Booked Up with Jen Taub
Sgt. Aquillino Gonell
January 7, 2024
In This Episode:
Today nearly three years after the attack on the US Capitol my guest is American hero, Aquillino Gonell, author of the new book American Shield: The Immigrant Sergeant Who Defended Democracy. You know Staff Sergeant Gonell as one of the brave members of the Capitol Police who defended our country and our constitution when insurrectionist mobs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
You saw Sergeant Gonell testify in July of 2021 at a televised Congressional hearing. At the witness table with him was his friend and fellow U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn. And also with them were Washington Metropolitan Police Department officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges.
As I wrote in the Washington Monthly at the time, “These four heroes and their colleagues defended the U.S. Capitol from an angry mob hell-bent on murdering Vice President Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stopping the House and Senate from officially counting electoral votes to declare Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the winners of the November presidential election.”
Gonell was born in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States in 1992. The first member of his family to attend college, he became a U.S. citizen just before his 21st birthday. He praised “this country” for giving him the opportunity to “become whatever I wanted.”
In his testimony, Gonell said he was more fearful on January 6 than when he was deployed in Iraq. In Iraq, he was scared to go in convoys or supply missions to Iraqis, but he knew the risks. At the Capitol, he didn’t. How could he? “I did not recognize my fellow citizens,” he said. He heard threats against Pelosi and Pence, and realized his own life was at risk. “The rioters called me ‘traitor,” he said. They shouted that he should be “executed.” These were not peaceful protesters: “The mob brought weapons to try to accomplish their insurrectionist agenda.” These included hammers, rebar, knives, batons, bear spray, and pepper spray. They wore tactical gear. Some seized officers’ batons and shields. One rioter attacked an officer with an American flag.
Rioters pulled Gonell by his leg, shield, and gear. “My survivor’s instincts kicked in,” he said. He hit a rioter who was grabbing him. Then he stood and fended off “new attackers as they kept rotating and attacking me again and again.” It was “like a medieval battle, fighting hand to hand.” The rioters were shouting “Trump sent us. Pick the right side. We want Trump.” Gonell heard an officer near him, whom he later learned was Hodges, scream in pain. He thought “this is how I’m going to die.”
Gonell wiped away tears as he described learning later on that his family had been texting him frantically because they saw the turmoil. Returning home in the middle of the night, he had to tell his wife not to hug him because of the chemicals on his uniform. His body was burning. He showered, barely slept, then returned to work at Capitol around 8 am.
“I’m still trying to recover from my injuries,” Gonell said. Both of his hands, his left shoulder, and his right foot were injured. He needed surgery on his right foot and now needs it on shoulder, too. He’ll likely require rehab for at least a year. He wants to know why the U.S. Capitol Police had all the support it needed during Black Lives Matter protests but not on January 6. “We don’t want medals,” he said. “We want justice and accountability.”
I am honored to have Aquillino Gonell as my guest to talk about his new book American Shield, how his recovery is progressing, and what is to come.
Contact Booked Up
You can email Jen & the Booked Up team at: BOOKEDUP@POLITICON.COMor by writing to: BOOKED UP, P.O. BOX 147, NORTHAMPTON, MA 01061
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