It’s not that we forget.

Protesters storm the U.S. Capitol and halt a joint session of the 117th Congress on Jan. 6. The session was assembled to count electoral votes in order to formalize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via TNS

But sooner or later, news becomes history, and the awful thing that happened loses its power to shock. You remember the emotions you felt, but you don’t reexperience them – not to any degree of sharpness or immediacy.

One day, that will happen to the events of Jan. 6. One day, as was the case with Dec. 7, 1941, and Nov. 22, 1963, that day will primarily be one of remembered pain. But as Tuesday’s hearing into the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol vividly proved, today is not that day.

On the contrary, as four of the police officers who defended the Capitol testified in the opening session of a House select committee, the events of that day rushed back, hard. As they spoke of being cursed and beaten and gassed and Tased and crushed by white nationalists seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the pain felt fresh, new and now.

To put it another way: Tuesday was Jan. 6. One suspects that, as hearings continue, that day is destined to come around often.

This is as it should be. Moreover, as it needs to be.


The Republican Party, which cannot bring itself to cut Donald Trump loose, even knowing he lost the election and that his refusal to accept it led directly to this violence, has only compounded its sin in the six months since. It has waged war on memory, effectively asking us to believe Republican lies over the testimony of our own eyes.

They tell us the insurrectionists were tourists, and “loving” and “peaceful patriots.” They tell us that Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot to death trying to breach a space where members of Congress were being evacuated, is some kind of martyr. They tell us that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is to blame for Trump’s insurrection. Like she’s the one who whipped up the crowd. Like it was her name on the flags they carried.

It is hogwash, yes, but hogwash in the service of obfuscation, of rushing Jan. 6 off into history – misremembered history, at that. Which is what made the testimony of those four cops so critical.

Because while the deniers may deny many things, you cannot deny the stark moral clarity of a cop who tells you he was not as frightened in Iraq as he was in Washington. A cop who couldn’t hug his wife when he got home at 4 a.m. because his uniform was saturated with chemical irritants. A cop who got called a racial slur so many times he found himself in the Capitol rotunda afterward, demanding aloud, “Is this America?” A cop who told himself, “This is how I’m going to die.”

You can’t deny that. It is an everlasting stain upon them that so many Republicans have tried.

As Officer Michael Fanone of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, still recovering from concussion, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and a heart attack, told the committee, “What makes the struggle harder and more painful, is to know so many of … the people I put my life at risk to defend are downplaying or outright denying what happened. I went to hell and back to protect them … but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad.


“The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” he declared. His voice rose angrily as he pounded the table.

Trump and his enablers have never seemed smaller than they did Tuesday. Not just small, but revealed, caught red-handed in high crimes against democracy. They’ve been trying to murder memory.

On Tuesday, memory fought back.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He may be contacted at:
[email protected]

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