At the first House select-committee hearing on the January 6th insurrection, last week, four law-enforcement officers presented excruciating details of their efforts to protect the Capitol and the lawmakers inside it from the mob that sought to disrupt the certification of the Presidential election. Aquilino Gonell, a Capitol Police sergeant, recalled how rioters set upon him, doused him with chemical irritants, and flashed lasers into his eyes. Michael Fanone, of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, said that he was Tased and beaten unconscious, and suffered a heart attack. Harry Dunn told of being taunted with a racist epithet that “no one had ever, ever called” him while he was “wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.” Daniel Hodges, the youthful Metropolitan Police officer who was recorded on video being crushed in a doorway, used a single word twenty-four times to describe the people who rampaged through Congress. He called them “terrorists.”
Shortly after the insurrection, R. P. Eddy, a former director of the National Security Council, suggested on NPR that the reason the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. had missed every glaring sign of what some members of the group that Donald Trump liked to call his “army” were planning for the sixth had to do with “the invisible obvious.” It was difficult for officials, Eddy explained, “to realize that people who look just like them could want to commit this kind of unconstitutional violence.” Representative Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, one of two Republicans who joined the committee, against the wishes of the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, noted something similar in his opening statement. “We never imagined,” he said, “that this could happen: an attack by our own people fostered and encouraged by those granted power through the very system they sought to overturn.”
When Officer Hodges used the word “terrorist,” he was demanding that the obvious be made visible. This is also the essential task of the committee: to assemble a comprehensive record of January 6th showing that those who entered the Capitol were not, as Trump said, “a loving crowd” but political extremists, incited by the President and abetted by Republican members of Congress and other government officials, whose deference to a seditious demagogue represents an ongoing threat to the country.
The insurrectionists, however, called themselves “patriots,” seeming to believe that bearing the American flag earned them that title. To most people, the flag symbolizes the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. But at the Capitol it was brandished as a weapon—along with the Trump flag, the Confederate battle flag, and the thin-blue-line flag—in an attempt to undermine what the committee’s chair, Representative Bennie Thompson, called “the pillar of our democracy”: the peaceful transfer of power. The insurrectionists, in calling…