WASHINGTON — Nearly three years ago to the day, then-Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn came face to face with a violent mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters. Now he hopes to join the ranks of lawmakers he tried to protect on that day and the many since.
On Friday, the eve of the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, Dunn launched a campaign in Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, joining a crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes.
“Because of Jan. 6 and everything that happened afterwards, it’s clear how much of a threat the extinction of our democracy is — it’s very present right now,” Dunn said in a phone interview Thursday ahead of his announcement.
“I do believe that we’re literally one election cycle away from the extinction of our democracy,” he added.
Dunn, a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police force, spent the months after the Capitol riot recounting his story from that day, when he was physically attacked by the mob, which also hurled racial slurs at him.
Dunn delivered emotional testimony at the House Jan. 6 committee’s inaugural hearing, and he was often outspoken about the experience he and other officers had on that day. He participated in several congressional hearings and even wrote a book this fall pushing for accountability.
Not far from the Capitol, Dunn has also been a frequent presence at the federal courthouse, where he has testified in and observed some of the more than 1,200 cases against Jan. 6 defendants that have been working their way through the court system. Dunn and some of his fellow officers showed up at former President Donald Trump’s first court appearance in his Jan. 6 prosecution over the summer, and Dunn testified during the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial in 2022.
“We have dozens of officers down. They’re taking them out on stretchers. Y’all are f—ing us up,” Dunn told rioters in a video played to the jury in the Oath Keepers case.
“I was distressed, I was angry, and I was scared,” Dunn testified at that trial. “During the event, it was just about surviving.”
Dunn said it was difficult to put on his police uniform after Jan. 6 and head to the Capitol where he experienced trauma that still haunts him today. But that experience also served as one of his biggest motivators when he weighed whether to run for Congress.
“As a Capitol Police officer, I was very limited to what I can do, to what I can say, the criticisms of members who I protect, who I disagree with,” Dunn said Thursday.
“What more can I do that I haven’t done already as a police officer?” Dunn added later. “So now running gives me a seat at the table, where maybe now I’m just an annoying talking head, but now I’m their equal, I’m their colleague. And I have a voice, I have a vote, and I can’t be dismissed that way.”
To become that colleague, Dunn — who resigned from the Capitol Police on Dec. 17 — will first have to make it through an already crowded Democratic primary to represent the district, which is south of Baltimore. Ten Democratic candidates, including at least one state legislator, are already running, and more could jump into the race.
“I completely appreciate all the work that they’ve done. I believe that all of our values are aligned,” Dunn said. “However, I believe at this moment I am the best person for this job because I physically — I spent the last 15 years of my life defending democracy.”
Whoever wins the Democratic primary would be favored to win in November. Sarbanes won a ninth term in 2022 by 20 percentage points, and President Joe Biden carried the 3rd District by 26 points in 2020, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections.
Dunn does not live in the district, but he said he would move to it if he is elected.
Asked which issues specific to Maryland he plans to focus on in his campaign, Dunn pointed to infrastructure, noting the traffic to travel to Baltimore, as well as mental health and crime. But he said other issues, such as abortion and gun control, fall under a broader umbrella that will the main focus of his campaign.
“My platform is democracy,” Dunn said.