ITV News Crew on Being on the Frontlines of Capitol Hill Riots: "It Was Pure Fury"

Capitol Hill
Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Reporter Robert Moore and producer Sophie Alexander captured some of Wednesday's most poignant footage as the first crew to enter the U.S. Capitol with pro-Trump rioters.

As thousands of Trump supporters descended on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, attempting to derail Congress' confirmation of Joe Biden's presidential victory, a three-person crew from ITV News stood at the very center of the mob, capturing some of the day's most significant footage.

Reporter Robert Moore, producer Sophie Alexander and cameraman Mark Davey were the first TV crew to enter the Capitol building with the rioters, witnessing their shattering of windows and conducting on-the-ground interviews as the action unfolded.

Following a day that will surely go down in American history, Moore and Alexander spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about their firsthand experience, the benefits of being a British station amid a "fake news" crowd and their biggest takeaways.

Starting off, what was it like to be there yesterday?

Robert Moore: It was very dramatic, but I think what was most striking to us is none of this comes, or should have come, as a surprise. This was a highly organized protest that the president himself had been speaking about and encouraged people to turn out for. So I think one of the questions we have is why the Capitol Hill police were so ill prepared for what happened. Even as I was joining the crowd that was going into the congressional complex, breaking through doors and windows, I was struck by how this seemed almost inevitable — this is exactly the culmination of what we've been reporting on for so many years. It blended together the conspiracy theories that have been propagated by the president and the visceral views of so many Trump supporters.

Sophie Alexander: I don't think I quite realized the enormity of the situation until I woke up this morning. We work in news, this is what we do, this is what we're good at; however, yesterday was obviously unlike anything I've ever covered in my lifetime, in my career. I really think the enormity of it, and particularly what we achieved, the three of us getting what none of the other U.S. networks did, I really think that only sunk in this morning.

How did your day unfold, with you ending up right in the middle of that?

Moore: As a small foreign broadcast team here in Washington, ITV News prides itself on close-up, fly-on-the-wall type of reporting. So we were with the crowd earlier at the White House, we followed them to Capitol Hill, and we just happened to be on the left-hand side of the inauguration stage that's been built for Joe Biden. There was a little window, that little corridor, that led up some marbled steps and we noticed that a dozen or so very animated, angry, passionate protesters had found a little route up there that appeared to be unprotected by the Capitol Hill police. So they went up there, we followed them, and then we noticed that they were climbing through a window and had broken open a door right into the congressional building itself. They were charging through and we followed with them. And we decided just to tell our reporting as it unfolded.

I was very aware that my journalistic objective was to hear the voices of passionate people, whatever side of the political divide they're on. So I was keen to talk to and hear as much of their voices and their raw audio as possible. Our journalistic objective almost immediately came into view: "Let's be a fly on the wall. Let's just follow and track the passion as they enter the building." What was so striking for us was their chant wasn't insurrectionary or revolutionary. It was "Our house, our house." In other words, they felt almost like they'd arrived at their own home — this sense that the U.S. Capitol belonged to them was a very real and very striking feature of the day.

This is a group of people that typically opposes mainstream media. Did you face any harassment or violence from the rioters?

Moore: There is a lot of hostility from that crowd towards the media, all elements of it. But their real dislike is of American media. So once we've explained to them that we're an overseas TV network they were, if not, friendly. They didn't regard us as a hostile presence. They understood that we were trying to project their voices, if you like. I wouldn't say we ever were seen as their allies in those kind of dramatic and chaotic moments, but they didn't see us as the enemy and so that allowed us to track with them, follow them to Nancy Pelosi's office — which they were ransacking — and at no point did they regard us as a target. Their anger is so targeted at the Washington establishment that we were almost ignored, frankly, in the drama and chaos of the moment.

We've been reporting on the Trump movement for four-plus years now and we often go to the rallies and we often mix with them. We explain to them that Britain is also a country going through political turmoil with Brexit, just like the United States. Many of them are veterans and we point out that British and American soldiers are fighting and dying on battlefields and have done around the world. We try and connect with them in a way that Trump supporters understand, that Britain is an interested observer in America but doesn't have a stake in which side is covered. We want to hear all voices. And that's a way that we use [that], and we used it yesterday, to reassure those who were in the Capitol Building making their protests that we weren't the enemy. We were literally reporters trying to amplify their voices.

Alexander: Being a British outlet does hugely help — one, the accent, and two, we say, "Listen, we're British television, this is not going to be shown in America, but we are here to report on what is happening and we're listening to you." There's so much distrust of the media in America at the moment, it's really very sad. However, we are not one of the main targets of that hatred, and as soon as we say we're British, it does change the tone of the conversation — thankfully, because at times, it was quite threatening.

