Categories: StillWe're

‘We’re Still on Edge’: 3 Reporters on Witnessing the Riot at the Capitol

When Ellison Barber was assigned to report by the face of the Capitol building on Wednesday afternoon, she believed she was responsible for a quiet day. The actions, she supposed, could be nearer to the White House, near where the president has been giving a speech about refusing to concede the election

But in the next few hours, Barber reported and watched as explosive devices were found near, as members of the far-right Proud Boys flew past, and, ultimately, as a mob stormed the Capitol building, obscured by the police. Five individuals expired throughout the unprecedented riot. 

Barber, a correspondent for NBC news and MSNBC, dodged harassment from a rioters seeking to vilify the press, stepped over a puddle of blood, and ended her workday feeling the moist drops of tear gas onto her face. She and other women reporters who had been reporting at the Capitol during yesterday’s historical insurrection try told Glamour exactly what it felt like to be on the ground during one of contemporary U.S. history’s most shocking moments. 

Ellison Barber

Courtesy of NBC Universal

Ellison Barber, NBC and MSNBC correspondent

The anger within that audience had been unlike anything I’ve ever seen. 

I got there at 8am and we had been assigned to the eastern side of the building prior to the Supreme Court–initially I believed I drew the short end of the stick–I had been thinking the Capitol was likely to be very quiet! I spoke in my first two news hits about how this was a calm but outspoken group. Then we observed President Trump addressing the audiences from our phones, and around this time a band we thought to be the Proud Boys passed through–they had been wearing orange rings, crying as they usually do,”Fuck Antifa” and”Uhuru,” which is one of the chants. 

There had been some skirmishes on the House side of the office building–I’d been in that specific place back in June reporting on the protests associated with George Floyd, also I noticed the Capitol police presence was somewhat lighter than it was back in June. I emailed Capitol authorities being like,”Are you going to add more people?  Have you arrested anyone?” Approximately then, time became fuzzy –we moved back to the eastern side of the building and suddenly it seemed like a sea of people–they broke through the barricade and this sea of individuals, inch by inch, they pushed Capitol police backagain. I looked back at the stairs and Capitol police seemed to be gone. I’ve covered a lot of protests and also a lot of bizarre things, and this was so surreal not necessarily because of what was happening–of course people will be out on the roads since they think there has been this huge conspiracy–but it had been shocking the way it happened.

About 30 moments before, I had talked to some man in militia-like garb and I asked him exactly what he believed would occur following the Electoral College votes were counted. He stated,”I think it’s possible that a million armed men shows up to fix the problem. I hope to god that doesn’t happen, but if you don’t give people a legal way to solve their grievances, violence is always the result.” Some people weren’t armed to the level of what I think he was suggesting here, but to see that play in another 30 or 40 minutes as individuals stormed the Capitol was surreal. Anyone who came out claiming to be indoors was greeted like a hero from the crowd. The pride that we had coming out…to witness that was really shocking.   

We watched one woman–I do not know if she had been trampled, there appeared to be some bloodan EMS caught her and took her out of the area. You will find flash grenades. We remained with the audience until the curfew. On one of the sides near the Senate building they started spraying what I believe was pepper spray because it was a little wetter than tear gas. 

There is this small group of individuals that we know are so frustrated–they believe despite all the evidence against it, it was a bogus election. There’s not anything you can say without a conversation you can have with them about the truth where they won’t tell you you’re mistaken.  

We understood within this group that there was lots of anger and anger, but in the moment of it, it was so sudden. Having covered protests there until, I had never witnessed anything like this.

Lisa Desjardins

Andrea Jacobson/PBS News

Lisa Desjardins, PBS NewsHour Capitol Hill correspondent

I had expected it would be a long day, with lots of waiting around and moving between chambers and expecting someone says something interesting. Still, I brought two outfits into the Capitol with me, and I did it on purpose. It was weird because I was like,”This is going to be fine. I’m not worried about the rioters, but just in case…” Because I had gone into the Capitol dressed in my adorable outfit–green mock turtleneck with a ruffle collar, windowpane pants. However, I had this feeling. I knew that with all the mob, I was not going to fit in in that. So I introduced another outfit with me–navy blue turtleneck, navy blue leggings, and a baseball hat.

The minute that I discovered the first building had been breached, although all of the police on the Capitol were actual casual, I was like,”I’m going to do an outfit change.” I was kind of joking about it, that I was doing this ridiculous thing, but I was thankful that I did it. Because at some point, some of the rioters just passed , and I didn’t stand out. I think it made a difference.

When I heard the Cannon House Office Building was moving into lockdown and there could have been a security breach in the Madison Office Building, I walked over there to check it out and it seemed calm, but when I got back into the Capitol, with Capitol police nevertheless not understanding things were out of forms, I started hearing noises. And I heard rioters banging on the front door, and I walked over and that’s when it became clear there was only a complete disconnect.

The first thing I needed to do was get on atmosphere. There were not a lot of us ; it was just me and two other reporters and two Capitol Hill staffers. I realized I only needed one phone, and I had to use that telephone to be on air or to shoot video of this historical violence. I had to be on air, so I screamed at the print reporter, who’s a friend of mine. I was like, Get video.

I’ve had hostile-situation coaching, and I’ve been in situations hostile to journalists before, so I know how to evaluate a distance. I had been in a really good operational site. I had been in a marble balcony overlooking the front door, so I was a full staircase above in which the rioters were arriving in. I was aware that I had enough time to get out of there if I had to. But because the gap in the door was not that wide, it was like one or two of these coming in at a time, and that was fortunate because it gave me time to talk to them, and I got one of them on atmosphere –one of those only real interviews of a rioter whenever they were at the Capitol describing what they thought they had been doing and how they could possibly justify it.

It did get a bit more hairy as time moved on. As I turned round the corner after talking to these rioters, I had been thinking I know I’m going to head to the House room now, and I was like,”OK, I know that there are four Capitol police positions there, and I’ll see them and I’ll let them know that I’m cool, I’m media. I’ll be with them, and it’ll be a better space.” I got to that place outside the Chamber and all the Capitol police, whom I’d seen minutes before had been gone. There was part of me in that instant –my heart wanted to drop. 

I wound up with this SWAT team after a time, and then I have evacuated down the staircase with the members of Congress. Throughout that evacuation, I was speaking to Rep. Norma Toress of California, and we all just had a short conversation. I said, “Where in the realm of any reality is this to you?” And she looked at me, and it is a little emotional for me to talk about even now. She stated,”I’m from Guatemala, and this is why I left that country–hostile takeovers of government.” You could tell that she was fearful, and I needed to calm her down and I had to be calm also. But she was right. I could not believe it .

I woke up this afternoon, and my first idea was like,”Wow that really happened.”

I feel that the Inauguration is something which there’s a good deal of concern about. They are now changing security at the Capitol. They’re setting up seven-foot-tall fences, and that I believe will be useful, but leaves me sad. It is something which I would usually bristle at, but it will be needed potentially. I mean, the president surely has not defeated this violence. Sometimes he is smiled at it. The question is will he promote further actions or will there be a sub-group of violent extremists which go much more rogue. I hope that I’m wrong, but I believe at this stage we have to be prepared. This Type of cancer that is in part of the American soul is there de

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