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Rioters rush broadcasters, destroy Associated Press, other media equipment

January 6, 2021

Broadcast equipment belonging to The Associated Press was reportedly destroyed as rioters swarmed a group of broadcast journalists covering the unrest in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021.

At a rally in front of the White House earlier that day, 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, swarmed the building and broke inside, Reuters reported.

Elmar Thevessen, a reporter for German public-service broadcaster ZDF, wrote on Twitter that he and his team were reporting alongside journalists from the AP when a crowd of rioters stormed them and broke through the barricades surrounding the journalists and their equipment.

In videos of the incident, the rioters can be heard yelling “Fuck the mainstream media” as well as “CNN sucks” and “Fuck CNN!” The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has not found any information to suggest that a CNN news crew or any CNN equipment was targeted in the attack.

Thevessen told ZDF in a broadcast later that day that Capitol Police had begun using tear gas and flash-bang grenades to clear the west side of the Capitol, causing many rioters to move to the east where the ZDF team and other members of the media were located. The rioters surrounded the journalists and started throwing and destroying their equipment, Thevessen said. The news teams decided that they needed to quickly leave the area.

Thevessen said that while his team was able to save their camera, the AP team was unable to do so. Multiple plastic storage containers bearing the AP logo are visible in photos of the wreckage, and according to Thevessen at least two AP cameras were destroyed. Thevessen estimated that at least $100,000 of AP equipment was damaged.

A video posted by NBC reporter Shomari Stone shows rioters also pouring water atop the damaged equipment.

In total, Thevessen wrote, approximately 30,000 euros — or around $36,500 — worth of ZDF equipment was destroyed. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented that incident here.

According to Thevessen, none of the journalists were injured in the attack.

The AP confirmed to Daily Beast media reporter Max Tani that AP equipment was stolen and destroyed during the violent protests.

The National Press Photographers Association condemned the Jan. 6 attacks on ZDF, AP and other news teams from visual media. “To do our jobs, photojournalists must be on the front lines to record the news,” the group’s statement reads. “The threats, violence and aggression toward visual journalists are unconscionable acts that erode our democracy and our country’s First Amendment rights.”

At least one man has been arrested in connection with the destruction of the ZDF and AP broadcast equipment. According to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Jamie Stranahan, the bureau has identified Pete Harding of Cheektowaga, New York, as one of the participants.

The affidavit identified Harding as the man in a maroon hoodie, seen in several videos of the incident, who attempted to light the equipment on fire once it had been destroyed and piled up. The man believed to be Harding can be seen lighting a plastic bag on fire using a lighter in a video posted by Deadspin reporter Chuck Modi.

Harding also confirmed to The Buffalo News that he helped pile up the equipment and attempted to burn it.

“That was a symbolic gesture. Nothing burned. It was metal,” Harding told the paper. “It was far from any structure. It was nowhere near the Capitol building. It was nowhere near a tree. It wasn't even on grass that could be lit on fire. There was a plastic bag. I had a Bic lighter and that was it. It was symbolism."

The News reported that Harding was arrested on Jan. 13 on warrant issued by the U.S. Marshals Service.

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

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