Videos turn Eugene Goodman into a reluctant hero in the Capitol attack

The New York Times
Washington, DC, United States of AmericaWritten By: Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Eric Schmitt © 2021 The New York Times CompanyUpdated: Feb 12, 2021, 09:53 PM IST
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For Goodman, it was the second time a video went viral displaying actions widely credited with saving members of Congress. The first, which showed him single-handedly luring a mob away from the entrance of the Senate toward an area with reinforcements, turned him into a hero. The second has added to his lore.

WASHINGTON — Among the harrowing images presented during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, one video stood out: a police officer sprinting toward a United States senator to warn of the angry mob nearby.

The senator, Mitt Romney, is shown turning on his heels and fleeing for safety.

“I don’t think my family or my wife understood that I was as close as I might have been to real danger,” Romney told reporters Thursday, one day after the video showed Eugene Goodman, a Capitol Police officer already known for his bravery, aiding him. “They were surprised and very, very appreciative of Officer Goodman, in his being there and directing me back to safety.”

For Goodman, it was the second time a video went viral displaying actions widely credited with saving members of Congress. The first, which showed him single-handedly luring a mob away from the entrance of the Senate toward an area with reinforcements, turned him into a hero. The second has added to his lore.

Both have catapulted Goodman — a former Army infantryman who served in one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq during one of the most lethal times of the war — to fame he never sought.

On Wednesday, after watching the videos that showed Goodman directing Romney to safety, Romney could be seen talking with Goodman. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, later walked over and fist-bumped Goodman.

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi singled out Goodman for his courage when she introduced legislation to award the Capitol Police and other law enforcement personnel who responded on Jan. 6 with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor of Congress. On Jan. 20, Goodman was given the task of escorting Vice President Kamala Harris at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Veterans who served alongside Goodman in the 101st Airborne Division some 15 years ago in Iraq say that the officer, known then as “Goody,” never craved accolades.

“I saw him come out in front of the vice president and he immediately ducked to the right,” said Mark Belda, who served with Goodman in Iraq. “I thought that’s definitely Goody.”

When he closely watched the first video, Belda said, he saw attributes he recognized in Goodman from Iraq. “He wasn’t prone to anger. As an infantryman, your job is to be violent but it was never his first reaction to use the stick before you use the carrot.”

In Iraq, Goodman was a sergeant and a leader of a 10-man rifle squad who assumed new responsibilities soon after his unit arrived in 2005.

His “Hardrock Company” operated in the Sunni triangle area near Baghdad in central Iraq, where U.S. troops engaged in some of the fiercest combat of the war.

The platoons were required to conduct multiple combat patrols each day to identify explosives before they were detonated, work that often resulted in various injuries, according to Lt. Col. Jeff Farmer, who served alongside Goodman in the company.

“The front squad leader was critical, someone willing to take on this risk and lead his squad day in and day out,” Farmer said.

That leader was Goodman.

“I cannot recall exactly how many dismounted patrols Goody led as a point man in the company, but I can say that it was likely in the hundreds, making him the go-to guy quite frankly when others needed that reassurance that things were going to be OK,” Farmer said.

Goodman was a quiet professional, his superiors said, serious and focused on his missions but also quick with a joke to ease tension in the ranks, they said. His fellow soldiers could count on him to do “what needed to be done,” said John Greis, who served as his platoon sergeant in Iraq. “That’s coolness under pressure.”

Farmer said he was not surprised when he saw the video of Goodman facing the angry mob in the Capitol.

“Calm, cool, and collected under fire, that’s just Goody,” Farmer said. “I trusted my life with him, and still would to this day.”

Goodman is now in uncomfortable territory, according to his fellow veterans. He has not made public comments and did not return multiple requests for interviews, including a handwritten note at his apartment near District Heights, Maryland.

A neighbor said Goodman had not returned to his apartment in the days after the attack at the Capitol, and had advised those in his apartment building not to speak to the news media.

“He doesn’t want to be in the center of the attention. He just wants to duck to the side and you all can do what you want to do,” said Belda, Goodman’s former first sergeant. “Let me do my job and you guys do what you want to do, just leave me alone.”

Charles H. Ramsey, who led police departments in Washington and Philadelphia, said the actions of Goodman and others who responded to the violence on Jan. 6 were even more impressive since “they were put in a terrible position” by senior officials who failed to act on intelligence indicating that violent groups intended to gather in Washington.

“And yet, they responded in a very heroic way. They made the most out of it. Without them this would have been a tragedy beyond belief,” Ramsey said. “If Mitt Romney had continued down that hall and encountered those rioters, or those insurgents, there’s no doubt in my mind he probably would have been taken.”

But he also said the newfound fame could be embarrassing for a police officer who never wished for it.

“He’s getting a lot of the attention, and deservedly so, but he also knows he wasn’t the only person there that day,” Ramsey said. “He is a hero, there is no question about that. But I also think it’s awkward to be in that position.”

When Belda saw the footage of Goodman facing the mob at the Capitol, it reminded him of the feeling he had when he was outnumbered while fighting outside a helicopter that had just been shot down in Mogadishu, Somalia, during the 1993 battle known as Black Hawk Down.

“I know that feeling, when you feel like you’re outnumbered and you feel like you don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Belda said. “But you’ve got to do your job.” Only hours after the attack at the Capitol, Belda reached out to Goodman, but he kept it short. He figured he must have been overwhelmed.

“I just simply sent him a message and said, ‘Dude, I know you don’t want to talk about it,’” Belda said. “But I’m proud of you.” Goodman responded by saying he was grateful for the message.

Belda said he looked forward to telling him soon in person.