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"It Was Terrifying." Reporter Describes The Attack On The Capitol

Wyoming Public Radio's Capitol Hill Correspondent Matt Laslo was covering the counting of the electoral votes in the U.S. Capitol when it was stormed by Trump supporters this week. Laslo joined Wyoming Public Radio's Bob Beck and described his experience.

Credit Matt Laslo

Matt Laslo: I was posted up outside of the Senate chamber. You always see the security detail around the vice president. But the security detail, especially the Secret Service, they're usually calm and not flustered at all. I saw four or five Secret Service agents whispering to each other right outside of the chamber. And then three or four other Secret Service members were going by the windows, looking out right over where President-elect Joe Biden will get inaugurated. And so as a curious reporter, I follow the police and if their eyes are over there, my eyes are over there. And that's where I first felt the reverberations of the blast grenades. But I had no idea what's going on. But I could see police officers not freaking out, because at first I thought it was a gunshot. But more than a gunshot, because you could actually feel it in the Capitol. And there's these puffs of smoke. And then these Capitol Police officers, oh, they just kept coming with crates and crates and crates, [and] bottles of water. And it was because of all the tear gas which was way lower than I could have seen. But I saw about five or six Capitol Police officers brought up. Some were just reeling in pain and it was really painful to watch. And then slowly they retreated and mayhem ensued.

Bob Beck: So, where were you when people started entering the building?

Credit Matt Laslo

ML: I was on the second floor of the Capitol and right across from Senator Mitch McConnell's office on the second floor. Right underneath it is the first floor. And that's right where they were breaching. So I was recording video and you see all these people there. And I, like everyone else, thought of the U.S. Capitol, like the White House, [it] is one of the most secure buildings on the planet. But then at a certain point, I couldn't see the windows break, I later saw the footage on Fox News, but you just heard these cheers. And all these people from the back rushed [in]. And there was no space for them. So it was like, oh, no, they're inside the building. And that's when officers said, 'Go!' They kicked us out of the second floor. They took every senator who was walking around the chamber and ushered them in real quick and locked the doors. Me and a bunch of other reporters huddled in their Radio TV gallery, which is on the fourth floor of the Capitol for a couple hours. And once we heard tear gas and stuff was being deployed in the rotunda, a Colorado Public Radio reporter and I went down to grab gas masks on the third floor. And when I got out there, there weren't the police officers who are usually standing there.

Instead, there were people with 'Don't tread on me' flags, MAGA hats. And they didn't look like they loved the press corps. So we just went back upstairs, locked the doors, covered up insignias and the sign that says Radio-TV correspondents gallery. We've been called the enemy for more than four years now, so I did not want to alert anyone that there were a bunch of reporters in there. Luckily, no one came up. We're kind of tucked in a hard to find place. But it was hard. A FOX radio news reporter who is a good buddy of mine had a panic attack. It was scary.

BB: Could you hear things?

Credit Matt Laslo

ML: Oh, we could hear chants of 'USA, USA' from within the building. We would kind of go out a little bit to peak. And again, knowing that the Capitol Police had completely abandoned the third floor of the Capitol, we kind of just all decided together to not really show ourselves. So I didn't see the rotunda and that stuff get breached. Eventually some officers came and then they escorted us out and the windows were broken and officers were spraying pepper spray out of them. So the whole entire hallway was filled with pepper spray. And because we couldn't get the gas masks earlier, that didn't feel good. So we kind of ran through and they pointed us to a cafeteria where we huddled for three, four hours.


BB: One of the things interesting to me is, it seemed like there were people in Congress who didn't want to overturn the electoral vote totals, but were going to have an open mind and let other people talk. Did that attitude change when they came back later in the day?

ML: Yeah, everyone was, I almost want to say, deflated. But you really felt the mood change in the Republican Party. And even this morning, I was watching Fox and Friends and was watching Fox all day, actually. And you're starting to see a real change in how republicans and conservatives are talking about President Trump and some are resigning. So we're wondering, how much of this is... some of them trying to save face now that Trump's going out of office? I think with a lot of them, it was really unsettling to be in the Capitol, like it was terrifying. That really kind of seemed to focus a lot of people.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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