January: Journalists harassed, threatened while reporting from DC riot and across the country
On Jan. 6, 2021, after a rally outside the White House in which President Donald Trump urged supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol — an ostensible protest of the Congress as it was set to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory — thousands stormed the legislative seat of the U.S. government. As the demonstration rapidly devolved into a full-on riot, individuals broke windows and forced open doors, vandalized and looted congressional offices, chanted for the demise of elected officials and assaulted members of the Capitol Police. Amid the fray, a potent disdain for journalists and journalism also simmered: Someone scrawled the words “Murder the Media” on a door to the building, and another tied a stolen camera cable into a noose and then hung it from a tree on the Capitol grounds. Below is a roundup of incidents involving individual journalists and news crews who faced harassment and threats in the course of their reporting on the day’s insurrection and across the month of January.
A full accounting of incidents in which members of the press were assaulted, arrested or had their equipment damaged while covering the riot can be found here. To learn more about how the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents and categorizes violations of press freedom, visit pressfreedomtracker.us.
- Amanda Andrade-Rhoades, a freelance photojournalist on assignment for the Washington Post, told the Tracker that over the course of the day three different individuals threatened to shoot her. While, as far as she could tell, none of the individuals were carrying firearms, Andrade-Rhoades said she had seen people that day armed with knives and pepper spray. She told the Committee to Protect Journalists that during one of the incidents, a man leaned over her and said, “I’m coming back with a gun tomorrow and I’m coming for you.” That afternoon, Andrade-Rhoades was also struck four times with crowd-control munitions fired by law enforcement officers. The Tracker has documented that assault here.
- Report for America fellow and former Marine Chris Jones told Military.com he was covering the protest turned riot for a West Virginia news publication when he was confronted by another former Marine. Jones told the outlet that the man, dressed in a Marines hoodie, yelled at him that he “deserved to be shot” because he was a member of the press. Jones also noted that he was affected by crowd-control measures — including tear gas and flash-bang grenades — deployed by Capitol Police officers in an attempt to stave off the mob. Jones told Military.com he was able to follow the crowd into the Capitol once they broke in, but that he was inside for less than a minute before the rioters recognized him as a member of the press and forcibly expelled him. Find assaults of journalists from that day documented in the Tracker here.
- CNN reporter Alexander Marquardt tweeted shortly after 3 p.m. that “protesters swarmed and mobbed” his news team after discovering that they worked for CNN. “Extremely aggressive, had to get out fast,” Marquardt wrote. Two hours later, he posted a follow-up tweet, writing, “After I called them rioters just now on air, the crowd converged on the area press had gathered so we took off. This is a mob of violent rioters, no other way to put it.” CNN was repeatedly targeted that day, including by some who’d incorrectly believed certain news crews to be affiliated with the outlet when they were not. At one point, a crowd of rioters descended on a media staging area chanting, “CNN sucks!” and “Fuck CNN!” as they destroyed equipment belonging to the Associated Press and German public broadcaster ZDF.
More video of Trump Capitol rioters destroying camera equipment. While they yell “CNN Sucks!” and believe it is CNN, I have received a message that this equipment belongs to ZDF, a popular news station in Germany. More videos coming pic.twitter.com/bsGcCP9VEr— ChuckModi (@ChuckModi1) January 7, 2021
- In his account of the day’s events for The New Yorker, contributor Luke Mogelson wrote that he was pepper sprayed by law enforcement as demonstrators made their way up the Capitol steps and to the metal bleachers set up for the inauguration. “A jet of pepper spray incapacitated me for about twenty minutes,” Mogelson wrote. When he finally regained his vision, rioters had infiltrated the building. It was unclear from Mogelson’s account whether he felt targeted with the spray.
