The violent mob of Donald Trump supporters that stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday targeted journalists and the press during the rampage, incited by a president who has branded the news media an “enemy of the people”.
“Murder the media,” was the message scrawled on a door of the Capitol during the siege. Outside, the Bloomberg News reporter William Turton captured on video the moment that part of the mob began to attack a group of reporters and their camera equipment while yelling, “Fuck the mainstream media.” As one man brandished a flag pole as a weapon and others menaced, the journalists abandoned their equipment to retreat.
“We are the news now,” said one of the rioters, according to the BuzzFeed News reporter Paul McLeod. The sentiment has become common among adherents of QAnon and other rightwing conspiracy movements, who have worked to create an alternative disinformation ecosystem that is impervious to reality or evidence-based reporting.
The group subsequently fashioned a noose from the abandoned camera equipment, McLeod reported.
The mob wasn’t the only threat to journalists in Washington DC Wednesday. Two reporters for the Washington Post were briefly detained by police while reporting Tuesday night, an echo of the extensive targeting of reporters by law enforcement that was seen throughout the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020.
The reporters, Zoeann Murphy and Whitney Leaming, said on Twitter that they were released quickly and were safe.
Leaming referred obliquely to the strain and trauma of reporting under such conditions, however, tweeting, “I have heard from so many journalist friends/colleagues who were at or around the Capitol today that they are ‘fine’. This is a lie. They are not fine but they push aside their physical safety and mental health to focus on the story at hand [because] one of the most important rules of journalism is that the story is not about you. Just please remember that and maybe not threaten their life, I beg you.”
Many reporters ended up sheltering alongside members of Congress as the Capitol came under attack. The Los Angeles Times reporter Sarah D Wire wrote about hiding in the House gallery during an armed standoff. Norma Torres, a congresswoman from southern California, used her Twitter account to send a photo of Wire to the LA Times. The message: she is safe.
Advocates for freedom of the press condemned the day’s events, noting that the Capitol building is the workplace not just for the country’s lawmakers, but for those who report on them.
“Yesterday’s attack on the US Capitol posed a grave threat to our democracy,” said Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement.
“Rioters at the Capitol called for violence against members of the news media, destroyed news equipment and verbally harassed journalists as the ‘enemy of the people’ – actions that not only pose a dire threat to those working tirelessly to bring information to our communities, but also to the press freedom that is a bedrock value of our nation.
“These actions are the direct result of years of this language stoking fear and hate for one of our most vital institutions. Our free press is crucial to democracy, and indeed, one of the pillars that will help keep it standing beyond this moment.”