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‘Four Hours at the Capitol’: Powerful HBO documentary takes no sides

Lawmakers, police, insurrectionists speak for themselves in recap of the Jan. 6 attack.

Thousands of Americans protested the results of the presidential election, some violently, at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
HBO

“I have literally bled for this country in combat in Afghanistan, and they were all yelling, ‘F--- you, you’re on the wrong side of history, you are traitors to your oath…’ and [I was], ‘How f---ing dare you.” — District of Columbia Police Officer Jimmy Albright describing the scene on Jan. 6 in “Four Hours at the Capitol.”

A sobering thought occurs while one is watching the powerful and sometimes shocking and infuriating HBO documentary “Four Hours at the Capitol,” which combines smartphone and security camera and news footage with recollections from a myriad of key players in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol: It might not change a single mind.

If you believe the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol building were patriotic revolutionaries trying to take back the country after the presidential election was stolen, you’re probably going to hold those same beliefs after experiencing this film.

If you’re certain these self-appointed patriots were in fact traitors who were egged on by a delusional Donald J. Trump and committed crimes as they attacked law enforcement personnel and broke into the Capitol and tried to hunt down lawmakers who had gathered to certify a legitimate election — if you believe this mob had zero evidence of widespread voter fraud and was bringing great shame upon our country, you’ll almost certainly feel the same way after watching “Four Hours at the Capitol.”

And yet. Perhaps there are some folks who have mixed opinions about the events of that day. Perhaps some viewpoints WILL be changed by watching this documentary, which carries no distinct political slant and employs an old-fashioned “fly on the wall” technique, thus allowing the footage and the comments from participants on both sides to speak for itself. You can hear the sometimes-heartbreaking recollection of U.S. representatives and their staffers, journalists who were in the midst of the fray and police officers who were under attack and in some cases feared for their lives, and then hear from the insurrectionists who speak with boastful pride and zero regret about their nauseating actions that day — and while I can’t imagine how anyone with a respect for facts and a fundamental understanding of the Constitution and an appreciation for basic decency can side with the criminals, I certainly don’t expect most of those who have sided with the violent and the uninformed to reverse their stances. Still, one can hope.

The sentiment of the rioters is summed by one Bobby Pickles, a Proud Boy who says, “We chant ‘1776’ because it reminds us of revolting against our government … people were pushing and I kind of just followed right along with them … it was just everybody acting in unison, and that’s when all hell broke loose … It’s bedlam, nobody cares about law or anything like that … there was a lot of fighting between patriotic people and Capitol Police.”

Between patriotic people and Capitol Police. Amazing.

We also hear from Officer Daniel Hodges of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, who says, “A guy came up and got this thumb in my right eye and tried to gouge it out,” and D.C. Police Officer Mike Fanone, who was dragged out of the Capitol and was being pummeled when he recalled “yelling out that that I had kids, trying to appeal to somebody’s humanity … and it worked. Ultimately, I think that led to my survival.”

Officer Mike Fanone says on “Four Hours at the Capitol” that mentioning his kids to his attacker may have saved his life.
HBO

All the while, we’re watching the riot unfold through smartphone and security cam footage, which is so clear and so bright and so sharp, it almost makes it seem more surreal. Director Jamie Roberts (“The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty,” “Manchester: The Night of the Bomb”) is a skilled documentarian who knows he’s handling a powder keg of material. He wisely refrains from employing a narrator or even letting us hear an off-camera interviewer, instead relying on the footage and the recollections of lawmakers, their staffers, journalists and insurrectionists to tell the story of how a mob of rioters, fueled by weeks of false claims by Trump and others that the election was stolen, attempted to stage a violent coup and “take back” something that wasn’t theirs to take back.

Delusional Trump supporters compare their dear leader to Jesus Christ and claim he was “anointed by God” and is their “savior.” A Trump acolyte engages in revisionist history, claiming one can’t prove the insurrectionists were actual Trump supporters just because they stormed the Capitol in his name.

To hear this is … depressing. Sad.

But not surprising. Truth remains an endangered species in far too many pockets of our great country.