NO RIOT: What National File Reporter A.J. Cooke Experienced First Hand While Covering The Capitol Protest

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The views expressed in this op-ed are not necessarily the views of National File. We believe this first hand account of what happened on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. helps illustrate the emotions of the crowd during the protest.

Words cannot express the shock and disbelief I felt after witnessing the immediate aftermath of the Capitol Hill Shooting. But that didn’t compare at all to the horror of turning on the news and seeing brazen, flagrant lies about what I’d just witnessed.

There was no “riot” at the United States Capitol Building. There was no “massive armed assault”.

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There were hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters blanketing downtown D.C. while maybe a few dozen troublemakers engaged in trespassing and petty vandalism at the Capitol Building.

From everything I’ve seen with my own eyes, the first act of real violence was the shooting of an unarmed Pro-Trump protester, Ashli Babbitt, by a plainclothes U.S. Capitol Police officer. And, if you’ll bear with me for a moment, you’ll see why her sacrifice may have saved many, many lives.

READ MORE: Ashli Babbit, Peaceful Protester Executed by DC Police

For those who have never been to a Trump rally, they are nearly all the same: they’re parties for patriotic baby-boomers. It was a wholesome MAGA-themed version of Woodstock with less drugs (though the unmistakable scent of marijuana hung in the air at a few points).

The “siege” of the Capitol Building was about as “dangerous” as the occupation of Hamilton Hall by SDS activists during the 1968 Columbia University protests.

Trump rallies are uniformly safe, inoffensive and tame. The only point where they ever become dangerous is when leftists show up to assault peaceful demonstrators.

Wednesday’s rally was no different, though it was relatively disorganized. Legions of Trump supporters were scattered around Downtown D.C.

I spent hours recording cheesy man-on-the-street interviews with Gianna Guenther, National File’s newest cub reporter. It was the standard workaday grind of journalistic work and, honestly, even a little boring.

It was her first day on camera. She’d made fun of me for showing up kitted out with combat boots, Kevlar gloves, a CBRN gas mask and a trauma kit. I was born in this town, though, so I knew I had to be prepared for anything. People forget, but I remember our nation’s capital also being the murder capital of America when I was growing up.

READ MORE: British Radio Star Demanded Cops Shoot Protesters Less Than An Hour Before Ashli Babbit Was Killed

As we walked around, we saw all the standard sights of D.C. Trump rallies: street preachers giving megaphone sermons, vendors hawking Trump merch and Falun Gong activists handing out anti-CCP literature. It was entirely peaceful… placid, even.

The President’s 11AM speech was enthusiastically-received by a crowd that spread from the southern edge of the White House Ellipse and covered the hill around the Washington Monument, despite the fact that the onsite audio seemed to be so messed up that nobody outside of immediate earshot could hear him clearly.

Outside of the area where President Trump could be clearly heard, scattered groups of rallygoers listened to live-streams of his speech (which I still haven’t listened to in its entirety) like apocalypse-survivors huddled around campfires.

If this was a “planned coup” to “attack democracy”, then it wasn’t exactly planned with military precision. Apparently most of demonstrators didn’t catch the President’s exhortation to “march down Pennsylvania Avenue” and marched down Constitution Avenue instead.

After hours of recording softball footage, all of the File’s on-the-ground reporters got word to rendezvous at our hotel suite at 3:30PM; we started walking eastwards towards my car, which was on the other end of the Capitol.

As we crossed the southern edge of Capitol Hill, Gianna teased me again about how slow I was walking with all my gear, so I sprinted ahead of her.

As I turned around to give my best “Are you not entertained?!?” flourish, we heard soul-piercing screams and saw a phalanx of riot cops clad head-to-toe in jet-black hard armor barreling down the walkway between us.


I whipped out my phone and, as I fumbled repeatedly for the “Record” button, I saw a flash of red hair on a gurney blast past me. I remember wondering whether that was her hair’s normal color or if the blood drenching her body had stained it. I watched hopelessly, breathing “Oh shit!” as my eyes fixated on her boots lying limp at the edge of the stretcher.

I heard women screaming in anguish and men shouting in anger. The energy of the scene was nothing short of biblical; my immediate thought was of “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. As soon as the ambulance doors closed around Babbitt’s body, I started following the trail of blood back towards the Capitol Building.

I don’t know what possessed me to drive onwards in the face of – for all I knew – an active shooter situation, but I had to know the truth of what happened and I knew I wouldn’t believe whatever got reported if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.

I barked questions at shell-shocked passersby, who told me that there was a witness with blood on his face who had video of the shooting.

As I slowly marched along the red road Babbitt left behind, I ignored calls and texts from a National File police source – who knew I was there – telling me “GET THE FUCK OUT” and “MASS ARRESTS INCOMING”.

After ten minutes of shouting “HAVE YOU SEEN THE WITNESS? THE GUY WITH BLOOD ON HIS FACE?”, I finally found him: Bill from Louisville, KY – on Facebook as “Parrot Nest“.


Bill explained that he didn’t have blood on his face: it was red dye from being pepper-sprayed in the back of his head while leaving the scene after the shooting. I was somewhat incredulous at first but the rest of his testimony seemed believable.

