Preya Samsundar, a reporter for online media startup Alpha News, was livestreaming at rally outside the Minnesota state capitol building on June 10, 2017, when an anti-fascist protester physically attacked her and damaged her recording device.
Samsundar's livestream captured part of the altercation.
Near the end of Preya’s over two-and-a-half hour livestream, she speaks with a group of anti-fascist protesters, one of whom asks what news organization she is with and whether it is a right-wing source. At the time, Samsundar was reporting for Alpha News, an online news organization that covers Minnesota politics.
“I cover the news,” she tells the protesters.
One of the protesters repeatedly tells her to leave. She continues filming — "It's a free country," she says — and then a man in black baseball cap briefly appears on screen before the picture quickly shudders and momentarily cuts out.
Samsundar described what happened in an article on Alpha News, published June 11, 2017.
“He then grabbed my work phone, which was mounted on a portable selfie-stick, shoved me out of the way and threw the phone several feet away, in front of a line of State Patrol Officers," she wrote. "The screen was completely shattered, but still recording.”
Samsundar believes that protesters also stole her personal phone, in addition to grabbing and throwing her work phone.
“I had my second phone in my backpack where I kept all of my equipment," she said. "After I moved away from the group to be a bit safer, I went to look for my personal cellphone to see if I could use it to call my boss. ... That's when I knew it was gone.
After the protest, Samsundar said, some of the anti-fascist protesters followed her to her car after the protest.
“I got into my car and that’s when they surrounded me and my car, started pounding on the windows," she said, adding the protesters threatened to break her windows if she didn't leave.
Mitch Berg, a local conservative radio show host, had planned to interview Samsundar after the rally. He said that Samsundar called him and told him that she had been surrounded by protesters angry with her reporting.
“I sent her a Facebook message asking if she could come on the air with me when she got clear of whatever was going on," Berg told the Freedom of the Press Foundation. "She said she’d try and then she called me when she was going towards her car, and she mentioned she was being followed to her car. I could hear in the background, some yelling and some commotion. ... She mentioned, as I recall, her car was surrounded and people were a little too close for comfort, a little too animated for civil society, and she hung up and called me back about ten or fifteen minutes later.”
After the protest, Samsundar filed a police report with the St. Paul Police Department.
A spokesman for department confirmed the contents of Samsundar’s police report, and told the Freedom of the Press Foundation the case is currently listed as inactive.
“Based on the reports, it looks like the journalist's personal cellphone was stolen and her work phone (and a selfie stick) were grabbed by a suspect and thrown about 25 to 30 feet, causing its face to crack. A group also followed her to her car, pounded on the vehicle and threatened her as she drove away.
An investigator worked to identify the suspect but was unfortunately able to do so.”
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Minnesota State Patrol said simply, “The items reported stolen occurred on a city street, which is St. Paul Police's jurisdiction.”
After learning about what happened to Samsundar on June 10, Alpha News hired private security for her.
Samsundar said that a bodyguard accompanied her the next time she reported on a protest, but she was still harassed.
"I was being threatened and people came up to me and said I need to behave myself or else," she said. "The bodyguard with me was like, 'I don’t want you to get hurt. I want you to be safe, so if you please could just do as little as possible in this situation to make it work that’d be great.' I was a little bummed because as a journalist I want to talk to these people, find out why they’re here, and I’m being told I can’t.”
Samsundar said that she continued filming the protest march for ten to fifteen minutes, until the harassment escalated and her security guard pulled her back and advised her to leave the protest.
After that experience, Samsundar left journalism. She is now a communications specialist for the Minnesota GOP.
“These guys targeted me from day one once they knew who I was," she said. "It got to the point where my bosses didn't want me going out to cover stories because they feared for my safety. It was one reason I changed jobs. If I couldn't go out and do my job, there was no point.”
Organizers of the June 10 counterprotest did not respond to multiple requests for comment.