WASHINGTON — The video begins with a view from the back of a moving van. It’s timestamped in the corner Jan. 6, 2021, 1:53 p.m. There are at least three police officers seated up front; two are wearing helmets. There’s no sound. From the vantage point of a camera attached to the uniform of an officer in the back, the viewer can see his hands as he adjusts his gear and straps on gloves.
Two minutes in, after the officers have exited the van at a trot and clustered with other police on the street with the Capitol in the background, the sound suddenly turns on. Another officer is yelling at the group to make sure their cameras are working. The camera picks up the sound of sirens and the low roar of a crowd in the distance.
Police body camera footage shows officers from DC's Metropolitan Police Department arriving at the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
The 52-minute video is one of a series of clips of police body camera footage that depict the frontline experience of officers who responded to the riots on Jan. 6 and were released over the past week. These videos had been referenced in court filings and played in court in some of the cases brought in connection with the assault on the Capitol, but they hadn’t been available to the public. They were finally released after a coalition of media organizations, including BuzzFeed News, petitioned judges. The latest cache offers new, up-close perspectives of the situation outside the Capitol as an angry mob surged forward to try to break through police lines, hurling flag poles and other projectiles; deploying pepper spray; and lobbing insults, obscenities, and threats at the officers. The clips were cited by prosecutors and defense lawyers in different cases, but they all fell within the same one-hour window, starting just before 2 p.m. — minutes before the first rioters broke into the Capitol.
This is what officers saw:
DC’s Metropolitan Police Department officers continue to arrive at the scene after a mob of hundreds of people had already gathered in front of the Capitol, joining the MPD and US Capitol Police forces already on site. Officers who had arrived in the van approach the crowd from behind, outfitted in protective pads and helmets and holding their batons in front of them. As they pass through the outer perimeter of the crowd, people call out to them, denouncing them as “traitors,” “pigs,” and “oath breakers.”
They pass a man in a knit cap who holds up his hands and says, “Peaceful, man, this is peace.” Less than 30 seconds later, the officers engage in their first physical fight as they try to move people out of the way, clashing with a group that includes someone holding a skateboard, whom the government has identified as Grady Owens.
The officers push through the crowd and arrive on the west side of the Capitol, where there is already a heavy police presence trying to stop the mob from moving closer. There is a cloud of smoke to the side; police used smoke bombs and chemical sprays as one method of crowd control. People in the crowd are holding up an array of flags, including American flags, Trump flags, and Confederate flags. A man shouts through a megaphone at the officers, “How does it feel to be a traitor?”
The officer who is recording appears to have inhaled chemicals or smoke and moves back from the crowd. There’s coughing and heavy breathing in the background. Other officers are spaced out catching their breath; one is kneeling with his head down, and another is bent over with his hands on his knees. A Trump flag on a pole comes hurtling from the crowd toward the police and lands on the ground near the officer wearing the body camera.
Officers scatter across the plaza while pouring water into their eyes. One officer passes by and holds up his helmet, which is covered in an orange chemical. “I can’t see shit,” he says. In the middle of the crowd, there’s a tall structure with platforms to build the inauguration stage, which people climbed onto; a large “Trump 2020” flag is flying on top. Horns and bells sound out over the loud chaos of the crowd, which occasionally breaks out into chants of “USA! USA!”
Officers stand behind metal bike racks to keep the crowd at bay. Rioters — some fully kitted out with protective body armor, helmets, and gas masks, and some with no gear at all — push up against the racks and threaten police. “You fucking piece of shit, you fucking commie motherfuckers,” a man in a red jacket holding a metal pole with a US Marine Corps flag attached yells at officers; he was identified by the government as Thomas Webster. He challenges officers to take off their gear and then lunges at them with the pole; the bike rack barrier opens up in the chaos, and other rioters move through. The vantage point of the video changes and the officer recording is on the ground, trying to push the man in the red jacket away from him.