- Erik Mouthaan, a correspondent for Dutch outlet RTL Nieuws, tweeted that he and his crew were threatened while covering the events of the day, writing, “After we were threatened at our live location at the Capitol we walk (with the camera rotating) to a safer place.” In the accompanying video, some individuals appear to be following the news crew, and a few voices can be heard shouting things such as “Get the fuck out of here!” and “Fake News!”
- Katie Nicholson, a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was filming a live shot five blocks away from the Capitol when she was swarmed and harassed by demonstrators. In a clip of the incident published by the outlet, more than a dozen individuals can be seen approaching Nicholson, walking in front of her camera with flags and crowding around her while shouting, gesticulating and interrupting her broadcast. Nicholson told Poynter that she and her crew had to stop broadcasting and walk away, but the group followed them for two blocks shouting insults. “They zeroed in on us as media, and it felt hostile,” Nicholson told Poynter. “I have never actually packed up and walked away from something before.”
CBC’s Katie Nicholson is trying to inform Canadians about what’s happening on the streets of DC & is swarmed & harassed & prevented from doing her job. Thinking of her & all the journalists working hard & putting themselves at risk today to cover this historic story. Stay safe. pic.twitter.com/9OK96ahs94— Meagan Fitzpatrick (@fitz_meagan) January 6, 2021
- Megan Pratz, a producer for online financial outlet Cheddar, told the New York Times that at approximately 4 p.m. she had been standing in a designated press area on the east side of the Capitol. “Throughout all of this, people were stopping to criticize the media, calling us fake news and liars, the stuff I’m kind of used to,” Pratz said. “But after people started leaving the Capitol, it really ramped up. They were calling us communist; they told me that they were coming for me.” Pratz recounted that 20 to 30 people soon “started coming into the area, surrounding each journalist and screaming at us, these hateful, hateful things.” She went on to say: “That was when we decided we were no longer safe. We grabbed pretty much everything, and we just walked out. We were shaking, like physically shaking, because it’s an adrenaline rush, and not a great one.”
Ultimately the situation became unsafe when protestors tore down the metal barricades around the press and stormed in, shouting in our faces and in the cameras. We left and are safely in our DC office. But we will not stop covering this unprecedented moment in American history. pic.twitter.com/jZRhALpUhW— Megan Pratz (@meganpratz) January 6, 2021
- CBS News national correspondent Chip Reid reported during a broadcast that evening that he and his team had had a “scary moment” when an individual told him that law enforcement officers would not protect journalists. “The police don’t care about your guys. They’re only protecting the senators,” Reid recalled the man saying. “You’re on your own, buddy.” Reid said that he and his team quickly left the area, recalling that there were no police around them. “They were absolutely, ferociously angry at the media,” Reid said of the rioters.
CBS News' Chip Reid reports from the chaos outside the Capitol: "There were no police around us. We were on our own. I remember one of the protesters standing next to me said, 'The police don't care about you guys. They're only protecting the senators. You're on your own, buddy'" pic.twitter.com/PYHZ4pdmNr— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 6, 2021
- A Univision news crew was heckled by a maskless individual while reporting live in the nation’s capital. In a clip posted to Twitter by journalist Robert Valencia, a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat can be seen attempting to talk over the Univision reporter as he gives a live report on the events at the Capitol. Valencia wrote that the man could be heard saying, “I don’t speak Spanish so I don’t know what he’s saying, but don’t believe anything he says.”
The Tracker received reports of journalists harassed while reporting from the Capitol the following day, Jan. 7.
Independent journalist Maranie Rae Staab, who has been covering protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Portland, Oregon, tweeted that she witnessed a reporter for the Washington Post being harassed by a group in front of the east side of the Capitol. Staab wrote that after she began to film the men as they screamed at the Post reporter, they directed their attention at her. A man without a mask can be seen approaching Staab and stands inches away from her as he shouts, “Are you proud?” and “I will get right in your face. I do not care.” The man also accuses Staab and the Post reporter of being communists. After the maskless man walks away, another individual tells Staab that they — the press — are “rodents” and liars. A third individual can be heard telling another member of the press standing with them, “That [press] badge: Shove it up your ass.” Staab wrote, “These assaults are a direct threat to the healthy #democracy #America purports itself to be, threats that [are] quickly becoming normalized & expected.”
