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An officer who was attacked on January 6 says he still lives with the aftermath

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Thank you for joining us on what's become a somber date in U.S. history. Three years ago today, a violent mob supporting then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Rioters forced the vice president and members of Congress into hiding, temporarily halted the peaceful transfer of power and injured 140 police officers. Even today, the FBI continues to seek dozens of people who assaulted police with pepper spray, bats, stolen police batons and other weapons. NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach spoke to one officer who was there that day, who was attacked, and who still suffers the effects of that violence along with so many of his fellow officers. And just to caution - some of the audio here is tough to listen to.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: The January 6 attack was one of the most recorded events in American history - recorded by surveillance footage, news cameras and the rioters themselves. And of all those images, one has stuck out.

(CROSSTALK)

DREISBACH: You see an officer at the front of a police line. One rioter rips his helmet and gas mask off, another blasts pepper spray, and the crowd appears to crush the officer with a stolen police shield.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL HODGES: (Screaming).

DREISBACH: The officer screaming is named Daniel Hodges.

HODGES: I was assaulted many times throughout the day. I was beaten, punched, kicked, pushed, beaten with my own riot baton in the head, crushed with a police shield. Someone tried to gouge out one of my eyes.

DREISBACH: Hodges is an officer with D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department. He told me he could not speak for his department - just for himself. But in seven years of policing, he said he's never seen anything like January 6. And since that day, he's testified in criminal trials against the men who assaulted him, and he's also testified in Colorado as part of the legal effort to keep Trump off the ballot for allegedly engaging in insurrection.

HODGES: I'm a living primary source of what occurred on one of the most important days in American history - in recent American history - so I feel like I have a moral obligation to continue fighting the disinformation and the lies that are coming out because of the profound impacts misinformation can have. People ask me, you know how I am. And I tell them that I've been very fortunate, both physically and mentally, which is true. I didn't suffer any permanent injuries that I know of, and, you know, 90% of the time, I'm fine talking about it. But in court, it becomes very real. It's a very intense experience when you're testifying about it, and it all sort of comes rushing back. So it can catch you off-guard mentally that way.

DREISBACH: How does that manifest when you're - you know, you're kind of brought back to the moment?

HODGES: You look at video of that day as they play it in court because it's an important exhibit, and, you know, you're there again. It lessens as time goes on, but it still definitely makes an impact on you. You know, if you sort of detach yourself from it and look down and compartmentalize, then you can address each individual thing as it happened. But if you think about the totality of the circumstances and how, you know, so many Americans were trying to essentially overthrow the United States government, whether they admit it or not, it's overwhelming.

And then there's the leadership - the political figures, the media figures - who know better, who know the truth, but still insist today that there was no insurrection, that it was hugs and kisses, that they were antifa dressed up as Trump supporters, that I'm a lizard person, that - you know, whatever conspiracy theory you want. It's maddening, and it's crazy. And it shouldn't be this way, but it is.

DREISBACH: Has that - any of that talk escalated to threats against you?

HODGES: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean, yeah. After I testified in Colorado, I started getting a lot of threats online. There was people sending me, like, explicit snuff of suicides and telling me to kill myself.

DREISBACH: Like, videos of people killing themselves...

HODGES: Yeah.

DREISBACH: ...They sent to you.

HODGES: Yeah, yeah - and, like, pictures of me - my head pasted on top of instructions for how to strangle yourself. Just - nobody said the words, I am going to kill you, but everything but, you know?

DREISBACH: Do you have to take any extra steps in your life to protect yourself in the face of that?

HODGES: No, no.

DREISBACH: No.

HODGES: I mean, I wear a gun to work. I wear a bulletproof vest.

DREISBACH: That's right, yeah.

HODGES: What am I going to do that I don't do already, right?

DREISBACH: So I want to talk about what Trump has said about January 6. He has promised repeatedly, since the beginning of 2022, to pardon January 6 defendants. Have you thought about the possibility that, you know, the men who were convicted of assaulting you might be let free and how that would feel?

HODGES: Yeah, yeah. I mean, what can I say? It's - they were tried and found guilty, or they pled guilty. They know what they're guilty of. I think some of them are remorseful, and many of them are not. Unless you have, you know, reason to believe that they're not, you have to try to hope that they're being honest when they say that they have remorse. Otherwise, you know, what's the point? Why do we hold out hope that we can ever unify the country again if we don't believe that people can change?

DREISBACH: I think I've heard you talk about the notion of finding and getting justice for what happened on January 6, and I wonder what that means to you. Like, what is getting justice for what happened?

HODGES: I mean, it's such a big word, a big concept.

DREISBACH: Yeah.

HODGES: And it stretches across all different striations of those involved, whether it be, you know, the foot soldiers on the ground, the people in Congress who tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power with their votes, and Trump himself. So how do we achieve justice for all those different kinds of people in every sense of the word? Well, there's the criminal aspect. There's the legal system. There's the justice system that - as an outsider looking in, it appears to be doing the best it can. They're still making arrests today, even years on. It lets everybody know that, you know, we're still coming. It doesn't matter how many people there were - that we're still investigating, and we will find you and make sure that you have your day in court.

DREISBACH: Well, Officer Hodges, thank you so much for making this time.

HODGES: Thank you for having me out.

SIMON: That's Washington, D.C., police officer Daniel Hodges speaking to NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.