After the mob breaks through part of the police line, people stream onto other platforms in front of the Capitol that had been empty except for police. A man approaches an officer with his hands out, saying, “We’re patriots. This is our place. We’re here to send a message. We’re here to send a message, not hurt anybody.” Another man then comes up from behind him, yelling at the officer about wanting a “fair count.” When the officer tells him to move back, the man replies, “I can’t buddy, you’ll have to kill me.”
As the crowd in front of the officer grows, the first man to approach continues to insist they were simply there to “have our voices heard.” Then, another person emerges from the crowd and deploys an orange chemical spray at the officers.
Meanwhile, some members of the crowd try to stop the more violent ones, but they aren’t successful. “Get out,” one man with his face fully covered, identified by the government as defendant Brian Mock, repeatedly screams at the officers.
Police try to use riot shields to stop people from moving up farther onto the platforms in front of the Capitol, but it doesn’t always work, and some rioters — including Mock, according to prosecutors — shove them and knock officers to the ground.
As the mob continues to successfully move closer to the west front of the building and occupy platforms on either side, officers climb a set of steps to a higher balcony. A chant of “traitors” breaks out nearby.
An officer directs any law enforcement with a mask to go to the steps to try to stop rioters from coming up. Another officer can be heard saying, “you gotta hold these stairs” as the camera pans down to a smoke-filled stairwell.
The original officer from the van finally ends up inside the Capitol, where dozens of officers are positioned in hallways. He grabs a stack of paper towels to clean off his helmet. Officers who seem to be in a position of authority start issuing commands.
“Listen to me, it’s going to be old-school CDU if they come in that door. Do you hear me?” someone yells, an apparent reference to the police department’s “Civil Disturbance Unit.” Another person is heard directing, “Night sticks out.”
“This is the US Capitol brigade. Do you hear me? You are not losing the US Capitol,” a voice barks.
The officer moves away from that scene and asks for help securing his helmet. Then a different officer approaches yelling, “We need everyone” and a voice off camera shouts, “They are not getting in this building.”
Alarms and sirens are going off in the background. As the officer moves into another corridor where police are clustered in front of a doorway, chants from just outside of “USA! USA!” grow louder.
A woman's voice can be heard calling over the radio, "Shots fired." The call comes through at around the time when Ashli Babbitt was shot by an officer just outside the House chamber.
Outside the building, meanwhile, other officers keep moving through the crowd. A bearded man in a camouflage jacket identified by the government as defendant Scott Fairlamb yells at a group of officers as they pass, “You have no idea what the fuck you’re doing.” There’s some physical altercation off camera — Fairlamb is charged with punching an officer in the head — and a man asks the officers if they’re OK.
A woman in a yellow scarf addresses the officers as they go by: “We’re Americans and we’re doing this for you,” she says.
More videos are expected to come out as the existing prosecutions unfold and new cases are filed. Prosecutors have said that they’ve gathered more than 15,000 hours of surveillance and police body camera footage as part of the investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that 500 people have now been arrested for the assault on the Capitol, including 100 who are charged with assaulting federal law enforcement.
The latest release of videos isn’t the first time police body camera footage has come out of these cases. Facing a media petition in court, the government in April previously agreed to release videos from the case of two men charged with conspiring to assault US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick with a chemical spray; Sicknick died the next day, but the men aren’t charged in his death and the DC medical examiner concluded he died of natural causes.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell last month denied a request by the media coalition to direct the government to release videos introduced in these cases by default, barring any objections, instead requiring separate petitions in each case. In most cases, the government and defense haven’t opposed sharing the videos.
One defendant challenging disclosure so far is Federico Klein, a former Trump administration official charged with resisting police, obstructing Congress, and illegally going onto the Capitol grounds. Klein is arguing that given the volume of negative press he’s already received, releasing the videos in his case would be “prejudicial.” The judge has yet to rule.