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Rioters rush broadcasters, destroy German outlet’s equipment

January 6, 2021

Broadcast equipment belonging to German public-service broadcaster ZDF and worth approximately 30,000 euros 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.

ZDF reporter Elmar Thevessen and his team were reporting alongside journalists from The Associated Press when a crowd of rioters stormed them and broke through the barricades surrounding them, according to a tweet posted by Thevessen.

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 his team was able to save their camera but the rest of their equipment was destroyed.

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

In the center-left of the photo Thevessen posted, a man in a red beanie can be seen holding an orange microphone belonging to ZDF.

Thevessen said in subsequent tweets that a colleague from German broadcaster ARD had retrieved the ZDF microphone from rioters later that day. In total, he wrote, approximately 30,000 euros — or around $36,500 — worth of equipment belonging to the outlet had been destroyed, including a spotlight and portable video uplink.

While the ZDF team was able to protect their camera, according to Thevessen two AP cameras were destroyed. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented that incident here.

In an article published the following morning, ZDF Today’s Journal Editor-in-Chief Wulf Schmiese condemned the attack on Thevessen and his team.

“Thank God nothing happened to him or his people. But it was an attack on us — on all of my colleagues who do what we owe to the USA: free reporting,” Schmiese wrote.

According to Schmiese, the rioters also stole phones belonging to the journalists and attempted to “terrorize” the outlet’s control room with threatening calls.

At least one man has been arrested in connection with the equipment destruction. 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 a U.S. Marshals Service warrant.

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

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