He posted his video of the shooting itself shortly thereafter on Facebook and it was promptly banned by their censors, but not before National File managed to download and share a copy.

I later learned that, while it isn’t exactly use-of-force-manual “standard operating procedure”, it is standard practice for DC-area riot cops to “tag” participants of a riot with dyed pepper spray to mark them for arrest during the crackdown phase. I later spoke to Bill by text message and am relieved to confirm that he managed to escape the District before being arrested.

Bill did not immediately identify the victim out of respect for her family, but explained that she had been shot once through the neck while unarmed and attempting to climb through a broken window in the Capitol Building. Bill is trained in emergency medicine and tried to give her medical assistance, but the officers on scene pushed him away and she “bled out” by the time medics could get to her.

Thinking back to the relatively thin trail of blood from the ambulance to the building, I realized then that Babbitt was already dead by the time I saw her. I have just enough survival training to know that gunshot wounds to the carotid, subclavian or axillary arteries are instant death sentences, barring immediate intervention by a world-class surgeon and the infinite power of Christ. Their pro forma chest compressions were doing nothing but pumping what little blood remained in her body onto the street.

After the interview, I attempted to make a live report on Facebook and Twitter, but both failed to function. It’s unclear if this was because of the local cell towers being overloaded or because of deliberate interruption of services. The only reporters able to make live reports were mainstream media.

I opted for a 2-minute recording which I’d upload once we got to a working WiFi connection.

When I got back to Gianna, she was even-keeled (if slightly glassy-eyed) and emphatically assured me that she didn’t mind the fact that I’d abandoned her to go chase a literal blood trail. For her first day on the job, she was a trooper.

It was at this point that I finally called our police source back. I was told “All agencies with a mutual aid agreement with D.C. are mobilizing squads to send Downtown with orders to secure and arrest rioters. My buddy’s gearing up right now to head your way and grab everybody in a 6-block radius of the Capitol. Get the fuck out NOW!”

I didn’t have to be told twice. We left immediately and made our way to the hotel as our phones buzzed with emergency alerts notifying us of a martial-law-style curfew being imposed on the city and surrounding counties.

Like I said… this was a shocking scene. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock of turning on Fox News and seeing “CAPITOL HILL RIOT” emblazoned across the screen. Nor could I have foreseen in my wildest nightmares all of the Republican politicians coming on the line to condemn the Pro-Trump “political violence” and “rioting” as a threat to American democracy.

I have ten solid minutes of video of the shooting aftermath. I was there. I saw it with my own damn eyes.

There was no riot.

Some people were shouting, screaming and yelling. Most people were standing dumbfounded or simply walking around like it was a casual Sunday stroll. Absolutely zero violence was taking place in the immediate surroundings of the Capitol Building.

I was faced with a choice: do I believe the entire Washington political establishment… or my own lying eyes?

READ MORE: Lindsey Graham Vows To Help Jail Trump Supporters

I’m generally a fairly skeptical person and am not prone to wild speculation about the motives of others, but I feel compelled to say that the narrative that was forming had all the hallmarks of a canned propaganda campaign.

Everyone from “Pro-Trump” Congressmen to “Pro-Trump” cabinet officials and “Pro-Trump” media figures were uniting to condemn a riot that did not happen. Some were blaming it on Antifa which, for all I know, may be somewhat true but is an absolute red herring because there was no riot.

Frankly, the idea that the Capitol Police security cordon was breached in the first place without a willing failure on their part beggars belief. If I had to guess, I’d say that this entire media narrative was kabuki theater and the one fly in their ointment is that nobody planned for some Capitol Police moron to cap an unarmed protester.

To clarify: I’m not saying that this was staged or there were crisis actors or whatnot. I’m saying that the Washington establishment was looking for an excuse to implement a hardcore Anti-Trump crackdown and the non-existent “riot” was exactly what they needed.

READ MORE: Pelosi, Democrats Plan Impeachment Of Trump Unless Pence Removes Him With 25th Amendment

My understanding is that, once the shooting happened, plans for a massive crackdown on the crowd of hundreds of thousands of innocent demonstrators were abandoned in a moment of panic at what the public response might have been.

Her death may have been brutal and unfair, but Ashli Babbitt’s sacrifice might have saved a lot of lives.

I don’t know where exactly to go from here. After what I’ve just seen, pretensions of journalistic objectivity have gone firmly out the window – which is why I’m writing this account in a first-person stream of consciousness instead of attempting to parse my disjointed, emotional experience into even-keeled AP-style prose.

I will say this: Ashli Babbitt’s death should be a sign to everyone who believes in the MAGA dream to stop looking for hope in the politicians or the courts or the national security establishment. These are all your enemies, no matter what flag they may wave when it’s convenient to them.

Your mileage may vary, but I will not “Trust The Plan”.

The QAnon “revelations” have finally proven to be complete horseshit. No magic glow-in-the-dark “white hat” CIA spooks are conspiring in the shadows to help you or President Trump. The American people are not going to take back power from the Washington Swamp unless we actually organize and build a non-violent grassroots movement that is completely independent from Official Washington.

I’m trusting no plan but God’s. And I’m committing myself to spreading the truth and exhorting everyone I know to fight for what little democracy we have left by doing the same.