U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist accosted by person in ‘black bloc’ during Election Day protest in DC

Incident Details

Date of Incident
November 3, 2020


Was the journalist targeted?
November 3, 2020

Freelance journalist Eric Thomas was pursued and threatened by an unidentified individual and had his phone knocked from his hand while he covered election night demonstrations in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 3, 2020.

At 10:53 p.m., Thomas posted a video to his Twitter account showing an individual in head-to-toe black — a technique for evading identification known as black bloc — walking toward the journalist as he filmed the interaction with his smartphone.

The person was part of a group of about 50 or 60 people in black bloc who were gathered at Thomas Circle in downtown Washington in preparation to march through city streets.

“They got very agitated very quickly,” Thomas told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The person shown accosting Thomas was also videoed trying to snatch a phone from the hand of another man at the scene.

“We asked to stop filming,” the assailant can be heard saying in Thomas’s video. “So stop filming.”

The individual then reaches toward Thomas, whose work has been featured on television stations ABC 7 New York and NY1, and the video goes dark for a few seconds.

“Walk away. Walk away or it gets worse,” the individual orders repeatedly before the video ends.

Thomas told the Tracker that the person knocked his phone out of his hands but that it didn’t damage his equipment. He said he displayed New York City Police Department-issued press credentials during the exchange.

“Close call with #antifa security as they chase me out of the protest and threaten me numerous times,” Thomas tweeted with his video.

In footage Thomas posted with a second tweet, the same person can be seen approaching other journalists and ordering them to leave, and appears to take another swing at Thomas as he backs away.

“Give me one excuse, give me one excuse,” the person can be heard saying to Thomas.

Ford Fischer, editor-in-chief of the online media outlet News2Share, captured video of Thomas backpedalling while the person approached him. Telewizja Polska, a Polish network, also posted a video of the confrontation.

Thomas is seen walking backwards toward a District of Columbia police vehicle.

Thomas said that an officer exited the vehicle and that he told the officer about the assault, but that the officer took no action.

“It was actually pretty shocking to see that,” Thomas said. “I was pretty taken aback that the cops didn’t do anything.”

A spokesperson for D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department said the department couldn’t corroborate Thomas’ version of events.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering these protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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