When Two Capitol Police Officers Who Defended Democracy on Jan. 6 Visited Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Republican Lawmakers Added Insult to Injury

“The Republicans’ disrespect, lack of patriotism and even common decency, epitomizes the poor behavior that so many in the MAGA movement have adopted,” said Speaker McClinton.
Trump allies in the state House staged a walk out as January 6 officers Harry Dunn (podium) and Aquilino Gonell (left) were honored on the chamber floor. Photo courtesy of PA Democratic Party.

Retired U.S. Capitol police officers Harry Dunn and Aquilino Gonell traveled to Harrisburg Wednesday for a planned Biden/Harris campaign event. Stopping into the State House, the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton, recognizing that the two men were in attendance, introduced them to the chamber – as is customary when individuals or groups visit the PA capitol.

According to Nicole Reigelman, Press Secretary in the Office of the Speaker of the House, acknowledging these men was a matter of routine. “The State House recognizes guests in the chamber every session day, like school groups, veterans, foreign dignitaries, law enforcement officers, all kinds of people/groups.”

What wasn’t routine, was the reception they received.

Bucks County State Representative Tim Brennan (D) described the response when Dunn and Gonell were recognized. “Mostly what I saw was that we had these two capitol police officers who had been through a terrible ordeal and that they weren’t welcomed by one side of the aisle.”

Dunn and Gonell were both working during the January 6th insurrection and were under siege as they protected the U.S. Capitol. Consequently, both became victims of physical and verbal assaults, as well as racist taunts that day.

Dunn said in a statement that it was “sad though unsurprising that Trump’s allies in the Pennsylvania state House followed his lead in mocking the January 6 attack. The fact they’re scared to listen to those of us who were there and witnessed the political violence of January 6 first hand speaks volumes.” 

Brennan, unaware at first that the men were in the chamber, was stunned by the outbursts at the unplanned event, “I didn’t even know they were going to be there. My recollection was that it got a little loud. I heard the hissing.” Following the walkout, Brennan better understood what was happening, “I really did notice that the full other side of the chamber was pretty empty.”

READ: Bucks County GOP Chair Pat Poprik Named in ‘Insurrection Index’

Madeline Zann, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee (PA HDCC) explained, “At the beginning of session, the speaker announced them in order to recognize them, some [republicans] left the room and there was booing and hissing.” Was Zann surprised by the lack of decorum? “Yes and no,” she replied.

Brennan echoed Zann’s dismay, or lack thereof, over the less than decorous response to the visiting law enforcement veterans who had survived the first assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812. “We hear a lot about sights and sounds of the republic.” Alluding to recent Republican assertions that the U.S. is not striving to be a democracy, but rather a republic without direct participation, but instead, elected representation. Brennan continued, “whether the other side wants a republic or a democracy, they could still show respect. Conversations and disagreements need to be civil.”

Bucks County NAACP President Karen Downer voiced dismay at the way Dunn and Gonell were treated, “It’s disgusting. No matter your party, once you’re elected you’re supposed to be supportive of everybody. [Legislators] don’t get to pick and choose who they represent. It’s childish.”

Downer believes the incivility in politics is inexcusable and it lessens the lawmakers opportunity to effectively represent their constituents. “It can’t be explained as just politics. We become stronger when we listen to all voices.” Instead of listening, Downer sees that some lawmakers seized an opportunity to ridicule two civil servants. “It’s childish, but if these were children doing it, they’d have consequences. I don’t see this as politics. I see this as disrespect.”

Bucks County Representative Brian Munroe (D) was at a meeting in his office at the time of the outbursts. While similar disrespect is not commonplace in the chamber, Rep Munroe says that he has witnessed jeering in the House before, against certain groups or ideologies. Munroe voiced his disappointment in the “few – certainly not the majority” that can’t seem to show respect to people with whom they disagree. “I’m a moderate and I seem to be able to get along with most, but showing disrespect to law enforcement like that is unacceptable.” Munroe continued, “We as elected officials should be supporting these officers, certainly not literally turning our backs on them.”

Asked about the spontaneous nature of the visit and subsequent outburst by the Republicans – possibly being justified because the capitol officers were in town for a political campaign stop, Munroe says that their politics should be inconsequential to the way they are treated by his colleagues. “We have a lot of groups that come to the state House,” he explained. “They have rallies for issues,” that may not align with a member’s politics, but “you cannot connect that to what happens on the floor. You must take politics out of it.” And while Munroe has heard disrespectful comments before, he’s dismayed by the hissing and jeering Dunn and Gonell endured from his colleagues. “Everyone deserves respect.” As a retired police officer, Munroe adds, “Take politics out of it. They are our law enforcement officers and they deserve respect.”

READ: The MAGA Movement Betrays the United States Military

Brennan agrees. In the Pennsylvania legislature, members need to work together – which is difficult if they’re jeering and hissing. “Civility is more than nice. Civility is what you need to get things done. To find solutions.” As for Wednesday’s treatment of Dunn and Gonell, “Civility is definitely what was lacking.”

Speaker McClinton – who took the time to recognize the two officers as she would any other visitors – voiced outrage at the treatment of men who along with more than one hundred capitol police officers were injured when a mob attacked the Capitol. “This week, the state House saw despicable behavior from some of our GOP members when welcoming former Capitol police officer Harry Dunn and former Sergeant Aquilino Gonell to recognize and thank them for their service and heroism in defense of our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.” 

The Speaker emphasized the lack of decorum by the opposition party.

“These brave former law enforcement officers were disrespected by many Republican members who walked off the House floor, turned their backs and booed the officers. The GOP members’ shameful behavior was unbecoming of our institution for any guest, let alone two of the men responsible for defending our democracy during a dark day in our nation’s history,” said McClinton. “The Republicans’ disrespect, lack of patriotism and even common decency, epitomizes the poor behavior that so many in the MAGA movement have adopted.”

No Bucks County Republican legislators were available for comment.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is a freelance journalist and author. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband. Pat has written nine books on poverty and homelessness.

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