LITTLE FALLS, NJ -- Julian Leshay, an independent photojournalist, spoke with Executive Producer Brian Brodeur about his experiences taking photos at the recent Capitol Hill riot on January 6. Leshay gives viewers his insight into the scenes he witnessed and the images he captured on that fateful day. 

Leshay arrived in Washington, D.C. the day before, “to get the environment, to see what was happening,” he said. Like a lot of people, Leshay heard about the rally and protests that were being planned, coordinated with Congress’ confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory that day. Leshay explained that, “there were a few protests going on that night, so the tension was kind of rising.” 

The next morning, Leshay woke up in the nation’s capital and went to President Trump’s rally at The Ellipse, right near the White House. Leshay described the rally by saying, “it was mobbed, people were getting there very early. It was very packed, with very few masks being worn.” Leshay said that at the rally, President Trump told the crowd to start heading towards the US Capitol building, but by time the crowd arrived, “there was already a rush of people at the Capitol gates, so I arrived a little late to the initial action at the Capitol.”

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Leshay explained to Brodeur that he had several interactions with supporters of the president. Leshay had his camera, along with a press pass, on display. People in the crowd asked him who he was filming for and if he filmed for a company that was more politically left-leaning or one that was more right-leaning. Leshay describes the interactions he had as peaceful, but says that many other colleagues were harassed at the event.

When Leshay arrived at the US Capitol building, he noted that police barriers were set up. “There were already more gates than there normally would be, because they had a lot of barricades for inauguration coming up,” he explained. Leshay was on the more peaceful side of the building, but on the other side, “there were already flashbangs and mace being sprayed”, according to Leshay. He made his way up to a better vantage point, so he could better see what was happening behind the broken barricades. At that point, Trump supporters from the rally were at the front steps of the building, having a standoff with Capitol police, according to Leshay.

Leshay captured a chilling image of a rioter attacking a policeman. “What I witnessed is that this man grabbed a police officer, wrestled with him, struggled with him, went directly for his face mask and respirator,” he said. Another image shows a large Trump sign in a metal frame on wheels being picked up by rioters and used against police officers at the scene. “I don't know where it came from, but I saw it probably 100 feet off in the crowd, being crowd surfed, all the way to the front of the barricade,” Leshay said.  

Leshay tells Brodeur that “capturing those kinds of raw emotion, split second moments is the reason why I do love documenting and being a photojournalist,” he said. “It can really tell the full story some of the time.” Leshay plans to return to D.C. to document Inauguration Day; the photos taken will be featured on his Instagram page.

To learn more about Julian Leshay and his photojournalism work, visit his website at www.julianleshay.com.