Were there moments you feared for your safety? You are right alongside the tear gas at times.

Alexander: We did feel the effects of the tear gas, my eyes are still stinging this morning to be honest with you. I think as a producer, my first instinct is to keep the team safe, that's my priority. Keep the team safe, and cover the story as well as we can while keeping everyone safe. Truthfully, the anger and the hatred that I witnessed yesterday was not directed at us. It was directed at members of the House, so we were able to report and witness from the middle of it but without fearing for our safety too much.

Is there a moment from the day that really stands out to you?

Moore: That moment when the crowd jumped through the window, broke through the door — and then it was almost like they were stunned that they'd achieved that. They were looking at the marble statues; they were looking at the immaculate passageways and corridors of Congress; and they almost couldn't believe that they'd achieved that and that they'd broken in. It was that almost naive, stunned look on their faces and their joy that they'd sort of humiliated Washington's establishment. The image of wonder that was on their faces, their surprise at having outwitted and outmaneuvered Capitol Hill police officers, I think was the thing that struck me most. And then that blend of people who were there — wild militia men, Trump supporters, far right, people who have just been caught up in the emotion and joined the crowd. It was a real blend of some of the stranger characters in American protest movements.

Alexander: I think there were two moments. One when we were standing on, believe it or not, the inauguration stage where Joe Biden will be inaugurated in less than two weeks. Suddenly there was this roar from the mob around us, and we realized that they'd managed to break the doors of the scaffolding down and they had free rein to just run towards the Capitol, absolutely no police holding them back. Secondly, when we were actually inside the Capitol, we heard a man on the phone behind us who was obviously calling his loved one and he said, "Whatever happens today, just please know that I love you and tell the boys to do what they believe is right." He was prepared to die for what he believed was right, he really thought it could lead to that.

What did you see in terms of the police's handling of the riot?

Alexander: The police were entirely overwhelmed and underprepared. Before the mob had managed to actually get onto the inauguration stage and break into the Capitol, I counted maybe 12 police trying to hold back a crowd of hundreds, and that was in no way their fault. They were not prepared. However, I would say the responses of the police at the beginning was quite inadequate. But what would we prefer, do we want them to be firing live rounds into the crowd? No, we don't. So I think they did the best of their ability while being completely underprepared.

There was a big debate in U.S. media over what to call these people — protestors, rioters, terrorists. Did you have any discussions of how to deal with that?

Moore: I'm not using phrases like "mobs," and I'm certainly not using the word "terrorists," which strikes me as absurd. I think "protesters" is valid, I think that's the one that is kind of value neutral, if you like. They are protesters, they're protesting the establishment. I don't think it helps anybody to marginalize these people or to ridicule them or to suggest that they're a greater danger to the republic than they are. I think as reporters we need to step back and recognize that America faces this deep polarization, this schism, at the heart of the country. I think our business is not to mock or to judge either side. It's easy to believe they're a threat to democracy, but it's also important to understand that they believe they are defending the Republic, not threatening it.

What was your biggest takeaway from being immersed in this crowd and talking to rioters in a way that most news stations weren't?

Moore: The thing that resonated with me most was although it had an insurrectionary, almost revolutionary, feel, this wasn't an anarchic crowd. This wasn't anarchy that we witnessed, although that is somewhat being portrayed here for political reasons. What they were saying to us, to cameras, is, "We're here to save the Republic, not to assault it." So I suppose, in a paradoxical sense, my real takeaway is the sincerity of the views that they hold.

They are deeply invested in President Trump and we can all pass judgment on that, but what was clear to us is that they do believe that this election was stolen, and have bought into the narrative of conspiracy theories that it was stolen. There obviously is a danger going forward, but it was the sincerity and the passion of the protesters that I think made the video that we shot go viral. These weren't people who were just political opportunists, they genuinely believe that that was their house, if you like, and secondly, they deeply believe in a really visceral sense that the election was stolen.

Alexander: It was the sense of duty, they truly felt that they were doing the right thing and that the house that they stormed was theirs; it belonged to them. It was part of their history and they truly believed they were doing the right thing in trying to reclaim it, essentially. It was pure fury that something they believe to be democratically right had been stolen from them. There was absolutely no sense of sitting on the fence, there was no "Well, maybe Joe Biden did win." It was, "President Trump won this election and it has been stolen from him and therefore it's been stolen from us and the very bedrock of this country is being shaken right now because of it."

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.