After I filmed these men screaming at a WashPost reporter they turned their attention to me.— Maranie R. Staab (@MaranieRae) January 8, 2021
These assaults are a direct threat to the healthy #democracy #America purports itself to be, threats that r quickly becoming normalized & expected.#freepress #uscapitol #thisisamerica pic.twitter.com/n9gFxR12fM
On Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, journalists reported being caught amid chemical irritants while covering demonstrations and harassed while reporting.
In Portland, Oregon
- Freelancer Bethany Kerley was covering demonstrations that included a march to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in downtown Portland, according to a tweet posted by Kerley. Approximately 200 protesters had gathered at the ICE facility, which has been a common location for protests in Portland. “About a minute before the first rush from the feds, my gas mask broke,” Kerley wrote. “I went the entire night with no mask, inhaling everything that was used to disperse the crowd.” According to Kerley, federal officers used multiple forms of gas against the protesters that night. “My eyes immediately burned and my face was on fire,” Kerley said. “Multiple times I had to stop filming to run away from the gas which filled a city block. The first time gas was used, I started choking and threw up.” Kerley wrote that after officers again deployed a thick cloud of gas, a colleague, freelance photojournalist Clementson Supriyadi, saw Kerley fall and pulled her away from the scene. “My colleague screamed for a medic as I started to go unconscious,” Kerley wrote. She was aided by volunteer medics at the scene, who washed out her throat and gave her chemical wipes and other aid. “As of now, my chest feels like it has been crushed, I have a headache, and my mouth tastes like metal,” Kerley wrote the following day. “I am sure that this will have long-lasting effects I am not aware of yet.”
There were numerous gassings which included the use of CS, OC, and HC gas. My eyes immediately burned and my face was on fire. Multiple times I had to stop filming to run away from the gas which filled a city block. The first time gas was used, I started choking and threw up 3/ pic.twitter.com/dkxaAHEPHF— Bethany Kerley (@BethanyKerleyOR) January 21, 2021
- Freelance reporter Griffin Malone was also covering the protests outside the ICE facility that night. Malone posted around 9:30 p.m. that federal officers had declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly and announced that anyone on federal property, including members of the press, would be subject to arrest. Approximately 20 minutes later, Malone tweeted, “What can only be described as a SHIT TON of tear gas deployed, impact munitions, flash bangs at every step.” Amid federal officers’ attempts to disperse the crowd, Malone wrote, a flash-bang grenade struck a fence that was next to the reporter and exploded in the air near his head. “My right ear still has minimal hearing,” Malone wrote. “A snap next to it can be heard lightly and that’s about it.”
A flashbang hit a fence next to me and went off head level in the air next to me. My right ear still has minimal hearing. A snap next to it can be heard lightly and that's about it. Fuck these feds.— Griffin - Live Protest News (@GriffinMalone6) January 21, 2021
In Charlotte, North Carolina
- Fox46 reporter Matt Grant tweeted that he and photographer Tim Mullican were about to begin a live shot when a man drove past, threw a full beer bottle at them and screamed obscenities. “He missed us and we’re both safe, thankfully,” Grant wrote, “but it’s upsetting that journalists are being attacked just for doing our jobs.”
This is not OK - A minute before our live shot, a man drove by and threw a full beer bottle right at @TimMullican and me, screaming an obscenity. He missed us and we’re both safe, thankfully, but it’s upsetting that journalists are being attacked just for doing our jobs. pic.twitter.com/v0HoStSmFy— Matt Grant (@MattGrantFOX46) January 20, 2021
Information in this roundup was gathered from published social media and news reports as well as interviews where noted. To read about additional incidents of aggression against the press related to the 2020 election, go here.