U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

PBS NewsHour correspondent assaulted during Capitol riots

Incident Details

January 6, 2021

PBS NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins said an unidentified individual grabbed her and tried to wrest her phone away as she reported inside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., as rioters swarmed the building and forced their way inside on Jan. 6, 2021.

At a rally in front of the White House earlier that day, then-President Donald Trump called on his supporters to protest at the Capitol as Congress confirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Following Trump’s speech, which included unfounded claims of election fraud and calls to fight the outcome, hundreds then marched to the Capitol, fought police and broke inside the building from multiple locations, Reuters reported.

Desjardins, who didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment, told Vice News that she was on the House side of the Capitol when rioters surrounded the building. As they began to make their way inside shortly after 2 p.m., Desjardins said she tried to interview some of them.

“I’m reporting in real time, over the phone, what I’m seeing, and I did an interview with some of the rioters,” Desjardins wrote in an account published by Marie Claire magazine. “I saw them going into the offices themselves and starting to think about going into the chamber. There were more and more of them.”

After speaking with a few individuals, Desjardins retrieved her second phone and returned to a post behind a desk on the third floor where she continued broadcasting live to PBS, she said.

Desjardins told Vice that when rioters yelled at her, asking who she was, she defused the tension by yelling back “PBS — Sesame Street! Big Bird!” While most of the rioters laughed and moved on, she said, an individual who appeared to be intoxicated lunged at her and grabbed her by the shoulder as he tried to wrest her phone from her hands. According to Vice, another rioter pulled him away.

“When I saw his eyes, that was one of the only times I recognized I was scared,” Desjardins told Vice.

Desjardins wrote in her account for Marie Claire that she was evacuated alongside members of Congress to the Longworth Office Building for several hours. She was then among those escorted back into the Capitol around 7:30 or 8 p.m., and she remained until nearly 4 a.m. the next morning to cover the vote.

Desjardins told Vice that, six months after the riot, she still wasn’t sleeping well.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, detainments and equipment damage 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].