Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop’s Battle for America’s Soul
My great-grandfather came to America to escape fascism.
Ubaldo Fanone, an illiterate Italian shepherd, grew up in a small village near Monte Cassino, a Benedictine abbey founded in AD 529. Strategically located atop a small mountain, the abbey looks like a fortress. As Mussolini and Hitler solidified their alliance and World War II dawned, my great-grandfather fled Monte Cassino, making his way about sixty-five miles south to the port of Naples, where he caught a ship to New York.
Ubaldo Fanone processed through Ellis Island and joined other Italian immigrants in Sharon, Pennsylvania, a steel town near Youngstown, Ohio. He left behind a wife and two teenage boys: my grandfather Tony and my great uncle John. Ubaldo promised to send money and find a way to bring them all to America, but he couldn’t make it happen before the war erupted, and they remained trapped in Italy.
When the Nazis arrived in Monte Cassino, they began conscripting young Italians for duty on the German front lines. Tony and John hid in caves below the mountaintop abbey. They did this for three years, daring to come out only to scrounge for food, moving contraband by donkey and mule. After the war, Tony and John Fanone made their way to Naples, but were so poor it took them a year to earn enough to buy tickets to America. They arrived in western Pennsylvania in 1947, and Ubaldo found them work at a sprawling steel mill.
My grandfather Tony worked at the Sharon mill for forty years. Like Ubaldo, Tony was largely illiterate, but burly and gregarious, and a hard worker. Like me, my grandfather was gruff and spoke without a filter. He drank like a fish and didn’t take shit from anyone. His nickname was “The Bull.” Tony married another Italian immigrant, Annunziata, and in their later years they opened a small-town restaurant called The Suburban. It was a family enterprise. Every capable Fanone bused tables, tended bar, and washed dishes, including my dad, Joe Fanone. My grandfather pushed my dad hard academically, and my grandmother stressed values of altruism and civic duty. My dad so excelled in his academic and spiritual studies that his parents sent him to an elite boarding school for aspiring priests. Although my dad decided not to become a priest, he became the first Fanone to attend college, enrolling at Georgetown University. Later, he graduated from Georgetown’s law school.
My mom’s side of the family is Irish. Most arrived in the nineteenth century and a few generations worked as cops in the early and mid-twentieth century for the NYPD and D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. My maternal grandfather, Richard Mayer, fought the Japanese at Okinawa, where he was seriously wounded. A Jeep he was driving took mortar fire, and shrapnel from the explosion shredded his passengers. In shock, my grandfather Richard gathered up the body parts, put them back in the Jeep, and drove on.
Like a lot of guys who served in World War II, he didn’t like to talk about what happened. It just wasn’t done. But it was obvious that the war, especially the searing memory of what happened that day in the Jeep, changed his life forever. He self-treated his undiagnosed PTSD with booze. Later, after serving during the Korean War, my grandfather joined the MPD in Washington, where he was assigned to the Women’s Bureau, the precursor to today’s Narcotics and Specialized Investigations Division. My grandfather worked at the MPD until he was injured on the job and retired on disability.
My mom’s experiences as a child, as well as her devotion to Catholicism’s call to public service, led her to become a social worker who treated traumatized teens.
My parents, Terry and Joe, met shortly after college in the early 1970s. They separated in the late 1980s, when I was eight years old. From that point, they lived in two completely different worlds.
My mom lived a modest, middle-class existence. As a volunteer and a social worker, she exposed my sister, Kathleen, and me to poverty, dragging us along on visits to homeless shelters and the Red Cross. My dad, a workaholic lawyer, was a rising star at a white-shoe law firm, on track to become a millionaire partner. He lived in a ritzy home with a backyard pool and drove a Jaguar. My dad remained supportive while I lived with my mom and sister in Alexandria, Virginia.
Of all my relatives, my mother’s brother left the strongest impression. I came to admire the way Uncle Steve approached life: His job did not define him. Work was simply a means to an end, a way to raise a family and enjoy life.
