Guest column: Front row seat to January 6

The Daily Ardmoreite
Tony Choate

Where you stand depends on where you sit is a common idea in government and politics. Sometimes called Miles’ law, it means that an individual’s personal perspective will have a significant impact on how they view issues.

That idea received new validation during the recent select committee investigation into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

On the first day of the January 6 investigation, police officers who safeguarded the building gave hours of testimony about the harrowing ordeal they faced battling people they described as terrorists, insurrectionists, cultists, white nationalists and racists.

Sergeant Gonell, who fought valiantly to defend those inside the building, said that while he was a child in the Dominican Republic, he looked up “to the United States as the land of opportunity and a place to better myself.”

He added that he had pursued that goal since first landing in America in 1992.

“Thankfully, I achieved that goal on many levels. I was the first in my family to graduate college, join the Army and become a police officer. On July 23rd, 1999, the day before my 21st birthday, I raised my hand and swore to protect the Constitution of the United States, because this country gave me an opportunity to become anything that I wanted.”

None of that mattered to those attacking the U.S. Capitol, who called Sergeant Gonell a traitor for defending our democracy.

"Apparently even through my mask they saw my skin color and said, 'You're not even an American."

He contrasted that experience with his time in the military.

“When I was in Iraq, the sense of comradery, it didn’t matter whether you were White, Black, Spanish, Middle Eastern. We all knew what we were fighting for.”

Officer Hodges repeatedly referred to the attackers as terrorists.

“The terrorists had a wall of shields that they had stolen from officers as well as stolen batons,” he said, adding. “Even during this intense contest of wills, they tried to convert us to their cult. One man shouted, ‘We all just want to make our voices heard, and I think you feel the same. I really think you feel the same…’” 

Officer Dunn testified that when he asked insurrectionists to leave the building, they replied that Nobody voted for Joe Biden.

“I responded, ‘Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?’ That prompted a torrent of racial epithets. One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, ‘You hear that guys? This n----- voted for Joe Biden.’ Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming, ‘Boo, f---ing n-----.’” He continued, “No one had ever, ever called me a nigger while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.”

While it is painful to hear fellow Americans referred to as terrorists, racists, insurrectionists and cult members it is even more difficult to acknowledge this behavior was inspired by elected officials.

Attackers were there to “Stop the Steal” because they believed the rhetoric of politicians who signed on to about dozen election challenges in precincts with large black populations.

Many of those sitting in their living rooms may not have understood, or even noticed this fact, but minority voters perceived that to be an attack on not only their right to vote, but the legitimacy of their vote.   

White supremacists perceived it in the same way and attacked the U.S. Capitol in support of the politicians who challenged the legitimacy of the black vote.  

Even Senator James Lankford, who serves on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, apologized for his role in the election challenges in a letter “To my friends in North Tulsa:”

“After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate,” wrote Sen. Lankford.  

Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger expressed his appreciation to the officers.

“I never expected today to be quite as emotional for me as it has been,” he said, obviously struggling to hold back tears. “I think it’s important to tell you right now though, you guys may individually feel a little broken… but you guys won. You guys held.”

While the officers eventually won the day on January 6, the battle is not over.

As representative Kinzinger said, “Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We’re defined by how we come back from bad days, how we take accountability for that. And for all the overheated rhetoric surrounding this committee, our mission is very simple. Let’s define the truth, and it’s to ensure accountability.”

From where I sit, truth and accountability are not too much to ask.

— Tony Choate has lived in the Ardmore area for more than 50 years. He earned his master's degree in political science from Purdue University after earning a bachelor's degree in legal studies from East Central University. He worked for several years as an adjunct instructor for Murray State College, teaching courses in American history and American government and politics.