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Some who stormed the Capitol insist, 'What I did was journalism'

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Halliburton started his livestream, CJTV, to cover Black Lives Matter protests in his hometown of Seattle after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. He built a following of about 50,000. More than 5,000 people tuned in to CJTV's live coverage of the Capitol riot. Halliburton calls himself an independent livestream journalist, but he's also seen people wearing "Press" labels protesting in Kenosha, Louisville, Ky., Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.

"There's an element of participation that you have to really maintain a fine line on," he said. "Every protest wants to claim you as their own. I've made it very clear I'm not on a side — I'm the eyes and ears of the people."

His sister Shama Bartlett covered the Capitol rally for CJTV last week but did not enter the building with protesters, interviewing them as they left instead because she "felt a moral obligation to not support the actions." She captured footage and questioned a man wearing a helmet and vest labeled "Press" confronting police. The man was later sought by the FBI in connection with the rally.

"I think it all comes down to intent," Bartlett said. "Are you there to make the news or to report the news? C.J. and I have a policy: See the news; don't be the news."

Sacramento-based Black Zebra Productions started as a community storytelling group, but after Floyd's death it partnered with the Sacramento Bee and received three press passes, said founder Khanstoshea Zingapan.

But after Black Zebra posted video of a California Highway Patrol officer restraining a protester with a knee to the neck, its page was temporarily taken down by Facebook. They've also been targeted by police, Zingapan said.

 

"We haven't been able to stand and record things happening in our community without harassment, violence and ongoing state repression from multiple law enforcement agencies, including federal ones," she said. "God forbid we try to storm something. I don't think we would have come out alive."

Rachelle Dixon also straddles activism and journalism. The interim director of Black Lives Matter Portland, she has been freelance reporting and photographing for years and is in the process of getting a press pass through KBOO, a community radio station. Her rule: "A journalist doesn't participate."

"There is a line that has definitely been blurred," she said. "When I go down to document what's happening I have to document everything, not just the things that support my point of view. Once you start taking selfies and joking with the participants, you're participating, and people who participated [in the Capitol siege] need to be charged. The fact that they're joking about it means they don't take this seriously."

Ochs and NeCarlo appear to have drawn less of a distinction between objective reporting and participating. As Ochs left the Capitol last Wednesday, he posted a photo on Twitter of himself and NeCarlo smoking inside, captioned, "Hello from the Capital lol." He also posted videos on Telegram.

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