Like most of my mom’s relatives, Uncle Steve lived in southern Maryland, among the blue-collar towns on the Chesapeake Bay. Everyone had a working-class job. They were steamfitters, teachers, and electricians. Everyone had a boat and we spent a ton of time out on the Bay. It’s where I learned to love the outdoors. It’s also where I picked up my southern Maryland, or “Muhr-Lund,” accent.
Uncle Steve taught me to fish and catch crabs. We had fun but he also instilled a work ethic. As important, he taught me that it’s okay for a guy to be masculine and show affection to family members. He showed me that it’s okay to get down on your knees and play with little kids or change their diapers. My mom says Uncle Steve and I are a lot alike: Our souls belong outdoors.
When I was a kid, I idolized the cowboy life. My mom bought me a Fisher-Price turntable and I nearly wore it out playing Willie Nelson singles. I still think Willie’s “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” is the greatest fucking country music song of all time. “The last thing I needed / The first thing this morning / Was to have you walk out on me.”
I loved westerns. My maternal grandfather, the retired cop, turned me on to John Wayne and I got swept up in the Duke’s whole American tough-guy persona. My friends and I played cowboys and Indians. For a while, I rooted for the Dallas Cowboys. My favorite film then remains my favorite today: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef in the spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
I won’t lie. My teen years were rough. Basically, I was a fuckup. Aimless, immature, and scarred by the divorce, it’s safe to say that I didn’t share my father’s fondness for academics or my mother’s dedication to service. In middle school at St. Mary’s in Alexandria, me and my buddy Danny Sweeney shoplifted cigarettes from Safeway and snatched bottles of wine from the church before the priest blessed them. We’d cut class and sneak to a railroad tunnel near the Safeway to smoke and drink. We thought we were badass. In reality, we were just bored and rebellious.
In ninth grade, with great hopes, my dad sent me to Georgetown Prep, the prestigious Jesuit high school in the ritzy Maryland suburbs. Prep is a training ground for the Washington elite, and alumni include Supreme Court justices and members of Congress. To put it politely, it was a bad fit. Prep’s ninety-three-acre manicured campus included a nine-hole golf course and an all-male student body that epitomized an elitist Washington I fucking despised. I was also out of my league, academically and socially. I’d figured my previous Catholic school education had prepared me well, but I found myself drowning from the get-go. A priest who taught Latin took pity and offered a passing grade if I caddied for him. I did so and escaped with a C-minus. I guess they had to let me stay the full freshman year because they’d cashed my dad’s tuition check. At the end of the year, I was “not invited back.”
After Prep, I spent half a year at an alternative school in Maine. Toward the end of my first semester, when I was about sixteen years old, I dropped out. I didn’t tell anyone. I just bought a bus ticket home to D.C. When I showed up unannounced, both parents refused to take me in. I couch-surfed for a while.
I rented a basement room from a guy named Jerry Eubanks, who got me my first construction job at Southern Maryland Installation Group. Jerry and I woke at 4 a.m. every day and for lunch packed a peanut butter sandwich and a fruit cup, about all I could afford. When it was cold, I’d go out a little early and warm up his big Chevy truck, then we’d hit the road, listening to the Greaseman, the shock jock who replaced Howard Stern on rock station DC101.
I was thankful for the work. It felt good to work with my hands all day and shoot the shit with different guys at a work site, the Greaseman riffing in the background as we hung drywall or framed a door. I left work each day with a sense of accomplishment.
The owner of Southern Maryland Installation, Bob Stump, treated his employees like family and I fit in well with his misfit characters, people worlds away from Georgetown Prep. Many of my coworkers had spent time in jail. Most carried drug and/or alcohol addictions. The guys we worked with were white, Black, and brown, and came from around the world. We busted each other’s balls, but there was an underlying tone of respect for anyone who worked hard and did their job, no matter their backstory.
