U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent journalist harassed, equipment damaged at LA anti-vaccine rally

Incident Details

September 18, 2021

Independent videographer and photographer Emily Molli was assaulted while gathering footage of an anti-vaccine rally outside Los Angeles City Hall in California on Sept. 18, 2021.

Molli told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was doused with an oily substance and her camera equipment was damaged while covering what organizers called a “fight for medical freedom” rally.

She told the Tracker she had not initially planned on covering the rally because of recent violent eruptions that have occurred at these events but changed her mind and began photographing the speakers several feet away from the crowd. Molli estimated there were close to 50 people at the rally in addition to about two dozen others who were watching from the sidewalk.

Molli said she had not taken her cellphone or her usual press credentials and helmet labeled “PRESS” because her last-minute decision to photograph the event had not given her enough time to prepare.

However, after covering these rallies in the past, Molli said she believed other reporters covering the event would recognize her and at the very least her professional camera would identify her as a reporter.

According to Molli, she was gathering footage of the protest for approximately five minutes when an individual walked up behind her and started hovering over her shoulder.

“I decided at that point I should probably just leave and I started walking away, when more people caught up with me,” Molli said.

The group continued to follow her, accusing her of “doxxing” people in the crowd and being part of the far-left-wing movement antifa.

“In the past, people would sometimes recognize me as a reporter and leave me alone but I knew there was no getting through to these people,” she said.

Molli said she tried to calm the group by telling them she supported freedom of expression and the right to peacefully assemble but by then a man had tried to take her camera out of her hands.

“I was filming just in case something happened — most of the time it does,” Molli said. “As I’m waiting to cross the street someone pumps up a super soaker full of glitter, some kind of oil, and water and shoots me in the back, the back of the head, and my camera.”

Molli managed to get away from the group and walked over to a police officer in a patrol car that had just arrived at the event. She reported the assault and equipment damage to the officer but was directed to file a police report online.

Knowing she wasn’t going to get a name or description of the masked individual who had doused her for the report, Molli said she walked away, but a woman continued to follow her, shoving a sign in front of her camera.

Molli told the Tracker she approached a man across the street from the rally and asked to borrow his cellphone to call her colleague. Molli, who distributes her work through wire services or directly to clients, said she essentially lost a full day of work after her camera was soaked. The substance got onto the camera lens and into the air vents but she will not know the full extent of the damage until she tries to use it again.

Molli said she did not intend to file a police report about the incident.

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