U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist assaulted at least 7 times while covering Capitol riots

Incident Details

Courtesy Washington Examiner/Graeme Jennings

Independent photojournalist John Harrington was assaulted multiple times while covering the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021. "More than once, I wiped my hand along [my right cheek] to see if I had any blood," he said.

— Courtesy Washington Examiner/Graeme Jennings
January 6, 2021

Independent photojournalist John Harrington was assaulted and harassed by supporters of President Donald Trump while covering the insurrection in and around the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump spoke at noon at a rally in front of the White House in response to the Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden, promoting false claims of election fraud and calling for his supporters to march to the Capitol, The New York Times reported. 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.

Harrington told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was also documenting the riot along the west side of the Capitol when he was assaulted and harassed multiple times. In one case, Harrington said someone used what he believes was a fire extinguisher to hit his head. He quickly put on his ballistic helmet, which also displayed his press markings.

At the 8:55 mark in a video he shared on Vimeo, a rioter throws a pole toward a Capitol police officer, who then engages in a "tug-of-war" style exchange. In the chaos, the rioter briefly enters the frame and the pole can be seen banging the right side of the camera, hitting his head.

At 9:50 in the same video, a chair is aggressively thrown and hits him during a scuffle between police officers and rioters. "More than once, I wiped my hand along [my right cheek] to see if I had any blood," Harrington told the Tracker. "Thankfully, I didn't." Still, he said his head hurt for a majority of the day.

In a separate incident, he said a protester grabbed the back of his coat and requested to switch places with him, so that the individual could grab mace and pepper spray from an officer nearby. Harrington declined, but the demonstrator continued to intimidate him. He said he also experienced other threats throughout the day, from pro-Trump demonstrators demanding that Harrington "better be on our side," to demands that he stop filming.

A different time, a "bike rack barricade" was thrown his way. In an attempt to avoid the object, he was caught in the "line of fire of mace spray from law enforcement," he said.

"[My toes] are black and blue. I don't know if I got stepped on, [but] things happened in a blur," Harrington told the Tracker. "I can't say I'm mentally unscathed."

He said he does not intend on filing a report or hiring an attorney, but he would be supportive of an investigation.

In a press release the next day, outgoing Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called the attacks on Jan. 6 "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 is documenting 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].