Violent Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Photo by /John Minchillo/ AP
- A Metropolitan Police Department officer found himself battling an angry pro-Trump mob on January 6.
- As police tried to fend off the attackers, officers were hit with batons, clubs, and bear spray.
- “We were surrounded,” the officer told Insider. “There was going to be no way to retreat from this.”
A well-timed jet of bear spray knocked out an officer in the Metropolitan Police Department on January 6 as a violent mob of Trump supporters breached the Capitol and overpowered security.
The police officer is speaking out in an exclusive interview with Insider on the mentally, physically, and emotionally-draining ordeal. Insider granted them anonymity to speak candidly on the details of the insurrection, while MPD has barred its officers from talking publicly about the attack, as part of an oral history of the January 6 attack.
This interview has been condensed for brevity and clarity.
Insider: What’s the first thing you remember about that morning?
Metropolitan Police officer: Throwing all of our gear into the vans. There was just a standard briefing. “This is what we got coming. This is what we expect.”
Most of the day was just people walking by saying, “Hello we support you.” And “We’re not like Antifa.” And I’m like, yeah, yeah. If you really supported us, you’d just go home.
When Trump’s speech ended people just started marching towards the Capitol. We thought nothing of it. We didn’t have the big picture.
We start hearing things come over the radio. People yelling about how there was an angry crowd starting to form at the Capitol. So we got ordered to collect ourselves in a nearby location, pick up our gear and get over there.
Insider: Does that mean armor, batons, big guns, and all that?
Metropolitan Police officer: No. We just put on, essentially, football helmets and gear. Like extra padding. And we started making our way to the Capitol.
We started to notice dense crowds in front of the place. And people started yelling at us. “Cowards! Traitors!” And people were saying “We’re here for you. We’re here to support you. But you’re not supporting us!” Then somebody got a little aggressive and the shoving started.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty
‘I felt the line start to collapse’
People are yelling and screaming. Trying to grab those bicycle rack-looking things that had been used as barriers. People were starting to get pepper-sprayed. And it was starting to slowly ratchet up towards real-life violence.
We try to reason with one or two of them. But at this point it just kind of goes out the window. There’s no real talking to these people. They were there on a mission to make themselves known. And it was mostly white men. Probably 28 to 50 was the average age.
During that time, I had to come off the line like four or five times. Probably because I got misted with pepper spray. There was a bunch of Capitol Police officers who weren’t in riot gear, and they were running back and forth from inside the building carrying bottles of water. And we were just dousing our eyes. So it was just like you’d fall out, you’d go back, you’d fall out, and you’d go back. Just trying to keep everything going.
Finally, on like the last time that I pulled back, I realized, you know, I got this gas mask on my side here. I should just put this on. That would be a great idea. That’s what happens when you get a second to think.
As I start to put it on, I see smoke. A second later, it comes flying by me. You get that sweet metallic taste of tear gas in your throat and you know, it’s done. At that point, I felt the line start to collapse.
It really looked like you were looking at an old-fashioned battlefield.
We’re right in front of that little tunnel where the president walks out to give the inauguration speech. And I’m looking out at this crowd and I’m just like, “Oh, shit. That’s a lot of pissed off people.” And it didn’t register directly, but you could just feel it. We were surrounded. There was going to be no way to retreat from this.
It was then the order was given for us to pull back inside the building. And I was one of maybe the last 10 to go back inside. And for a moment there, we got to take a breath.
Next thing you know, we start hearing pounding. And I’m like, “No, this is the Capitol building. They’ve got, like, bulletproof glass or shatterproof glass or something like that.” Then I start hearing cracking sounds.
And then one of the lieutenants was yelling, trying to give us a pep talk. “We’re not going to lose the US Capitol today.” But no one can hear them above the craziness. And I heard someone yell, “I need a riot shield at the front.”
