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Capitol police officer on duty Jan. 6 releases memoir: 'Standing My Ground'

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The police officers who protected the U.S. Capitol on January 6 still bear scars from that day, physically and emotionally. One of those officers is Harry Dunn. He was on duty with the U.S. Capitol Police when rioters stormed the Capitol nearly three years ago. Dunn recently published a memoir called "Standing My Ground." It documents how the violence of that day changed how he views himself and his country. I started by asking him if he ever imagined, when he became a police officer, that he would have to defend the Capitol from an armed insurrection.

HARRY DUNN: No. One, I couldn't fathom an attack like that happening. But I also at that time didn't realize the country was on the course to where it is now. Like a lot of people, you don't really pay attention unless something's actually affecting you directly.

FADEL: Describe that day for somebody who just - I mean, I watched it on television. I was in Los Angeles.

DUNN: Yeah.

FADEL: You know, so I was watching these images I never imagined at the Capitol. But you were inside it. If you could just describe briefly what it was like to see what was happening and start to comprehend.

DUNN: Sure. You know, one of the things that I think is hard for people to realize - the officers who were inside giving everything they had to defend the Capitol, we were fighting for the person next to us, like our brother, our sister. And we wanted to make sure that they, along with ourselves, got to go home at the end of the night.

FADEL: I think I want to know what it was like when you finally did go home.

DUNN: When I got home, I wanted to get out of the clothes that was covered in the soot and the grime and the residual pepper spray. And I took all those clothes off, and I put them in the washing machine. I grabbed some bourbon, and I got in the shower. I usually go grab a glass, but I grabbed the whole bottle. And I got in the shower with the bottle of bourbon and just - I remember crying in the shower. I don't even remember going to sleep that night.

FADEL: Pretty early on, at first anonymously, you started telling your story.

DUNN: Yeah.

FADEL: Why did you do that?

DUNN: That John Lewis quote sticks out to me. When you see something that isn't just, you have to stand up. You have to fight back. You have to say something. And I didn't want the narrative that was starting to run about that day from the deniers - I didn't want that narrative - it already did gain traction, but...

FADEL: And has gained traction.

DUNN: It has gained traction. But I wanted to combat it with what actually happened. What was being told in that narrative wasn't what happened.

FADEL: Tell me about the narrative you were combating.

DUNN: Like it being a tour visit, like we were opening the doors for them, that it was a protest that got out of hand - because individuals told us they were there because Donald Trump sent us there.

FADEL: And you hold him responsible.

DUNN: The individuals made decisions whether somebody told them to or not. So they're ultimately responsible for their actions. But he definitely bears responsibility for inciting it or emboldening these people to do it.

FADEL: You testified against two Oath Keeper leaders who got pretty long prison sentences.

DUNN: Yeah.

FADEL: Did that feel like justice?

DUNN: Kind of. Anybody who had anything to do with the failures, even the lack of preparation, they need to be held accountable. And until that happens all the way at all levels, I don't necessarily know if I'll feel like it's really justice. You know, I'm not celebrating people being convicted and sent to jail. That's not a celebration. Actually, I feel sad because I see that they are real human people, and their families are being torn apart, and their lives are destroyed. Now, don't get it twisted. I'm not saying that, you know, hey, go lenient on them; be nice to them. But it's a sad thing that there were real victims that day, not just the police officers. America as a whole was a victim of an attack on - an assault on democracy.

FADEL: How are you personally? I mean, it's almost three years. How are you?

DUNN: You know, I have this anger about that day, and the denialism of people that are - it angers me. But that anger fuels my passion to fight for accountability. And I feel like once I'm not angry anymore, it scares me that I won't care anymore. What if it's over, and I'm like, I'm not affected anymore; I'm good? That's where we have this complacency as a nation. And that's what happened. We took our eyes off the ball in 2016, and we got Donald Trump. We got complacent.

FADEL: When you cried that night when you finally got home, what was it that was sort of top of mind that really hurt you from that day?

DUNN: I've always viewed the Capitol building - I've always revered it. I - 16 years in my job, and every day I get the opportunity, I walked through end to end inside, and I stare at the rotunda, and I'm just in awe of it, what it represents. The people that built it were slaves, and having the honor to protect that building, not just in an ancestral way for my ancestors, but to represent the democracy, this country, and to be able to protect democracy - I view myself as a defender of democracy - and to see it in the way that it was that day afterwards, it just broke my heart. It just broke my heart that this is where we are. And I - this may sound so cliche or even - you know, some people go whatever, but my heart broke for this country. My heart broke for the country 'cause I love this country. I love it.

FADEL: Harry Dunn is a U.S. Capitol Police officer. He was at the Capitol on January 6, and his new memoir is called "Standing My Ground." Thank you so much for your time.

DUNN: I appreciate you having me. It was great talking with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "AARON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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