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Congressional reporters became the country's eyes and ears as rioters stormed Capitol Hill

Posted January 6, 2021 7:21 p.m. EST

— When pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol building on Wednesday, the TV cameras in the House and Senate chambers were abruptly turned off.

Thankfully there were quick-thinking reporters and photographers inside the Capitol who showed the world what happened next.

The tweets and dispatches described unbelievable scenes — an armed standoff, vandalism, terroristic threats — and the photographs and videos made it believable.

Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju called into CNN while the Capitol was being evacuated. He described "debris, trash, all in the elevators, things knocked down, posts knocked down," saying that it's a sign that rioters had penetrated "all parts of this building."

NBC News' Frank Thorp shared one of the most astonishing videos of rioters roaming around the Senate chamber after it was evacuated. He posted a twenty-second clip to Twitter and spoke with anchor Lester Holt by phone.

"They're just mulling around, looking through desks," Thorp said. "There's a guy sitting there in the gallery above. He asked 'Who are you with? Who are you with?' and that was about time for me to go."

Thorp's video clip was visual confirmation that the halls of Congress were occupied by insurrectionists.

On the House side, photojournalists from the AP, Getty and other news services bore witness to a barricade situation.

Andrew Harnik's photo set was jaw-dropping, as was the caption: "U.S. Capitol Police with guns drawn stand near a barricaded door as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington."

The scenes were not shown live on television because the cameras in the House and Senate chambers are controlled by the legislative bodies, not by C-SPAN or any other media outlet.

So members of the media filled the void. Some posted staccato messages on social media to alert the public to the rapidly deteriorating situation inside the iconic building.

"Capitol Police are running to every door in the House gallery and locking it," HuffPost's Matt Fuller wrote at 2:18 p.m.

At 2:36, he tweeted, "We have people slamming on the doors now."

2:39: "Members now evacuating the House chamber."

2:43: "Guns drawn in the chamber."

Fuller then posted video of the standoff. At 3:04, he said "we're in a new location that we've been instructed not to disclose. They are clearing the Capitol."

Back on the Senate side, Fuller's HuffPost colleague Igor Bobic shared photos of protesters walking door to door looking for the lawmakers.

"They're in the chamber," he tweeted at 2:47. "One is up on the dais yelling 'Trump won that election!' This is insane."

Bobic snapped a picture that showed a photojournalist calmly taking a photo of the chaos from the gallery -- documenting the moment of history.

As police tried to regain control, some journalists huddled in safe rooms with lawmakers and staffers.

"We're still in a secret location inside the Capitol," Jazmine Ulloa of the Boston Globe wrote at 5:07. "No word yet on when we'll be allowed to leave, but we've been handed little dinner trays (chicken, Brussels sprouts, and polenta), so it doesn't seem like anytime soon."

Bobic thanked his friends and Twitter followers for checking on his well-being. "I am safe," he tweeted, "and in hiding."

Later in the afternoon, CNN producer Kristin Wilson turned on her smartphone camera while she walked the halls with U.S. Capitol Police officials.

Insurrectionists at the doors of the Capitol could be heard chanting at the police, "Join us, join us, join us."

Wilson said she saw smoke grenades and smelled gunpowder in the hallways.

It is "so horrifying to see your place of work, a place you love covering look like this," CNN's Lauren Fox wrote.

At one of the doors into the Capitol, the words "MURDER THE MEDIA" were scrawled into the gold paint.

Outside the building, Washington Post reporter Katie Mettler said she witnessed "an alarming scene with" when "a group of TV reporters were swarmed and chased away from their cameras, which a mob of President Trump's supporters trashed."

Some of the television production gear appeared to be trashed by the rioters.

Fox News producer Jason Donner, who covers Capitol Hill, tweeted, "What's happening at the Capitol today is disgusting and Republicans will have a lot to answer for. The press corps I'm proud to work besides will hold them accountable because that's what we do in a democracy in the greatest nation in the world."

Fuller, of HuffPost, wrote that he was ready "to go right back into the House" and continue covering the election certification process.

"I'll go right back to my little stool in the gallery," he wrote. "I'll open up my little laptop. And we can continue this as long as it takes."

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