On assignment for the wire services when “Stop the Steal” rally turned violent, rioters stormed U.S. Capitol
Editor’s Note: Joe Prezioso is a valued colleague and a great photographer from Revere. The Leader Herald has relied on Joe for years to provide great photographs of Everett news and events. His view of what happened at the Capitol are stirring. We are grateful for his efforts there. Read this first-person report…and you are there.
By JOSPEH PREZIOSO
I was on assignment for AFP, Agence France-Presse, and doing a story on a number of supporters of President Donald Trump that were going to D.C to take part in the stop the steal rally.
This was not like covering events in Everett – which I have done for 15 years.
Six buses were being organized by Super Happy Fun America and leaving from various towns and cities around Boston. I spent the next nine hours on a bus with the group leaders in what turned out to be a very loud and crazy ride. Many members were very boisterous. There was no time to sleep. I also had to make images of this trip.
The bus stopped at many rest stops along the way for people to get out and stretch or use a restroom. At the last rest stop before entering D.C, the leader of the Vietnamese Trump group got up on a pedestal and gave a demo about signs she had brought for everyone and how to wear them. She even had some PVC poles that she jokingly said could be used to protect yourself if you got attacked by Antifa.
The group then marched back onto their buses for the short ride to Union Station in D.C
From Union Station, in D.C the groups separated into many smaller groups and marched off to the National Mall and other places. I stayed with the group’s leadership and followed them. Everything was very peaceful for the next several hours except for a few moments when a Christian group of young kids yelled shame, shame, shame at the gay members of the super fun group, but cooler heads seemed to prevail. There were people in the mall with megaphones, some in black 1776 shirts, calling for people to storm the capital, it was repeated several times. The area was filled with several militia-like groups.
I had seen on a private chat with my AFP team that some park rangers had been locked into the Washington monument building and so Diane and I headed there to check it out, but we found nothing, but I did find some signal to transmit the photos I had taken over the last several hours so I did.
We then met back up with Super Happy Fun, they were easy to spot with their straight pride flags. They listened to trump speak, but from where we were it was almost impossible to hear what Trump was saying.
Everyone heard when he said “bullshit”, and everyone went wild. Slowly people started to leave in large groups and march towards the capital, and eventually, our group did too.
We followed them. As we got to the Capitol building, we could see that things were going to be a mess. The first notion I had was when I saw about a dozen police on the right side running fast. And sirens blaring everywhere. I messaged the desk to see if they wanted us to stay with our group or try to cover the story in general. It didn’t matter. Pretty soon there were flashbangs, anti-personnel weapons, various gasses, and sprays everywhere. I lost the group and just started shooting. I also heard people saying make a whole, someone has had a heart attack, but there were too many people. Too many screams and too much happening.
There was no way medics could get in there.
As soon as I heard the first bang and saw some smoke I got down on my knees and opened my backpack. I pulled on my gas mask, put my helmet on, checked my vest, and got up and started taking pictures.
There was chaos all around me. I tried not to get in the way of angry people. People were crying and yelling, screaming in pain with mouths foaming from the sprays. I kept shooting.
Waves of people quickly broke through the entrance security underneath the scaffolding, which people were scaling as well. One man came out screaming for help. He wanted to get away but there was nowhere to go with the massive crowd all around.
I helped set him down and yelled he needed help. Soon a few other people came to aid the man as well, pouring water and using wipes on his face. I left them and started to take pictures again.
A group of police in full armor arrived, but they were quickly overcome by the huge crowd and they were fighting to stay alive with things being thrown at them left and right from metal bars to timber.
Multiple bombs like balls exploded in front of me all the time. I assumed the police were aiming at me, but I don’t know. My helmet had press written all over it. But with my helmet and gas mask, I never inhaled any of the sprays or gasses. Finally, after over an hour or two of shoot- ing, I felt that the scaffolding was going to fall. My adrenaline had worn off and I actually was scared. Scared if a real bomb went off, and if the scaffolding fell, I would be dead. So, I started the long journey of trying to get out.
Finally, I made it to the lawn, to the left of the capitol. I collapsed to the ground, broke open my backpack to get some baby wipes, and started wiping myself and my gear down. My gear was covered in all sorts of sprays and I knew I needed to get it off. Then I wiped my helmet and mask off before I pulled them off. From there I got up and made my way to the streets, I heard nothing but sirens. I asked a cop which way to the Hyatt and she pointed to me the way, and it was just a short walk. They let me in, I sat down on the floor behind an escalator and started to edit and transmit.
While there two Trump supporters berated me about what happened, that it wasn’t Trump supporters, and if it was, it was their building. I was courteous and just told them, it was crazy, and they left.
I did check to make sure my colleague Diane was OK, and she had a scuffle with some- one who broke her microphone, but otherwise, she was OK.
I messaged the desk and asked what they wanted me to do next, they said to take a shower and a break, so I tried to check into my hotel, then realized I was at the wrong hotel. I then walked about 30 minutes to the right hotel, checked in, showered to get all the gas residue off of me, and file some more images. Then I passed out. It had been over 24 hours of straight-shooting from the bus to the raid.
The day was over. And what a day it was for me and all Americans.