U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist harassed, his mask pulled during Capitol riot

Incident Details

January 6, 2021

Freelance photojournalist Christopher Lee said he was harassed and roughed up by demonstrators while he covered riots at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.

Lee, who didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment, said during a panel with VII Insider — an event platform for photographers, journalists and curators — that he was on assignment for Time magazine covering protesters as they marched toward the west side of the Capitol from the National Mall. The demonstrators, spurred by a speech by then-President Donald Trump earlier that day, aimed to disrupt the Congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

As rioters breached the Capitol in the early afternoon, Lee told Time, he tried to remain incognito as he followed them into the building. However, a group of at least six individuals recognized him as a journalist, shouted that he was “fake news” and a member of the “liberal media” and started to grab him to remove him from the Capitol.

“It was a moment that I realized, ‘If I don’t leave the situation right now by any way possible, it could escalate into something really, really bad,’” Lee said. “I’ve had it happen on a couple occasions in America, but not to that level of severity that quickly.”

Lee said during the VII Insider panel that the individuals targeted him in part because he was wearing an N-95 mask.

“I remember having interactions with people saying, ‘We know that you’re not one of us because you’re actually taking the virus seriously,’” Lee said. “When they did kind of rough me up a little bit, they did make it a point in all the chaos to try and pull my mask off of my face."

According to Time, after Lee left the initial group that had harassed him, he found another group breaking into the building through a different entryway and followed them back inside.

“While doing my job in America, that was probably the time that I feared the most for my safety,” said Lee, who has photographed conflicts and protests in the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere in the U.S.

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