D.C. officer attacked on Jan. 6 sounds alarm on political extremism ahead of 2024 election

Officer Michael Fanone heard his assailant yell “I got one, I got one!” as Fanone was pulled down the steps of the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.

In a coffee shop in downtown Richmond, Virginia, 100 miles and three years away from the events of that day, he remembered getting kicked, beaten and tased while surrounded by people hostile to his sense of what it means to be American.

Now, he's embarking on a months-long tour to meet with people who live in Congressional districts represented by elected officials that have supported former President Donald Trump's failed efforts to overturn the election. Fanone's goal? To warn people about his fears for a possible repeat of Jan. 6 with likely the same candidates vying for the presidency.

Fanone hopes to connect with America's disaffected in a cross-country tour to avert the potential for political violence in January 2025, when Congress will again be tasked with certifying a presidential election.

He won't be found in large auditoriums or press conferences, however, due to security concerns and the threats Fanone received after his high-profile testimony before a Congressional committee following the 2021 attack on the Capitol. Instead, Fanone and the nonpartisan nonprofit Courage For America will hold intimate roundtable discussions and one-on-one meetings with community leaders and veterans groups, conversations with social media influencers, and visits to college campuses to meet with groups of students during the 2024 election year.

To serve, protect and receive death threats

Fanone was a District of Columbia police officer in the narcotics unit on Jan. 6, 2021. He volunteered to assist officers at the Capitol that day after hearing cries for help over the radio. He was told later by doctors in the emergency room that he had suffered a heart attack and traumatic brain injury.

He resigned from law enforcement after a two-decades-long career, in part due to the backlash he received from colleagues and members of the public after he testified before a Congressional select committee tasked with investigating the Capitol riot. He received death threats to his personal phone and email. He was subsequently relegated to desk work in the D.C. police department.

Today, Fanone is trying to warn the public against the danger of political violence that he witnessed and experienced in 2021 ahead of the 2024 presidential election and subsequent certification. Faced with the same likely contenders in November, who wouldn't feel a bad case of deja vu?

Fanone fears the country could again be thrust into the same caustic political climate that allowed discord to be sowed during the last presidential election. That is what motivated him to team up with Courage for America, an organization that focuses on safeguarding democracy against extremism.

Officer Michael Fanone has partnered with Courage For America to help warn the public against the threat of political violence during the 2024 election year.
Officer Michael Fanone has partnered with Courage For America to help warn the public against the threat of political violence during the 2024 election year.

The nationwide "Not on our Watch" tour will feature meetings with community members and elected leaders from deep red and deep blue areas. Along with Congressional districts with representatives who have perpetuated the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, they plan to visit districts represented by members of Congress who have fought back against that lie.

“I want as many Americans to have the opportunity to experience what happened on January 6 through my perspective, as a career law enforcement officer who just did his job that day, and hopefully to raise awareness to what’s going on in this country and how that threat persists,” Fanone said in an interview with USA TODAY. “I want politicians that are using rhetoric that is violent in nature or inspires violence to be held accountable.”

Officer Michael Fanone met with House of Delegates Speaker Don Scott Jr. and Del. Dan Helmer in Virginia.
Officer Michael Fanone met with House of Delegates Speaker Don Scott Jr. and Del. Dan Helmer in Virginia.

Tour is slated to span more than a dozen states

The Not On Our Watch tour launched on Jan. 6, 2024, in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, represented by Scott Perry, a Republican firebrand and close ally of Trump. Perry was identified in a Congressional inquiry as assisting the former president in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The tour then visited New York’s 21st Congressional District, represented by Republican Elise Stefanik who argued that Vice President Mike Pence shouldn’t have certified the 2020 election.

“Two folks that continue to sow doubts on the 2020 election and perpetrate the big lie,” Albert Fujii, spokesperson for Courage For America, said. “I know a lot of organizations are focused on November but we’re one of the few that 100% of our focus right now is on Jan. 6, 2025, to make sure that the upcoming election results are peacefully certified.”

The tour is slated to span more than a dozen states, with planned stops at the end of February in Virginia. The group will travel to Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri and Nebraska near the end of March. They plan to visit North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona as well, but are still in the process of hammering out details.

Fanone talked Monday with a roundtable of law enforcement officers, city council members, and school board members in Norfolk, Virginia. On Tuesday, he was in Richmond to meet with U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; House of Delegates Speaker Don Scott; Del. Dan Helmer; and social media influencers to talk about the importance of safeguarding democracy against extremism. He planned to travel to Charlottesville on Wednesday to meet with students and faculty at the University of Virginia and then to Lynchburg to speak with community members.

An effort to reach disaffected voters

Fanone, who voted for Trump in 2016, said he hopes he can appeal to disaffected Americans who feel disillusioned with the political process.

“There are places that I can go and speak freely that a lot of people can’t. And hopefully, I can get some people at least to recognize that regardless of your personal politics, that this is unhealthy for America,” he said.

Trump’s words on Jan. 6, 2021, sanctioned the violent behavior of the rioters, Fanone said. During the rally that preceded the Capitol breech, Trump told supporters, “We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

“He gave them permission to commit acts of violence because they felt as though it was their patriotic duty to fight for their country. They were lied to and they were manipulated,” Fanone said. “That rhetoric hasn’t stopped. It has continued in many cases ten-fold. It has spread from the former president to other elected members.”

Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. He was acquitted in February 2021 by the Senate after 57 Senators found him guilty – 10 short of the two-thirds vote needed to convict the former president.

Since that impeachment, there have been efforts to bar the former president from the November 2024 ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 8 regarding a Colorado Supreme Court decision that removed Trump from the state’s primary ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, or the “Insurrection Clause.”

“Donald Trump is the responsible party at this point in time for the level of extremism and violence that we’re experiencing in our political process,” Fanone said.

Some Republicans seek to shield Trump from blame

There have also been efforts among some politicians to shift the narrative regarding January 6.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, introduced a resolution in Congress in early February to remove the blame for the insurrection from Trump.

The text of the resolution states that the House of Representatives has determined that Trump did not engage in insurrection or rebellion against, nor give aid or comfort to the enemies of, the United States, on Jan. 6.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Virginia, the newly minted chair of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, signed on as a co-sponsor to that resolution along with 70 other House colleagues. The resolution has not moved since Feb. 6. Good voted against certifying the 2020 election.

“There’s many Americans that are going to take that as factual,” Fanone said regarding the resolution. “That’s how we got into Jan. 6 in the first place, we had individuals in positions of power, the President of the United States, member of Congress, who espoused this lie that there was mountains of evidence that the 2020 election was fraudulent.”

Fanone will visit Good’s district next.

This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Officer Michael Fanone warns nation about extremism through nonprofit