Crowd harrasses, assaults photojournalist working for conservative news site at Minneapolis protest

August 24, 2020

Rebecca Brannon, an independent photojournalist who was on assignment for the conservative website Alpha News, was followed, harassed and assaulted by a group of individuals during a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Aug. 24, 2020.

Protests had roiled Minneapolis regularly since the police killing of George Floyd in the city on May 25. On Aug. 24, protesters were brought to the streets by the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin the day before, an event that reinvigorated racial justice protests nationwide.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting arrests, assaults and other obstructions to journalists covering protests across the country.

In a video shared by Alpha News, which describes itself as a “media outlet focusing on politics and social issues you may not see in traditional media,” a crowd can be seen following and shouting at Brannon at the Government Plaza light rail station in downtown Minneapolis. Members of the crowd yell that Brannon isn’t welcome and she needs to leave.

“We know who you are, get out of here Rebecca. Get out!” yells one woman.

“Why can’t I be here?” Brannon responds.

“You know the fuck why bitch, get the fuck out!” the woman yells back before apparently trying to grab or hit Brannon’s phone.

The crowd continues following and shouting at Brannon, with individuals criticizing the website Brannon works for and calling her a “Trump lover” at points.

Nearly two minutes into the video, a water bottle can be seen flying in the air towards Brannon, who is saying “I want to stick to myself” as the crowd continues yelling at her. After four minutes, the woman who initially appeared to reach for Brannon’s phone can be seen grabbing a plastic traffic-control post as she moves towards Brannon. Somebody can be heard yelling “I’m going to kick your ass” as Brannon tries to tell them she is trying to get to her car. The woman with the traffic post appears to strike Brannon with it as Brannon shouts “get away from me!”

On Twitter, Alpha News wrote that her phone “was stolen & destroyed but this footage was recovered. The video abruptly ends when the phone was ripped from her hands.”

Just after midnight on July 25, Brannon tweeted about the assault earlier that evening and said she had tried to defend herself using pepper spray.

According to court documents posted online by Alpha News, Brannon told police the incident occurred between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

Earlier that same evening, protesters had yelled at Brannon and told her she needed to leave as she filmed a confrontation with police in front of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 1st Precinct on North Fourth Street. In that incident, protesters appeared upset by her affiliation with Alpha News, calling her “right wing news” and saying she was working for “a fascist news organization.” Alpha News shared footage of the encounter on Facebook.

“My job is to provide video footage and let viewers interpret the footage and make their own assessment. They destroyed some very valuable equipment and have inflicted physical and emotional damage on me that at this time may prevent me from providing future coverage,” she said the day after the assault, according to Alpha News. “No journalist should be subjected to harassment or violence by police, protestors or anyone.”

In September, a woman was charged in Brannon’s assault, but those charges were later dismissed, with prosecutors saying the woman had been wrongly identified. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the woman who was falsely charged was camping 140 miles from Minneapolis when the incident occurred. According to court documents posted online by Alpha News, the Complainant — a woman believed to be Brannon but only identified in court documents by the initials “R.M.B.” — told police she had received a tip naming the wrongly accused woman as a perpetrator of her assault.

Alpha News is controversial in Minnesota.

In 2015, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Alpha News’ launch was first promoted by the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance. According to Minnesota Public Radio, the organization has ties to a prominent Republican donor. In 2019, the alternative Minneapolis newspaper City Pages charged that Alpha News’s crime coverage was racially biased.

A website that appears to be Brannon’s own media production company takes credit for several conservative political ads from the 2020 election cycle; Two of those ads feature footage from protests and riots, with one having a voiceover about how "everything used to be okay before bad people wanted to destroy our country.” According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Brannon was a volunteer coordinator with Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. In the past, one of her Facebook pages described her as a “political consultant.”

Neither Brannon nor Alpha News responded to requests for comment.

The Minneapolis Police Department didn’t provide additional comment when contacted by the Tracker. When the Tracker requested the police report related to the assault, police told the Tracker to file an open records request. As of publication, there has been no response to the open records request.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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