Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What it was like to photograph the insurgency on the Capitol

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“I’m still standing,” photojournalist Leah Millis said Fortune when asked how she was one day after the uprising.

Millis, who was tasked with covering and photographing the Capitol on Wednesday for Reuters, started her day on the east side of the building where the crowds quickly grew but remained relatively calm. She described that the people around her were dizzy, excited and angry.

At 1:07 p.m., Millis walked over to Independence Ave, cut the lawn, and was faced with the scene of a crowd – thousands of people rushing to the Capitol from the mall.

“The first thing I did was take off my bag, take off my helmet and gas mask, take off my KN95 and fabric mask, then put on my gas mask and ballistic helmet.” , she said. “Then I ran into it.

Millis was also prepared by wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a trauma medical kit with two tourniquets.

The rioters knocked down fences, threw all kinds of objects at the police, including flags, bottles and the metal posts of the said fences, climbed the stairs and climbed on scaffolding. While photographing the unfolding scenes, Millis heard the chants of “1776” over and over again. Millis described that the police on this line did not have gas masks, so often they were given pepper spray from their own spray and sprayed with pepper by people in the crowd.

“I have never seen such sustained violence between law enforcement and citizens that has not ended sooner with lots of tear gas and less lethal ammunition,” said Millis.

The chaos did not stop. Inside the shattered Capitol, insurgents stormed into the offices of Congress, scaled the balcony of the Senate chamber, carried the Confederate flag through the halls, looted a podium, and vandalized the chamber of the House.

With almost zero cell service, Millis explained that she had no idea what was going on beyond the stage in front of her. She therefore focused on her surroundings outside the Capitol and documented the unfolding of the scene.

Toward dusk, Millis heard what sounded like the crowd encouraging people to enter through the central door of the Capitol, one level above her. She calculated the risk of climbing two levels on a central scaffolding to get a view of the scene.

Leah Millis – Reuters

“I was there watching this battle between people trying to break through the police after going through a door for an hour,” Millis said. “After flashes and tear gas started firing to disperse the crowd, I felt it was important to have some context in this chaos. [It] looked like a battle scene in a war zone.

Millis photographed protests that have turned violent before and said she remained calm documenting as chaos surrounded her. She believes that her work as a photojournalist is an integral part of a functioning democracy, especially at times like this.

“When people tell me I’m fake news, I just ask them if it’s fake or real, because I’m taking their picture. I cover any event they attend. It’s hard to say that what I’m doing is wrong if what I’m doing is photographing them.

More political cover of Fortune:


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