WASHINGTON D.C. –– Jan. 6, 2021: Trump MAGA Rally at Freedom Plaza.
Photo: Julian Leshay
WASHINGTON D.C. –– Jan. 6, 2021: Trump supporters participated in a Trump MAGA rally. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his baseless claims of election fraud. Photo: Julian Leshay
WASHINGTON D.C. –– Jan. 6, 2021: The president addressed his supporters ahead of the Electoral College vote in Congress. Photo: Julian Leshay
I had gone on an ‘assignment’ to Washington D.C. to cover the “Save America” rally and I knew that it was going to be a pretty big day, but I had no idea what was coming my way.
As a photographer documenting the front lines of the domestic terrorism attack on the US Capitol by far-right extremists and Trump supporters, I am still utterly astounded days later. Probably will be weeks and months later. At first it seemed like an angry mob mentality, but looking back it was really an autonomous organized action. Thousands of like minded, mask-less people who felt cheated about their vote. The violence was premeditated and prepared for and intended for anyone who stood in the middle of their “Trump 2020” flag and the United States Capitol.
I started January 6th in my van parked on L street by an old church. I packed up my camera gear, slipped on my soft body armor, clipped my helmet to my belt, and strolled on to the National Monument where I was planning to photograph the crowd of thousands of Trump Supporters rallying against the “fraudulent” election. I watched Don Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and the first 5 minutes of soon to not be President Trump’s speech. I headed down to the US Capitol as Trump delivered his marching orders and even announced he would walk with them. Which did not end up happening. As the masses arrived at the US Capitol, the violence had already begun.
WASHINGTON D.C. –– Jan. 6, 2021: Trump supporter Tear gassing Police Officer(s).
Photo: Julian Leshay
WASHINGTON D.C. –– Jan. 6, 2021: Police officers being tear gassed. Photo: Julian Leshay
WASHINGTON D.C. –– Jan. 6, 2021: Police officer aiding a colleague who has been maced or tear gassed. Photo: Julian Leshay
I arrived at the US Capitol Police and Trump supporters' frontline standoff. Some of the front scaffolding has already been occupied by Trump supporters, but the grounds had not yet been breached. Tear gas was being let off into the crowd and mace was being used seemingly sparingly. From what it looked like the Capitol police were absolutely unprepared for such an event. Police officers were inadequately equipped passing around mace and pepper ball guns. Police officers were maced and tear-gassed. Many without masks and bicycle helmets as their main form of protection.
The siege only escalated. At one point there was this massive steel structure that hoisted a “Trump 2020” banner. The crowd surfed this huge weapon over hundreds of feet to harm police officers who were not letting them attack the US Capitol. Steel pipes and multiple 4x4’s were launched at Police.
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Trump supporters violently battling U.S. Capitol Police with a massive steel structure that hoisted a “Trump 2020” banner. Photo: Julian Leshay
“HOLD THE LINE'' was the main tactic of this domestic terrorist attack. The numbers were in favor of the side of right-wing extremists and they knew it. Almost zero ground was lost on the “patriots'' side because it was backed by thousands of people. As the extremists were maced and tear-gassed without protection, others would fill in their place. There was a constant contest of forces at the frontline and only let up once the Police decided to retreat. A strong line of Police Force held strong while the other Police Officers retreated.
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Trump supporter violently attacking a Police Officer outside U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: Julian Leshay.
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Trump supporter violently grabbing a Police Officer by his neck and respirator mask outside U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: Julian Leshay.
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Trump supporter wressle a Police Officer to the ground outside U.S. Capitol Building. Photo: Julian Leshay.
Gates smashed. Barricades ripped away from police officers. Tear gas ineffective and bottles and bottles of mace emptied on the crowd. As the US Capitol ground was officially stormed and police retreated, I watched one man grab a police officer by his neck and respirator mask. They wrestled, fell to the ground with the officer on his back, knees curled, grasping a metal pipe in an attempt to defend himself, and had two hands of a seemingly deranged right-wing extremist clawing at his full mask respirator. Shoved away by the sheer numbers of people storming the grounds. I watched as the scaffolds were climbed, flags waved in victorious efforts, and thousands of “patriots” were celebrating a “revolution.”
I stayed outside the Capitol building and documented the celebration. The crowd of MAGA supporters sang the national anthem. Chanted and cheered “USA.” Labeled themselves “patriots.” The scaffolding on both sides of the East side of the Capitol that has been put up for Inauguration events was littered with people. On top, inside of, climbing all over it. The walls of the Capitol were being scaled. Ladders were being found and used and makeshift ramps were made to get as many people onto the US Capitol building as possible. The sea of red MAGA was everywhere. The siege was successful. Unfortunately, what extreme nationalists just learned, that everyone else is terrified about, is that with the proper organization, preparation, and people, you literally can storm your nation’s Capitol.
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Man with an axe handle getting ready to attack Police Officers.
Photo: Julian Leshay
I walked against the stream of people still flocking towards the US Capitol trying to touch their piece of history. I had my fill. I lost some camera equipment in the process. Directly pepper-sprayed by a police officer which luckily hit my camera instead of my eyes. Tear gassed and most likely caught Coronavirus in the process. I made my last photograph of the siege. A full stormed United States Capitol rioting against a legal election under the direction of the worst leader and cry baby to have held political power in this country.
While January 6th and a rocket start in 2021 just made its mark in U.S. history, I am concerned about the days and weeks ahead. The legal election that has been officially stated legal is the very reason for this domestic terrorism attack. The same people angry enough to brave mace to the eyes and federal charges in order to “protest” the election results will not accept them now. The days remaining while President Trump is still holding that title might be filed with dangerously irrational behaviors and actions that may affect this country for a very long time.
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Domestic terrorists 'storming' the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Julian Leshay
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 –– Domestic terrorists waving cheering, waving flags and taking photos. Photo: Julian Leshay