One coworker I recall distinctly came from West Virginia and worked with us for six months each year. He brought his lunch to work in a small Igloo cooler. The only thing inside was a six-pack. He didn’t drive because he’d racked up too many DUIs. One day he was talking about his wife and described her as a “whore.” I asked him why he kept calling her that, and he said flatly, “Because she is. She’s a prostitute.” He explained that during the six months a year he spent with us, she worked the sex trade. The other six months of the year, they lived together in their cabin on a speck of mountain property in West Virginia. To my amazement, he spoke about the arrangement without shame or judgment. To him, it was just life, survival.
Another dude Bob hired—I’ll call him Bill—was recently released from prison and covered in tattoos. Bill was a good guy but just could not get his shit together. Bob, who had a heart of gold, got Bill a car but the guy couldn’t afford to register the vehicle. Bill slapped a “Farm Use” sign on the license-plate holder, figuring he would get away with it. He didn’t. I remember driving with Bob to help rescue Bill after a Virginia state trooper pulled him over for misuse of farm tags. Bob pleaded with the trooper to let the man go, reasoning that an arrest would derail his life again. The guy was on the road to rehabilitation, Bob argued. Why mess it up over a relatively harmless administrative violation and fines he couldn’t afford? To my surprise, the trooper agreed.
Bob and Jerry rewarded my enthusiasm for work and taught me about money. When I got my first paycheck, I used the money to buy a DeWalt power drill. Bob was so impressed that I’d decided to invest in my occupation that he reimbursed me for the drill. I used that cash to buy a radio to listen to the Greaseman on the job. Most of the guys cashed their paychecks at a liquor store, which took a 15 percent cut. Jerry explained that banks don’t take a cut and helped me open my first account.
By age eighteen, I had saved enough to secure an apartment south of Alexandria along U.S. Route 1. The place across the street was littered with drug dealers and sex workers, but I paid my own rent and made my own decisions.
I’m a country boy, but around 1999, when I turned nineteen, I got into the punk scene. I was drawn by the music, the rebellious culture, and the women. I soon met a punk guitarist named Matt Lautar, who worked at a tattoo shop called Rick’s in Arlington, Virginia. I got my first tats at Rick’s. Matt inked Irish and Italian flags on my right forearm. As I left, I felt elated. I kept stealing glances at my first tattoo. It felt cool.
About a half hour later, while shopping in a grocery store, I reached for a loaf of Italian bread and did a double take at the label. I realized that I’d been admiring the Italian flag on my arm from a reverse angle. Matt had fucked up. He’d reversed the red-white-and-green pattern of the Italian flag. I lost my shit and stormed back to Rick’s. I entered so obviously angry that Matt grabbed his gun. I wasn’t intimidated and we stood eyeball-to-eyeball for a few seconds.
Matt asked me what I wanted him to do.
“I want you to fix it, motherfucker.”
Back in the day, tattoo removal wasn’t so easy and it sure as shit wasn’t cheap. So Matt came up with a plan to use hydrogen peroxide on my skin, creating a scab that I could repeatedly pick apart, hoping that would remove the wrong colors. It took about twenty painful applications over a few years to create enough scar tissue on my forearm to fix the mistake.
Matt and I became lifelong friends, scraping by together in our early years, sharing apartments from time to time. Matt inked every other tattoo I have. After January 6th, some butt-hurt right-wingers speculated on social media that my tattoos held secret meanings, ones that could blow the lid off the conspiracy to rig the 2020 election.
