To Hell and Back, Then to CNN
Michael Fanone seemed very out of place. It was the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, and CNN was commemorating the occasion with blanket coverage. A year earlier, Fanone was a 40-year-old Metropolitan Police Department (M.P.D.) officer trying to hold off an angry mob outside the United States Capitol. The rioters pulled him from a tunnel and down a set of steps, pummeled him with their fists and their feet and even the staff of an American flag and tased him numerous times; in the melee, he suffered both a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury. Now Fanone was outside the Capitol again, on the set of CNN’s “New Day” morning show, sitting next to its hosts, John Berman and Brianna Keilar. He wore faded jeans and a red-and-black plaid parka, in stark contrast to Berman’s and Keilar’s news-anchor attire. With his heavy beard and a turtleneck of tattoos peeking out from underneath his collar, he looked like some sort of punk lumberjack. He sounded like one too. When Keilar asked him to share some of the conversations he was having with police officers as the anniversary approached, Fanone acidly noted that the U.S. Capitol Police “have to walk the same halls as some of these insurrectionist members of Congress,” before adding, “I couldn’t imagine sharing a work space with those jackasses.”
The good news for Fanone is he doesn’t have to. Despite the incongruity of his wardrobe and words, the cable-news set was now his work space, Berman and Keilar his colleagues. In late December, Fanone resigned from the M.P.D., after nearly 20 years on the force, and took a job as an on-air commentator on law-enforcement issues at CNN. In a way, the move only formalized a pre-existing relationship. A week after the storming of the Capitol, while still recovering from his injuries, Fanone gave interviews to CNN and a host of other news outlets, recounting the horrors of the event in vivid terms that spared no detail or person. (Addressing the handful of people in the mob who came to his aid that day, he told CNN, “Thank you, but [expletive] you for being there.”) He became a media star and, inevitably, a political star as well. In July, Fanone testified in front of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. “The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” he shouted, slamming his hand on the table. That evening, he appeared on Don Lemon’s CNN show to play a racist and homophobic voice mail message a Trump supporter left him. “This is what happens to people that tell the truth in Trump’s America,” he said. That Fanone himself was a self-described “redneck American” who voted for Trump in 2016 gave his words an added weight.
Apostates are rarely lonely in American politics. When a political figure switches sides — Whittaker Chambers naming Communist names and becoming a celebrated conservative intellectual, David Brock renouncing the vast right-wing conspiracy and starting liberal nonprofits — the drama of the act itself can earn more attention, and more followers, than if the person had started on that side to begin with. But in recent years, the act of apostasy has been defined down. Alexander Vindman, a by-the-book U.S. Army lieutenant colonel serving on Trump’s National Security Council, became a blue-state hero for having the temerity to suggest that it was improper of Trump to threaten to withhold U.S. military assistance to Ukraine unless it investigated Joe Biden. Nicholas Sandmann, a Kentucky teenager on a high-school field trip to Washington, became a conservative cause célèbre when a video of his encounter with a Native American political activist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was misconstrued, in initial press reports, as a racist confrontation. Unlike Chambers or Brock, Vindman and Sandmann didn’t switch sides in the political battle so much as they simply stumbled into it — noncombatants who were drafted into the culture war.
Once conscripted, though, each capitalized on his new status by parlaying it into political and media work. Sandmann landed a job with Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign and was given a prime-time speaking spot at the Republican National Convention. He’s now a frequent guest on Fox News, most recently showing up on Sean Hannity’s show to offer advice to Kyle Rittenhouse after his acquittal on murder charges in November. Vindman, meanwhile, wrote a book, “Here, Right Matters” — the title comes from a line in his testimony at Trump’s impeachment hearings — and even made a cameo on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
It’s not surprising that Fanone would follow the same path. He may have had little alternative. The flip side of apostasy, of course, is the enmity it earns you from your old comrades. Fanone’s outspokenness rapidly made him a target for conservative media figures: Greg Kelly of Newsmax dubbed him “that drama queen of a cop,” while Laura Ingraham of Fox mockingly awarded him a “best performance in an action role” trophy for his House testimony. Even worse, he became a target for his fellow law-enforcement officers. When he had recovered enough to return to the force in September, he has said, officers in his old district greeted him with taunts or simply shunned him; he now counts only two current Washington police officers as friends. “I had convinced myself, Mike, you’re vocalizing the opinions of thousands and thousands of police officers,” he later lamented to the Time correspondent Molly Ball. “But I’m starting to think I’m vocalizing the beliefs of just one.” In joining CNN, Fanone is merely going where he is wanted.
