for the 2020 election.
That file, according to Kerik’s attorney Timothy Parlatore, was only mocked up one day before Trump met in the White House with Giuliani and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn as well as others in his inner circle. They reportedly discussed whether they could seize voting machines and other election equipment in states that Trump was losing to then-opponent Joe Biden.
Questions still swirl around why there were delays in getting backup to beleaguered officers at the Capitol.
Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has been held in contempt of Congress for his refusal to fully cooperate with the probe, sent an email to a Jan. 6 rally organizer saying the National Guard would be “present to protect pro-Trump people.”
Many more would be “on standby,” he added.
How far that thread goes is information that only the committee, at this point, can likely obtain.
And there are questions about findings in a November inspector general report released by the Pentagon. That report found that the Defense Department did not delay or obstruct its response to the assault but its details conflicted directly with congressional testimony previously offered by D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. William Walker, now retired.
Walker’s attorney, Col. Earl Matthews, just last month wrote a scathing memo slamming the inspector general’s findings. Matthews said it was replete with inaccuracies and relied on “demonstrably false testimony or statements.” That memo was first obtained by Politico.
Dunn was diplomatic but passionate about this matter, saying he would reserve judgment about potential defense delays until the facts about them are known and sorted.
”But if there were delays in getting anybody to help us, then that’s bullshit and they need to be held accountable. Period,” Dunn said. “There’s no reason why backup should not have been there. I get there’s red tape and everything has to be authorized, but if somebody denied something, and I don't know if they did or if that’s accurate at this point, but if they did, well, that’s why it is important for the Jan. 6 committee to get to the bottom of it.”
He continued: “If it was a denial of help; if somebody just asked for fucking help at the U.S. Capitol and after watching what happened, they denied that? What? How can anybody deny that? If there’s a charge for that, then that charge needs to be had. Of course, again, that’s all predicated on whether [that dereliction] actually happened.”
The idea of what “actually happened” versus what people want to believe happened is something Dunn still wrestles with.
“I think we’re so polarized as a country, and like I have said before, sometimes it doesn’t even matter when there’s literal video proof of what happened or of the words that were said. People just literally try to bypass that or make it something else,” Dunn said. “I don’t have an answer for it, I wish I did.”
“But what I do have an answer for is why I’m doing what the hell I’m doing. I want to get to the bottom of what happened and the people who actually do listen to facts and listen to what actually happened and do believe their eyes—those are the people I want to reach,” he said.
And, he added, he doesn’t care what their political affiliations are.
Perhaps the extremism of the insurrection is what makes his position so poignant.
He took it on the nose on Jan. 6, but he wasn’t radicalized to hatred by other people’s hatred. He didn’t sink to the level of the people who attacked him and his fellow officers. Holding tightly to his passion for service, he is optimistic.
“There are people on all sides of the aisle, left or right, it doesn't matter, there are people you want to reach and there are reasonable people and I still believe this country is made up of a majority of reasonable people.”
Dunn, it could be argued, is one of the nation’s better examples.