Peaceful Protest or Capitol Riot? Where You Stood Determined Your Point of View

Unpacking 120 seconds and 120 viewpoints from Parler videos

David Leibowitz
Feb 7 · 8 min read
A pivotal moment during the Capitol Riot was annotated from a YouTube screenshot.

Volumes of evidence from media and user-generated content can now be used to assemble the sequence of violent events of January 6 at the Capitol Building. There’s the planned coordination by some groups who removed barricades while weaponizing the mob, to the chaotic frenzy of rioters who overran police afterward, culminating in a widely viewed attack involving the beating of a Capitol officer with a flagpole.

So how can some, even in D.C. that day, claim rioters instigated no violence? Putting aside outright dishonesty, some may be based upon the willful filter to fit a narrative — “the cops instigated the violence, spraying us with mace unprovoked,” summarize the sentiment of a few videos uploaded to Parler. Other times, an unconscious bias allows for fanciful leaps, like the person who assumed a smoke flash-bang shot by police intending to harmlessly disperse the crowd was Antifa because he saw a “red hat worn backward.”

The ignorance amplifies when we realize that there were so many people at the Capitol, and there was so much noise, smoke, and chaos, that some people might have witnessed nothing when filtered through hysterical blindness. In fact, analysis shows that it’s possible for two professional cameramen standing directly beside each other to capture entirely different views.

Cameras side by side had opposing views

Consider the stunning Status Coup footage, which shows an officer being crushed by doors inside the tunnel on the building’s west terrace. At the mouth of the tunnel, YouTube’s Just Another Channel (JAC) also points their lens into the belly of the tunnel, yet cannot see the officer’s cries for help as the riotous crowd rams forward. JAC would later describe the events on January 6 as “mostly peaceful” on their video description.

Just moments after Capitol police retrieve the injured officer from the grips of the doors, they move in force to flush the tunnel — rioters and camera crews included. The Status Coup team falls back on the steps, temporarily pointing their camera at the ground. Had they raised the camera lens to their shoulders, they might have captured what JAC glimpsed just inches from them and caught briefly on video.

At that moment, the mob attacked Capitol officer Michael Fanone, who had been separated from his unit and was being beaten and tased by rioters. But in the momentary chaos, with the roar of the crowd and several shoulders surrounding them, Status Coup had no idea that they might have caught not one but two brutal attacks on camera within minutes of each other.

Compilation of four varying points of view from the same 30-second sequence. (Author)

So, it’s unsurprising that “Stop the Steal” protesters who remained on the lawn of the Capitol grounds, or even at the street some 100 feet away might assume that the gathering was nothing but a loud yet peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights. Even if we were to believe that some in D.C.’s intentions were lawful — if people standing next to each other during a violent attack had utterly different points of view, how could someone nearly a soccer field away have any clue at all?

120 seconds and 120 different POVs

To illustrate this point, let’s unpack a crucial two-minute segment of the riot. Depending upon where you stood or pointed your lens meant the difference between witnessing violent destruction of a building, a pastor in prayer, an attack on police, a rioter’s death, or absolutely nothing at all. Amongst the violence and shoulders, even two people standing beside each other had completely different perceptions of reality.

The following events were compiled from multiple Parler videos and graphically describe actual events at the Capitol building. Timestamps on the videos on ProPublica have been cross-referenced with times from The New York Times reporting. As the precision of video upload times is 60 seconds, so is the margin of error — about one minute. This explicit narrative may not be suitable for all.

4:26 pm

The first Parler video (extremely graphic content) captures several events, but they happen so quickly, one needs to know where to look. Some are partially obscured, so it’s no wonder that the person holding the phone wasn’t aware of the many events unfolding.

At the Capitol building’s west terrace tunnel entry, a handful of rioters attack police stationed with shields. The rioters then beside or walk over Trump supporter Rosanne Boyland, lying on the floor near the left corner after being trampled by the mob. Her friend in a teal sweatshirt, identified by the New York Times as Justin Winchell, attempts to pull her body away from the zone of attack.

Within 30 seconds of the same video, a man wearing a white ballcap and green backpack snatches Capitol police officer Miller, pulling his face down to the ground. Rioters on the steps obscure the camera’s view of Miller being dragged the next 10 feet away from the mouth of the tunnel by the man in the ballcap and another wearing a Caterpillar logoed sweatshirt. The Storyful camera crew does capture this from an opposite angle (graphic content warning) in widely circulated footage, though much of Winchell’s efforts with Boyland are obscured.

Someone near the Parler user watches the scene unfold because off-camera, we hear, “There you go! There you go!”

There is plenty of ignorance both near and far from the action. In the same frame of view in the first Parler video is a goateed man who faces the opposite direction, witnessing nothing. And just 10 feet away, a man in a brown knit cap carrying what appears to be a very expensive professional video camera advances towards the tunnel, and oblivious to both the brutal violence against Miller and Boyland’s death.

