U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Freelance photojournalist assaulted multiple times while covering Capitol riots

Incident Details

January 6, 2021

Christopher Morris, a freelance photojournalist affiliated with VII Agency, said rioters assaulted him at least four times while he covered riots at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.

Morris, who could not be reached for comment, said during a Jan. 18 panel with VII Insider — an event platform for photographers, journalists and curators — that he was covering the day’s events independently, and had arrived at 9 a.m. to cover then-President Donald Trump’s rally in response to the congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden. During his speech, Trump promoted false claims of election fraud and called on his supporters to march to the Capitol.

“When I got out of the car I was immediately met with tens of thousands of maskless, screaming, mad, insane people, people who’d gone mad. That was my morning,” Morris said during the panel. “My big fear was not what was going to happen up at the thing: I figured police would hold the line and we were going to be there all night. My big fear was COVID.”

Following the rally, thousands of pro-Trump supporters waving Confederate and Trump flags violently stormed the Capitol, disrupting and occupying several areas within the building. Morris said he didn’t initially follow the crowd, as he needed to pick up warmer clothing and protective equipment, including a helmet and gas mask.

Morris said he parked near the Supreme Court on the east side of the Capitol; while grabbing coffee nearby, a group of Trump supporters confronted him, pinned him down and threatened him, accusing him of being a counterprotester.

When he reached the east side of the Capitol, Morris said he immediately witnessed more violence, largely targeting the press.

“I saw in the first 70 meters as I’m approaching, I see someone swinging what looks like a long pole; it wasn’t a flag pole, it looked like a pipe. And on the other end of that pipe was a TV cameraman running. And I’m seeing this from far away. ...I just think: ‘Oh my god, they’re attacking this cameraman,’” Morris said. “And he gets hit, and the camera goes off his shoulder and he falls down and the guy sets on him and beats him. And the guy gets up and runs and leaves his camera.”

As he turned to go in a different direction, Morris said he saw a photographer fleeing from a fighting crowd; he said he immediately flipped the pouch displaying his press badge so he wouldn’t be as recognizable as a journalist.

“I’ve covered the world. I’ve been beaten, I’ve been arrested, I’ve been thrown in jail, I’ve done coups, I’ve done it all in that regard,” Morris said. “I was afraid for my life on the east side of those steps. There were a good 45 minutes that I basically had to fight for my life and stand my ground. And to see that in my own country: extremely frightening.”

Morris said that he was attacked at least three more times — which included “pushing, shoving, some kicking, [and] pulling” — as he attempted to reach a nearby SWAT vehicle. When he reached it and attempted to climb up onto the vehicle, Morris said someone grabbed his legs and pulled him to the ground. Once he was down, the crowd began kicking and pulling him; when he was able to stand, Morris said, he pulled off his mask and shouted at the crowd.

“I basically looked up and said, ‘I work for TIME magazine. I document history. I’m not fake news. This is reality. You’ve just stormed and taken over the US government. This is historic. Leave me alone,’” Morris said. “Very few things have shaken me to where I can weep. And that event that day, I could weep. ... I feared for my life in my own country. I had to defend myself that I’m an American, I'm not ‘fake news,’ I’m not the ‘enemy of the people.’”

In a press release the next day, outgoing Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called the Jan. 6 attacks "criminal riotous behavior" and said the United States Capitol Police would be conducting a “thorough review of this incident.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented multiple assaults, detainments and equipment damages from Jan. 6 events. Find those here.

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