OP-ED: Jan. 6, 2025, will be the ultimate — and perhaps final — test of American democracy

I voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I used to be an avid consumer of right-wing media. But for me and millions of Americans, including those of us who spent our careers in law enforcement, Jan. 6, 2021, changed everything. It was a day that shook our core values and left so many wondering what America stands for. 

After two decades working for the U.S. Capitol Police and then Metropolitan Police Department, I experienced my fair share of violence, but nothing prepared me for my colleagues’ desperate calls for help that January. My partner Jimmy and I suited up, not because we were required to but because our fellow police officers were under attack. It had nothing to do with politics or political parties, which I never cared for, and had everything to do with duty — to the men and women who represent us, the dedicated public servants who help them and, yes, our democracy itself. 

When we got to the Capitol, the siege was intense beyond imagination. I saw one police commander, my friend and someone I had known for two decades, violently coughing and struggling to breathe after inhaling the toxic fumes of chemicals deployed by rioters. But he, like the dozens of officers I fought alongside of in one of the Capitol’s tunnels, stayed in the fight, determined to hold the line.  

I was shocked by the thousands of rioters determined to break into the Capitol in order to disrupt the democratic process. It was chaotic and incredibly violent. I saw knives, baseball bats, metal poles and even improvised explosives. At one point, I was grabbed by the neck and dragged into the mob. I was beaten with fists and metal objects. I was struck with a taser again and again and again. I was called a “traitor.” But what I will always remember is the moment I heard the mob chanting, “Kill him with his own gun.” That’s the moment I thought my four daughters could lose their dad. 

Now, three years later, I am more concerned than ever for the country I love so much. A year from today will be the first time Congress certifies a presidential election since the insurrection. Two in three Americans are worried history could repeat itself. They could be right. 

That’s why I believe peaceful certification must start with making sure every American knows what actually happened on January 6th. The indifference and lies I’ve witnessed since 2021 are a national disgrace. One congressman even called it a “normal tourist visit.” Let’s begin with making sure everyone has watched the videos of what happened and heard the stories of those of us who were there, so that they know the stakes of what’s to come. 

It will be members of Congress, some of whom voted against certifying the last election hours after the attack, who will be charged with certifying the 2024 results. In some scenarios, such as no candidate receiving the required 270 Electoral College votes, they may even choose our president. They have to know the millions of Americans they represent are watching their every move and listening to every word.  

We cannot wait until January 2025. Call your representatives. Keep sending letters. They have to know that, no matter the outcome of the election, their responsibility is not to political parties or donors but to those of us they represent. 

We have to also restore trust in our elections system. There is legislation right now that would defund election security grants and make it harder for millions of people to vote in 2024. These harmful bills cannot pass. I don’t care what your politics are, something we can all agree on is the sanctity and security of the vote. It’s our most important duty as citizens and the last hope for saving our democracy. 

We will always have our disagreements and differences. That’s democracy. It’s often messy. But we cannot allow it to also be violent. We shouldn’t have to have a conversation about whether another insurrection will happen, but that’s reality. The future of our country, the country we will leave for our children, depends on all Americans to come together now and over the next year to restore trust in our elections system and apply pressure on Congress to peacefully certify the election. We cannot wait. We cannot fail. 

Michael Fanone is a former U.S. Capitol Police officer and Metropolitan Police Department officer who was severely injured while defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Read the op-ed here.