Simultaneously, a portly man wearing a red tank top tries to get a better view of the progress to smash the glass in one of the buildings’ windows. Others standing within earshot take selfies, either unaware or unfazed by the carnage.

A few yards away from the steps may have just as well been a mile as we see from the vantage point of a second Parler video, uploaded simultaneously from the Capitol's steps on the left terrace, about 50 feet away. The clueless man, wearing a “45” knit cap, complains that “innocent people exercising their right to free speech” are being tear-gassed by police.

A composite of this first minute from four different vectors has been published on YouTube.

4:27 pm

As recorded in the first Parler video, two people join Winchell to carry Boyland’s body from the tunnel. The New York Times reports that they will attempt CPR. Still, in a third Parler video, a user narrates his view from the Capitol building steps, approximately 100 feet from the tunnel. The man captures people shuffling slowly down the steps, casually sitting on folding chairs, and checking their phones as he praises, “These are the people I’m proud of. Good people.” Over chants of “USA” from the tunnel mob, he describes them as “having the balls to stand up and do something, if it’s nothing more than to protest.”

Back at the mouth of the tunnel, from the point of view of a fourth Parler video, we see that protesting is defined as the thrashing of poles towards the ground, where Officer Miller lays still — though towering shoulders obscure him on the steps. Simultaneously, rioters have grabbed hold of a second officers’ leg, trying to pull him down the steps too. Though they are unsuccessful, over the next 45 seconds, rioters on the steps continue to assault police with crutches, signs, poles, and bottles.

4:28 pm

Towards the end of the fourth video, some in the crowd advance towards Miller, telling rioters to stop the attack. Peter Stager, the Arkansas man arrested for beating Miller with the flagpole, ascends the stairs, presumably to assist rioters who need help dragging the second officer from the tunnel.

In a fifth video recorded at the same time, a Parler user who claims to be a pastor interviews a man who allegedly witnessed the shooting of rioter Ashli Babbit, who stormed the Capitol building earlier in the day. The pastor puts his hand on the man’s head and prays that the “mighty name of Jesus will protect him.”

Meanwhile, back at the tunnel, a man in a black hoodie captures the crowd’s attention as he strikes the window to the left of the tunnels’ steps with a baseball bat. In this sixth Parler user video, we see both the camera holder and much of the crowd witness the destruction to the window from his elevated perch, but not much else over tall shoulders. Within twenty seconds, the crowd howls with excitement as the bat smashes through the glass.

Multiple viewpoints from 4:28 pm include selfies, destruction, attack, and a sea of ignorance (Author screengrabs from public video)

But neither the Parler user, not the mob can see that Boyland lays on the ground below him. As this unfolds, the man in the brown knit cap with his expensive video camera standing inches away is disinterested in the destruction above him. His lens is instead trained on the ground. He is, of course, filming Boyland.

All the while, a bearded man wearing a red MAGA cap standing directly beside the window video’s the glass breaking. Another MAGA cap comes into frame, this rioter seemingly bewildered — finding nothing of interest in the mountain of shoulders around him.

Who else appears to be bored? Why, that’s the man still recording the sixth video, as he haphazardly pans around the crowd, looking for something interesting to film. The lens briefly focuses on a person viewing their phone screen, perhaps checking emails. Whatever it is, it’s more enticing than the riotous crowd 20 feet beyond in the unfocused distance where we can barely make out the Caterpillar logo on the sweatshirt of a person who assaulted Officer Miller on the stairs.

The camera then spins violently in an unfocused blur before ending. Amid the sea of red caps, shoulders, and selfies, there is nothing more of interest in the camera holder’s field of view.

Ignorance is not bliss

Some in the mob might have seen a protest, others a riot. Some perceive only what they choose to see filtered through the aperture of a selfie. This analysis does not absolve those at the Capitol building who witnessed little if no violence. But this does suggest an explanation for the collective ignorant and hysterical blindness.

Peaceful protest or riot? We now know that this most certainly was a riot, brimming with destruction, brutality, and death. But many sneezed — literally, metaphorically, willfully — and completely missed it.

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David Leibowitz

Written by

Breaker of treadmills. Contributions in XBOX Mag, Forbes, CNN, OneZero & industry rags. @ retail, CPG, health/wellness, education, culture & tech.

Digital Diplomacy

Tech, digital, and innovation, at the intersection with policy, government, and social good.

David Leibowitz

Written by

Breaker of treadmills. Contributions in XBOX Mag, Forbes, CNN, OneZero & industry rags. @ retail, CPG, health/wellness, education, culture & tech.

Digital Diplomacy

Tech, digital, and innovation, at the intersection with policy, government, and social good.