Though the physical reminders of the Capitol riot are slowly being erased—the 26,000 National Guard troops who flooded the building for inauguration are long gone, the heavy-duty security fence is down, and the final permanent exterior fence will begin to come down on Thursday—small details remain: a shattered plastic guard sits on one of the officers’ desks and a few broken windows haven’t been replaced. House members still have to go through metal detectors to vote.And the emotional scars are still there. Six months after their office was attacked, the Capitol Hill press corps is grappling with how to cover the insurrection’s fallout, as well as its impact on them personally and professionally.Some reporters who were there won’t go back into the building. A number have sought therapy to deal with the trauma. One longtime Capitol Hill reporter opted for early retirement shortly after living through the riot. Many still aren’t sleeping well.
“I’m still not sleeping like I used to, even to this day.”
“The harder part for me is to know how emotional the lawmakers are,” said Desjardins. “It’s like when you know your parents are bitterly, abusively fighting, and you go into a room and can sense their hostility, and can sense nobody’s figured out a way out.” This isn’t all new: The Trump years exacerbated tensions between the parties, and between lawmakers and reporters. COVID made it even worse, as a significant contingent of Republican members refused to wear masks to keep everyone safe (many, especially in the House, still refuse to get vaccinated). But the attack has made things even worse.
“It’s eerily back to normal. But sometimes it feels like one of those horror movies, like the end of Jaws. Everything feels copacetic on the beach. But you wonder if there’s anything out there.”
But in the weeks after, Wasson said he experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder—depression, short-tempered irritability that led to fights with his wife over nothing. This went on for nearly a month.“I do remember just feeling unsafe in my house,” said Wasson. “It occurred to me, like, I wonder if some protesters could be tracking me or could show up at my house. There was definitely a moment of fear, and just trying to assess whether there was actually any danger to me and my family.”Wasson said he’d had guns drawn on him by Cambodian soldiers when he was working overseas. Desjardins has covered a war, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Ginger Gibson, a politics editor at NBC News, has covered natural disasters and murder scenes. But this was different.“That day we weren’t just observers; we were one of their targets,” said Gibson. “A lot of us reporters are having a tough time with that.”
“It was traumatizing.”
Her original plan was to head down to Statuary Hall, which protestors were moving through on their way to the House. But it sounded much more ominous than it had been just a minute earlier.“I went to that staircase but there was so much shouting from down there and there were no cops, so I decided not to,” she said. “I was thinking about the guy who let me out of lockdown. If something happens to me, that’s going to hurt him. I can’t do that.”Desjardins instead stayed on the third floor, just behind the House gallery, posting up behind a desk to have some physical space between her and the rioters who had now flooded the area. Many yelled at her, asking who she was. Her response to defuse tension was to yell back “PBS—Sesame Street! Big Bird!”
“When I saw his eyes that was one of the only times I recognized I was scared.”
It mostly worked—rioters laughed and moved on. But one man, who appeared to be drunk, lunged and grabbed her by the shoulder as he tried to take her phone camera. Luckily, another rioter pulled him away.“When I saw his eyes, that was one of the only times I recognized I was scared,” she said.Dealing with the falloutEvery congressional hearing about the riots brings back painful memories for the journalists that witnessed it. For some, it’s been particularly frustrating to hear the handful of Republican lawmakers who have pushed lies that it was antifa, or the FBI, stirring the riot.
But Hawley led the objections on the Senate side to Biden’s victory. Gaetz lied the night of the riot that it was left-wing antifa radicals, not pro-Trump militants, who’d stormed the Capitol. Now, Gaetz is blaming the FBI.“I don’t fucking interview him now,” Laslo said of Hawley. “With this, I just don’t give a fuck about what your thoughts are on tech shit anymore.”Wasson said he felt more scared going back into the Capitol for the inauguration than he had on January 6. Though he pushed his emotions aside during the riot itself so he could keep doing his job, Wasson said he grew edgier in the following weeks, spending hours researching how to survive a riot, learning to remove his jacket and tie so no one could grab him or strangle him with it, and how to use a metal pen as a weapon.
“Instead of being there every day, I’m there once a month. I don’t want to be there.”
“Those of us that were inside that day will forever have a perspective that is slightly differently informed than anyone else who’s ever covered Congress,” she said. “It's not my job to divorce myself from the emotional feeling. It's my job to let it inform me in a way that’s constructive, while still being fair.”And while these reporters, and many others, have kept working, there’s been extensive conversations among journalists about burnout, frustration, and dismay about the state of the country. "I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with reporters of ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore, I’m not sure if I want to be here anymore.’ But I’m not one of those people,” said Desjardins.“Anyone who doesn’t want to come up here again, I don’t blame them at all, even a little bit, one iota,” said Bresnahan.
“Anyone who doesn’t want to come up here again, I don’t blame them at all, even a little bit, one iota.”