In the hours after President Donald Trump yet again declared the press the "enemy of the people" in speech that incited his supporters to storm the halls of Congress on Wednesday, the pro-Trump mob chased journalists covering the chaos, destroyed their equipment, and even carved "murder the media" into a door at the U.S. Capitol.
Reporters took to social media during and after the siege to share the alarming attacks, which were forcefully condemned by industry colleagues, union leaders, and journalism advocacy groups that have long condemned the president's "media-bashing" and warned of its negative impacts on press freedom both within the United States and around the world.
"Protesters swarmed and mobbed my team at the Capitol after figuring out who we are. Extremely aggressive, had to get out fast," tweeted CNN senior national security correspondent Alexander Marquardt. "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."
NBC4 Washington reporter Shomari Stone said Trump supporters swarmed journalists while yelling, as Trump does, that "the media is the enemy of the people." Along with tweeting a video of the insurrectionists destroying equipment, he said, "I've never seen anything like this in my 20 year career."
Trump called the press "the enemy of the people" earlier today at his rally. https://t.co/iSnQNyBb0r
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 6, 2021
Other reporters and media outlets also circulated footage of what journalists endured while working in the midst of what some lawmakers and political commentators have called a terrorist attack and attempted coup incited by a president who still refuses to accept his legitimate loss to President-elect Joe Biden in the November election.
"Murder the media" was carved into the U.S. Capitol today. There are no words to express how disturbing this is. A free press that's able to hold those in power accountable is what makes our democracy work. I'm proud to be a journalist & I'm thankful for my colleagues on the Hill pic.twitter.com/C3Xke1dEX6
— Samantha-Jo Roth (@SamanthaJoRoth) January 7, 2021
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 picture worth a thousand words.@AFP video journalist Agnes Bun captures supporters of US President Donald Trump standing around media equipment they seized and destroyed outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC pic.twitter.com/t7FypU9W61
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) January 7, 2021
As some journalists reported on the mayhem inside and outside the Capitol, others who had been in the building to cover the joint congressional session and debates over electoral votes "were forced to shelter in secure locations for hours," the New York Times noted while sharing additional accounts from members of the media:
A video taken by William Turton, a Bloomberg News reporter, showed a crowd outside the building advancing on a camera crew, yelling, "Get out of here," and smashing equipment. Paul McLeod, a BuzzFeed News reporter, shared a photo of a noose the group had fashioned out of a camera cord and hung from a tree.
Some in the mob chanted "CNN sucks" as they stomped on cameras, though the equipment was labeled with stickers from the Associated Press. (A spokesman for the AP confirmed that its equipment had been stolen and destroyed, adding that none of its staff members had been injured.)
Turton told the Times that the mob targeted a media pen after the police had pushed them out of the Capitol. "After that happened, they chased anyone with a camera out of there," he said. "I saw this Italian TV crew they chased out, and I knew they were Italian because I actually took the Amtrak down with them."
According to Playboy senior White House reporter Brian Karem, open hostility from Trump supporters toward journalists on Wednesday started even before the hours-long takeover of the Capitol—which delayed certification of Biden's Electoral College victory by Congress until the early hours of Thursday.
As I walked on campus today, a Trump supporter asked me if I was the @Playboy reporter. When I said yes, he replied “F-you. I hope you die soon.” “Have a good day,” I replied. An hour later @realDonaldTrump says the press is the enemy of the people. pic.twitter.com/H0jvJ6mTNs
— Brian J. Karem (@BrianKarem) January 6, 2021
The day of violence drew sharp condemnation from the media industry leaders, including National Writers Union president Larry Goldbetter, who declared, "It is no coincidence that the racist stormtroopers who attacked an election that 160 million people participated in, would also attack media workers."
"Elections and a free press are two of the foundations of a democratic society," Goldbetter said. "Trump and his terrorist minions are violently opposed to both. What's worse is that they had free reign for the entire day, whereas protesters against racist police violence were arrested by the tens of thousands over the summer."
Communication Workers of America (CWA) president Chris Shelton said, "Two images from their failed attempt to violently invalidate the votes of millions of Americans make their motives absolutely clear: the sight of the confederate flag being paraded through the halls of the Senate and a message scrawled on a door, 'Murder the media.'"
Advocates for free expression from around the world emphasized that the violence at the Capitol was not speech protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but rather a coup attempt that comes after four years of Trump's lies—which have included declarations of "fake news" in response to any critical reporting.
RSF condemns the violent protests taking place on Capitol Hill today, which is not a protected form of #FreeSpeech under the #FirstAmendment, and calls on law enforcement officials to take immediate action to #ProtectJournalists bringing us critical information at this time.
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) January 6, 2021
"Four years of enabling and excusing the spread of lies and defiance of law and norms has led to this lawless crescendo—responsibility starts with the president but goes far beyond, as must accountability," says our CEO @SuzanneNossel.
— PEN America (@PENamerica) January 6, 2021
Critics of the attack of the Capitol and the targeting of reporters continued to place blame on the president, whose actions provoked calls for his arrest, impeachment, and removal from office via the 25th Amendment. As CWA's Shelton put it:
Freedom of the press is the first target of fascists everywhere, as they seek to silence opposition and suppress any information that contradicts the alternate reality that their narcissistic leader creates to support his racist fantasy world. This freedom is enshrined in our Constitution because a healthy democracy is not possible without a free press.
There is no doubt that each day that Donald Trump continues to hold the powers of the presidency presents a grave threat to the safety of millions of American and to the stability of our country. He organized an insurrection while ignoring a pandemic. Legislators and members of the Cabinet have taken an oath to defend our Constitution and they must act to remove him from office immediately before he does greater harm to our country and democracy.
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) general secretary Anthony Bellanger said that "we are appalled by the violent attacks against media workers who were just doing their job."
"This is the final result of a long process of demonization and hate-speech narrative against the media in the United States by Donald Trump," he added. "We stand in solidarity with our American colleagues. You are not alone."
Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, an IFJ affiliate, took aim at Trump and the rioters in a pair of tweets:
This shameful assault was the direct result of the rhetoric spewed by politicians incapable of accepting the truth, or cynically relying on falsehoods to inflame division for political gain. The president and lawmakers who spread these lies have blood on their hands.
— Jon Schleuss (@gaufre) January 7, 2021
"My thoughts are with all the amazing journalists covering this moment," Schleuss added in a statement. "Stay safe, by God, you are our light. We are only free and informed people because of our free press."