So I grabbed one of the heavy-duty, thick, plastic, Capitol Police riot shields lined up along the edge of the wall inside the hallway that you know, people must have just put down or abandoned. So we went forward.
A window at the US Capitol building broken during the 6 January 2021 siege by supporters of US President Donald Trump.
Photo by Dmitry KirsanovTASS via Getty Images
I hear the glass shatter and I see somebody step in. And then more people start coming in. And we’re sitting there with our shields, next to each other. Four guys on the front line with our shields, trying to hold these people back. And I yell something like, “Get the fuck out of here!”
And they’re smacking the officers. I got pushed in between the door frame, the wall, and the metal detector. Then guys wearing tactical gear start mixing in or standing on top of one another, smacking people with their batons and stuff like that. You had people wearing body armor and balaclavas over their faces. You had people wearing t-shirts. People wearing just normal everyday clothes.
—Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) October 26, 2021
So you had people mixed in the crowd who were trying to be decent. They were out there to yell and get their point across. But they weren’t trying to hurt anybody. At the same time, they were there on federal property. It just makes them less guilty than the ones that were being violent.
There were all sorts of makeshift weapons. A lot of it was PVC pipe. Some flagpoles. There was homemade bear spray. There was regular bear spray. Some of the stuff had been taken from us. They were ripping our shields away from us. It was like guerilla warfare. One of our leaders yelled to stop using pepper spray because all it was going to do was get the rest of us messed up.
During that time we had people asking us if we needed to take a break. Everybody was like, ‘We’re not taking a break. We’re not quitting.”
Insider: Were you just running on adrenaline at this point?
Metropolitan Police officer: Oh, yeah. I was gassed out within 10 minutes. Literally just standing there being pushed from behind, and pushing the people in front of you, and pushing the crowd. Ten minutes of that and you’re pretty much done. It just doesn’t register anymore. You’re tired. But everybody else is tired, too.
I took a break for like 3 minutes. And then a lieutenant came by and said, “Hey, I know you guys are tired but we need you back on the line. It’s getting rough again.”
Police use tear gas around Capitol building where pro-Trump supporters riot and breached security on January 6, 2021.
Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
‘You couldn’t breathe’
They had plenty of fresh bodies. We didn’t. So we would tucker them out. Or spray them. And they would pull off. Next thing you know, we had more protesters, rioters, insurrectionists in front of us.
At one point, I’m next to my squad sergeant and I can see his face. It was beet red. I told one of the officers that he needed to get off the line because I could see that he was almost looking like he was drowsy. You know, he was just getting burned out.
I know we had an officer who was struggling in a lot of pain. We kind of made a V so that the people in the center could trade out, and people could move forward and take his spot. At that point, someone threw a smoke grenade. I was looking for it on the ground, trying to put it out. By the time I had moved all the trash and debris around, the smoke grenade just burned away.
It was so densely packed you couldn’t move your arms around. You couldn’t breathe.
—Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) October 26, 2021
I heard some of the protesters yelling, “Hey, I can’t breathe.” And all I’m thinking is, “Then why the fuck are you here?” I know a lot of people said in the news that, you know, we could have been more forceful, more violent. I went the entire summer of the George Floyd riots, the Black Lives Matter protests without hitting a single person. I used more force that day than I’d used in the previous year.
If we had gone lethal, that crowd would have gone from just hostile to murderous. There were a couple thousand people in the crowd. We were just an obstacle in their path.
Near the end of my time in that tunnel, I was yelling, “Where the hell’s the National Guard?” All I know is we’re all tired as hell, but we’re still holding.
I don’t know if you know how gas masks work, but ours have just one air filter on the left side. Somebody pushed up against me. And that mask filter got pushed up against the inside of my chin. It’s like putting your head in a sealed container and trying to breathe. There’s no air in there. It’s a panic moment. I managed to get my right hand out from between me and another person, and I ripped my mask off.
No sooner do I do that — like literally, 3 seconds later — I see this stream of white liquid, almost like a Super Soaker, come out of the dark and hit me right in the face. I knew I was done at that point. Because it was just pain. It was bear spray.
