WASHINGTON — Brian Sicknick followed his Air National Guard unit to Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan and a military base in his home state of New Jersey, all in the hopes of one day wearing a police uniform. It was a wish fulfilled more than 10 years ago when he joined the police department tasked with protecting the U.S. Capitol.
Then on Wednesday, pro-Trump rioters attacked that citadel of democracy, overpowered Mr. Sicknick, 42, and struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials. With a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. He died on Thursday evening.
“Brian is a hero,” his brother Ken Sicknick said. “That is what we would like people to remember.”
The death of Officer Sicknick amplified the nation’s grief in the wake of the shocking attack on the Capitol by rioters, inflamed by President Trump’s calls to stop Congress from counting electoral votes and officially declaring Joseph R. Biden Jr. the winner of November’s election. One of those rioters, Ashli Babbitt, also died in the melee, shot by a police officer as she tried to push her way into the heavily protected Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House chamber.
In all, five have died since the riot began, though three of them were not killed by hostile action. But the beating of an officer brought waves of condolences from lawmakers in both parties still reeling from the event. It also exposed one of the many contradictions of the Trump presidency in his final weeks in the Oval Office. A president who campaigned as a “law and order” candidate, boasting about his relationships with police unions and demonizing those protesting racist policing, incited a riot that led to the death of a member of the law enforcement community.
“It’s a bunch of” nonsense, William J. Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner, said of Mr. Trump’s pledges to the police, though he used a stronger word. “It was a misappropriation of the term ‘law and order.’”
Justice Department officials said during a news conference on Friday that they were investigating the circumstances of Mr. Sicknick’s death, but would not say whether it was a federal murder investigation. One official said that “felony murder is always in play,” but that investigators needed to complete their work.
Mr. Trump this summer reframed his presidential campaign around “law and order” amid the unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, vowing to crack down on rioting and looting. This week, he helped spark those crimes after encouraging his supporters to go to the Capitol to interrupt the Electoral College vote count.
In videos posted to social media, Mr. Trump called the storming of the Capitol a “heinous act.” His press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, also condemned the violence on “behalf of the entire White House.”
Some in the law enforcement community said the death on Wednesday highlighted Mr. Trump’s efforts to use a commitment to public safety to galvanize political support, not necessarily to help the police.
As Mr. Trump rallied police officers to his side, his Justice Department also threatened to strip New York City of a federal grant named for a police officer killed in the line of duty when local leaders would not accept his immigration crackdown. He cut funding in the early years of his presidency for domestic terrorism prevention, and his Homeland Security Department was accused last year of suppressing a warning about the rise of violent white nationalists — extremist groups who joined the mob that breached the Capitol that Mr. Sicknick worked to protect.
“There hasn’t been one thing that he’s demonstrated that was supportive of law enforcement except to shake hands and pat them on the back and tell them no matter what they do they’re fine and right,” said Gil Kerlikowske, a former police chief in Seattle and three other cities.
Mr. Trump’s rhetoric did appeal to many rank-and-file police officers, and that was evident on Wednesday. As the mob marched to the Capitol, some officers were seen taking selfies with the Trump loyalists. Video footage captured a group of police officers moving aside barricades to allow the supporters to push ahead to the building. Activists said there was a clear double standard from this summer, when police forces came down hard on racial justice protesters, even though no police officers were killed during such protests in Washington.
Mr. Sicknick apparently did resist the mob, along with many other officers in the Capitol Police. The Capitol Police said he was “physically engaging with protesters” when he was struck.
John Krenzel, the mayor of South River, N.J., Mr. Sicknick’s hometown, said the officer’s family was shocked by his death.
“The fact he went to work in the morning and suddenly he’s not there anymore. He’s gone. You don’t expect that,” Mr. Krenzel said.
Mr. Sicknick joined the Air National Guard and was deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1999, according to a statement from the New Jersey chapter of the National Guard. In 2003, he was sent to Kyrgyzstan. He joined the Capitol Police in 2008.
He was not shy to share his opinion. He wrote letters to his congressman, Representative Donald S. Beyer Jr., Democrat of Virginia, opposing the impeachment of Mr. Trump, and he advocated gun control.
He also sent the officers letters emphasizing the need to protect animals. He spent much of his free time trying to rescue Dachshunds, his family said in a statement.
Mr. Trump did not comment on Mr. Sicknick’s death on Twitter before the company suspended his account, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.” Congressional leaders in both parties expressed their grief.
Katie Benner and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
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