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Journalists face targeted assaults while covering Capitol riots

January 6, 2021

Supporters of President Donald Trump assaulted and harassed multiple journalists 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, reported the New York Times. 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.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country. Find election-related coverage here.

Associated Press photographers John Minchillo and Julio Cortez were documenting from along the front barriers, near where Capitol Police officers stood, when rioters attacked Minchillo.

Cortez posted an Instagram video showing multiple rioters dragging Minchillo through an angry mob.

“He was labeled as an anti protesters, even though he kept flashing his press credentials, and one person can be heard threatening to kill him,” wrote Cortez in the post.

In Cortez’s video, shouts of “Get the media out of here!” and “Who is he? Antifa!” can be heard. At the 45-second mark, an individual shoves Minchillo over a wall. Several aggressively question if he is “antifa,” while a man in a Trump hat retrieves his camera.

After Minchilllo shows his press pass and repeats that he is press, two men help him leave the area, with Cortez filming from behind. “Thankfully, he wasn’t injured,” Cortez wrote in his post.

“Please use this moment to reflect on the importance of journalism as a conduit between us,” Minchillo wrote in a tweet.

In an AP News article about the attacks and harassment journalists faced while covering the riot, an AP spokesperson specifically responded to the attack on Minchillo.

“While we are thankful he is OK, this is a reminder of the dangers journalists both in the U.S. and around the world face every day while simply trying to do their jobs,” said Patrick Maks.

Minchillo did not respond to an emailed request for comment.


At the same time as Minchillo's incident, VICE News international correspondent Ben Solomon and cameraman Chris Olson were attacked on the steps of the Capitol by several rioters.

"Chris had a broken handle grip and that guy in forest camo gave me a good hard shove to the throat," Solomon wrote in an Instagram caption.

In the video, demonstrators can be seen confronting the journalists, shouting, "Get the fuck out of here!" and asking, "Who are you with? Is it CNN? Better not be CNN."

In the full-length video posted to Youtube, the camera is hit at 1:23 and Solomon's voice can be heard, "They tried to smash our camera." The Tracker documents equipment damage here.

"We were lucky to get away with minimal damage," Solomon wrote on Instagram. "To hear how many colleagues had it worse that day, I consider myself lucky."

As of press time, Solomon was not able to be reached for comment.


Independent photographer Nate Gowdy was also documenting events as demonstrators breached the front line of barriers at the Capitol when a man threatened and shoved him off the railing.

"Everything happened so fast. They converged and then started tearing down barricades," Gowdy told the Tracker. "I got on a balustrade at the base of the stairs and then a man pointed at me and threatened me. I can't even remember what he said but he just shoved me off the balustrade."

Gowdy said he wasn't wearing protective gear at the time, but was able to land on his feet.

Gowdy's photograph of this moment shows the man with an American flag hat, sunglasses and mask, pointing intensely at the camera.

A Rolling Stone slideshow with Gowdy’s images said the photographer has documented close to 30 official Trump rallies since 2016.

“I’m still processing what I witnessed yesterday. We all are. It’s difficult to know what people are thinking when they’re breaching security barriers, attacking law enforcement, threatening members of the media, flaunting pandemic safety protocols, and bashing down the doors and windows to Congress,” Gowdy wrote in the slideshow’s introduction.

Throughout the day, he said he was repeatedly threatened and heckled for taking photos and wearing a mask. "You have to be careful what you take photos of," he said.


Independent photojournalist John Harrington was also documenting the riot along the west side of the Capitol when he was assaulted and harassed multiple times by pro-Trump supporters. 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.

At about 4:40 p.m., Fox 5 DC reporter Sierra Fox posted a tweet showing her and the news crew covering the scene outside the Capitol when demonstrators harassed and assaulted them, forcing them out of the area.

“This is how the media is being treated out here,” Fox wrote alongside a video posted on Twitter. In the video, as she and the crew are navigating the crowd, demonstrators can be heard yelling, “Fuck the media,” and “Get out of here.” At the 11-second mark, a woman lurches at what is presumably Fox’s phone, but Fox quickly turns away. The same woman grabs and kicks another, unidentified member of the crew a few seconds later. In the back, a demonstrator can be seen reaching for the Fox cameraman’s equipment. Toward the end of the video, several people follow the crew and continue to harass and film them, but ultimately fall back. In another video shared with the Tracker, a demonstrator is seen ripping off the cameraman's mask.

Fox could not be reached for comment.


At around 4:45 p.m. near the Russell Senate Office Building, independent White House correspondent Douglas Christian was harassed, pursued and punched in the face by Pro-Trump demonstrators.

Christian told the Tracker he had two government-issued press badges displayed around his neck and was taking photographs when "increasingly angry" protesters started to harass him, saying "Democrats should be tried for treason."

One of the demonstrators tried to grab his press pass, according to an article in the Maryland Reporter and confirmed by Christian.

As he tried to leave the area, another man began shouting obscenities after him. He said he ignored the man, but then was pursued.

Out of nowhere, the man punched him right in the face and his glasses went flying, Christian told the Tracker.

"My ear, which he didn't hit, was in terrible pain. I thought, did I just suffer a hemorrhage in my brain? I actually think I was doubled over in so much pain that he didn't punch me again."

As he was leaving the area, he said he saw a police officer nearby and recounted everything that had just happened, but the officer "wouldn't even acknowledge my presence."

Subsequently, a Capitol Hill staffer scolded him for approaching the officer. "You’re distracting the officer. He can’t do anything about the guy who is assaulting other people," Christian told the Reporter.

He later tried to contact Capitol Police about the incident, but has yet to hear a response. Christian said he also still has difficulty chewing and is requesting an X-ray for more information.

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 catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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