I had to close my eyes and I yelled to the guys around me, “I can’t see, I can’t see.” I was out of commission. This was burning hellfire. It’s like having a first-degree burn on your face and then sticking your head in an oven. I couldn’t see a damn thing.
Capitol Police officers receive medical attention after clashes with the pro-Trump mob that breached security and attacked them on, January 6, 2021.
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Battered police officers just staring off into space
Someone escorted me up to the Crypt. And we were all just sitting there. Like after a football game. Where all the players are just sitting in the locker room, just staring off into space.
I remember walking around. I went up to the Senate and was taking pictures. I took some pictures of the offices and I could see all the damage on the inside of the building. I had to keep moving, because every time I stopped, I would start sweating. Every time you start sweating, it reactivates the OC spray, so I’ve got to keep the air flowing over my face. Otherwise, it just keeps burning.
I heard that they had cleared out the west side. So I went out to go see. I could see Virginia state police, Maryland police, a couple of other law enforcement agencies, you know, moving through the Capitol in SWAT formation. I was like, “Thank you, guys. Thank you for coming. Thanks for backing us up.”
I started to see the National Guard. Then I went out and I saw the aftermath. There’s debris everywhere. There was lighter fluid on the ground. I spotted someone’s pants. And on the belt loop was a large Buck knife.
There’s just trash everywhere. And intermixed between it was baseball bats. Billy clubs. Backpacks full of first aid kits. Just a bunch of Amazon tactical gear. These guys had gotten all their gear off of Amazon.
Back inside, I saw some janitors walking around, already cleaning up. I saw some Capitol Hill maintenance workers already doing measurements for the broken doors and the glass. Like they were kicked into overdrive. The grounds had literally just been cleared.
Then we all formed up in a line and just started talking to our supervisors. They had us answering if we were injured. If we had used force. And I’m like, “Yeah, I might have whacked a couple of people with my baton.” Some guy said, “I punched somebody in the face.” We had to report all of that so that it could be investigated later on.
Police officers look at the mess left after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Photo acquired by Insider.
Continued health effects from January chemicals
Insider: Did you get punched?
Metropolitan Police officer: No, I didn’t. But I saw plenty of guys get hit with things. Essentially, even if we weren’t injured, we were walking wounded.
I call it the OC hangover. Literally, your whole body is drained and aches after being exposed to OC and CS gas. You see, CS gas isn’t really a gas. It’s more like a powder that becomes aerosolized. And that’s all over everything that we own — to this day. Whenever I have to put on our riot gear, I still get reactivation from the OC or the CS gas. You’ll hear guys, to this day, sneezing in the locker room because they were putting on their gear and there was still residual CS powder on it.
I remember, as we were leaving the Capitol, anybody who was like, injured-injured got into another van and went straight to the hospital.
I know my sergeant had a concussion. Another officer fucked up his knee and didn’t come back until like a month or two ago. Another sergeant literally, like the fingernail on his finger got ripped off, or something like that. And they put duct tape on it and he had to go to the hospital.
After that, we drove our vans to the DC Convention Center. We parked underneath the overpass where the two parts of the convention center are linked. The fire department came by and just hosed down all of our gear. To this day, I’m still getting burned from stuff on it.
We didn’t get out until really late. They still had us on standby because they don’t know if they still need you. So, I think we were on for like 18 hours at that point.
Insider: Did you ever get a chance to call your family?
Metropolitan Police officer: When I stepped away I sent my mom a text message saying, “Bad. But safe.” And she was like “WTF?”
I only had enough time to call one person. So I called my wife. I told her that, you know, “It’s rough out here. They’re trying to overrun the Capitol. But I’m okay. Can you call my mom and let her know I’m okay?”
It was the craziest situation I’ve ever been in.
Read the full oral history with accounts from 34 people here, and other related stories.