Most of my tattoos are just art. I do have an angel tat for my oldest daughter, Caitlin, and a rendering of my ex-wife in a bikini on our honeymoon. I also have a black rose in honor of James McBride, an MPD partner of mine who died in a training accident. On my back, Matt inked a large tribute to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, complete with Eastwood lighting a cannon.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was deep in a muddy hole at a Clark Construction job site in downtown D.C., assisting a journeyman carpenter. At about 9 a.m., while on a smoke break, an electrician came running up cradling one of those old Nextel cell phones that also works like a walkie-talkie. We could hear his girlfriend screaming, saying something about planes hitting a building. We were only three blocks from the White House. A few minutes later, we heard sirens and squad cars converging in that direction. Then the air horn blew and our foreman announced the job site was closed for the day. I headed over to my dad’s law office, a few blocks away. When I arrived, lawyers, secretaries, and paralegals were huddled in a conference room around a small TV. We watched replays of the Twin Towers attack in silence.
One day, while waiting to catch a bus to work, I saw an advertisement for the U.S. Capitol Police. It looked cool, though most of what I knew about the police came from my grandfather and watching Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. The way I saw it at the time, movie cops seemed just like modern cowboys—except that instead of riding horses, they drove really expensive sports cars and crashed them into shit. They lived in campers on the beach, carried guns, arrested assholes, and scored hot babes. What was not to like? I was twenty-one, but still just a boy.
In those days, all you needed to get hired by the Capitol Police was a clean record and a high school degree. The District of Columbia had a special program for older teens who wanted to finish their high school degree in person. It was located at a nearly all-Black school called Ballou in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. I was the only white boy in my class.
The Capitol Police hired me in 2002. They sent me to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, where just about every government agency except the FBI and DEA sends recruits to learn the law, investigative techniques, driving tactics, and firearm use. At FLETC, I trained alongside men and women headed to the Amtrak Police, the Border Patrol, the Park Police, the Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons, and agencies as obscure as the Federal Reserve Police. Our class was filled with people inspired by 9/11 to serve their country. One of my fellow Capitol Police trainees had quit a high-paying Wall Street gig to sign up.
At that point in my life, I was hardly what you’d call a fan of authority, and I almost derailed my law enforcement career on the first day at FLETC. An instructor who styled himself as a drill sergeant instantly took offense at my tattoos, which by this point included a spiderweb creeping up my neck. This was 2002 and most people over thirty still associated tattoos with outlaws and lowlifes. When the instructor made a crack about my tats in front of other recruits, I snapped back, giving him an earful. The instructor tried to make an example of me and have me tossed from FLETC for insubordination. Luckily, a new friend squared things. Mike Schmidt, a sergeant in the Capitol Police, was close to my tattoo buddy Matt, and we’d met before I left for the academy. I’m not very good at apologies or begging for forgiveness, but I sucked it up and called Mike. I couldn’t blow my chance to become a cop. Mike called the stuck-up instructor and learned that guy was ready to expel my ass.
“That dude is gone,” the instructor said. “I’m fucking sending him back.”
Mike vouched for me and explained that we got our tattoos from the same guy. “Listen, man, I know Fanone and he’s a good dude,” Schmidt told the instructor. “Leave him the fuck alone.”
He did and I didn’t waste my second chance. For the first time in my life, I excelled in the classroom. I learned police law and procedure. I learned how to subdue an arrestee and how to protect myself. I learned the basics about illicit drugs and how to make a narcotics case. Each day, I looked forward to the punishing physical training. I loved it all. I couldn’t wait to become a police officer. I was ready to kick ass.
I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but my experiences at Prep and Ballou, and especially in construction, would serve me well as a police officer as I matured over two decades. Given my background, I could communicate with almost anyone and moved easily between different worlds—white, Black, rich, poor, blue-collar, white-collar.
As a cop, I would become as comfortable buying crack from an addict in an alley as I would be presenting evidence to professionals in a courtroom. I could empathize with fuckups just struggling to get by, and also call bullshit on those trying to game the system. Though I was called to duty as a cowboy, I would develop a greater calling: serving and protecting law-abiding D.C. residents living amid poverty, discrimination, addiction, and violence. But that career would come a few years later.
Meantime, I reported for duty at the U.S. Capitol.
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|Epub||October 20, 2022|