Fanone has said that one reason he is so outspoken is he does not want anyone to whitewash, or to forget, what happened on Jan. 6. But that has trapped him in a “Groundhog Day”-like existence. In another appearance during CNN’s anniversary coverage, Fanone stood with Don Lemon in the Capitol tunnel from which rioters pulled him one year earlier. In an “exclusive” interview, he haltingly recalled how “it was like a war zone.” He went on: “It was just littered with weapons and debris, CS gas, residual gas just kind of floating in the air created this mist or haze. It was surreal.” Left unsaid was the surreality of Fanone’s having to relive the worst day of his life, yet again, for CNN’s cameras.
Key Figures in the Jan. 6 Inquiry
The House investigation. A select committee is scrutinizing the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as Congress met to formalize Joe Biden’s election victory amid various efforts to overturn the results. Here are some key figures in the inquiry:
Donald Trump. The former president’s movement and communications on Jan. 6 appear to be a focus of the inquiry. While Mr. Trump has invoked executive privilege in an attempt to shield his records, the Supreme Court refused to block the release of the files.
Ivanka Trump. The daughter of the former president, who served as one of his senior advisers, has been asked to cooperate after the panel said it had gathered evidence that she had implored her father to call off the violence as his supporters stormed the Capitol.
Kevin McCarthy. The panel has requested an interview with the House Republican leader about his contact with Mr. Trump during the riot. The California representative, who could become speaker of the House after the midterms in November, has refused to cooperate.
Rudolph Giuliani. The panel has subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and three members of the legal team — Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn — who pursued conspiracy-filled lawsuits that made claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Mike Pence. The former vice president could be a key witness as the committee focuses on Mr. Trump’s responsibility for the riot and considers criminal referrals, but Mr. Pence reportedly has not decided whether to cooperate.
Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a trove of documents that showed the extent of his role in the efforts to overturn the election, is now refusing to cooperate. The House voted to recommend holding Mr. Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.
Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. The Republican representatives of Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a group of G.O.P. congressmen who were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the election. Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Jordan have refused to cooperate with the panel.
Fox News anchors. Texts between Sean Hannity and Trump officials in the days surrounding the riot illustrate the host’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser. Mr. Hannity, along with Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade, also texted Mr. Meadows as the riot unfolded.
Big Tech firms. The panel has criticized Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter for allowing extremism to spread on their platforms and saying they have failed to cooperate adequately with the inquiry. The committee has issued subpoenas to all four companies.
Far-right figures. White nationalist leaders and militia groups are being scrutinized as the panel’s focus intensifies on the rallies that led up to the mob violence and how those with extremist views worked with pro-Trump forces to undermine the election.
Roger Stone and Alex Jones. The panel’s interest in the political operative and the conspiracy theorist indicate that investigators are intent on learning the details of the planning and financing of rallies that drew Mr. Trump’s supporters to Washington based on his lies of a stolen election.
Steve Bannon. The former Trump aide has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, claiming protection under executive privilege even though he was an outside adviser. His trial is scheduled for this summer.
Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser attended an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers. Mr. Flynn has filed a lawsuit to block the panel’s subpoenas.
Phil Waldron. The retired Army colonel has been under scrutiny since a 38-page PowerPoint document he circulated on Capitol Hill was turned over to the panel by Mr. Meadows. The document contained extreme plans to overturn the election.
Jeffrey Clark. The little-known Justice Department official repeatedly pushed his colleagues to help Mr. Trump undo his loss. The panel has recommended that Mr. Clark be held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate.
John Eastman. The lawyer has been the subject of intense scrutiny since writing a memo that laid out how Mr. Trump could stay in power. Mr. Eastman was present at a meeting of Trump allies at the Willard Hotel that has become a prime focus of the panel.
But those are the realities of Fanone’s formal entry into the Resistance Industrial Complex as a CNN talking head. Besides, so much of cable news now consists of cable commentators commenting on one another — CNN’s Brian Stelter slamming Fox’s Sean Hannity, Fox’s Jesse Watters attacking MSNBC’s Chris Hayes — that Fanone’s new job makes his role in the back-and-forth even tidier. The revolution may not be televised, but the civil war will be, one cable news hit at a time.
Source photographs: Screen grabs from YouTube; Win McNamee/Getty Images.