Politics

What Did Josh Hawley’s Jan. 6 Fist Pump Really Mean? We Asked the Photographer Who Got the Shot.

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You took maybe the most iconic picture of Jan. 6 — and it didn’t show Trump, members of the mob, or violence. Why do you think the picture resonated so much?

Well, I think it’s because it’s one of, if not the only, images at least from the Capitol of a lawmaker appearing to show support or solidarity with the Trump supporters who were gathered outside — at the time peacefully, but we did see what happened not long after that. It’s a lawmaker appearing to show support for, possibly, some of the same people who shortly thereafter stormed the Capitol.

It’s interesting that the picture was also kind of embraced by both sides. A lot of people looked at it and saw this feckless senator encouraging lawlessness. But Hawley himself put it on a mug. You’ve shot pictures of politics for a long time — have you ever had this sort of two-track experience, where people with very different views are embracing the same photograph?

No, no other picture I’ve shot has had quite as strange a life, in part due to its resonance with people on all sides. It seems to have served an instrumental purpose for very different people, including Hawley himself and including us in the press. We’re simply trying to report on the events of that day, as we always do, and then those on the left, those on the right, those in the center have their reactions. I can’t think of another picture of mine that was mobilized and in such diametrically opposing ways.

Set the scene for me.

I was outside. I was on the east side of the Capitol, ahead of the joint session to certify the election results. The reason I was outside is I basically didn’t have access to anything going on inside that day. This was during the pandemic, when there were a lot of restrictions inside the Capitol anyway. I was outside just to do what I could, which was to see who gathers out there in terms of protesters and catch any lawmakers arriving.

On that side of the Capitol, there was a security perimeter. I’d been out there maybe an hour or two hours before the Hawley arrival. And there was a decent amount of Trump supporters gathered there, but it had been quite subdued for the whole morning or earliest part of the afternoon. The Ellipse event with Trump was still going on. Many, if not most, of the supporters were still down there so it wasn’t a huge crowd. And honestly, they were not very lively. I don’t even think there were many chants or anything. It was quite cold. It just wasn’t a lot of energy yet.

At one point a motorcade came through. Due to the black SUVs, I thought it might be Vice President Pence. At that point, I was standing pretty far away, kind of near the security perimeter, shooting protesters because I think there was some reaction to the motorcade. And then Hawley suddenly became visible walking south from the Senate side of the Capitol towards the House side, which of course is where the joint session was going to happen.

I think he may have been the first and only lawmaker I saw outside that day. Given that that was one of the things I was trying to get, and having known that he was one of the first lawmakers to say he was going to vote against certification, he was definitely on the shortlist of people I would have been interested in. So I ran over towards him, literally, and then caught up to him, shot a bunch of frames, of which, of course, the fist pump is the one that I filed [to my editors]. He waved and did a few other things. But the fist pump was the most important sign of, shall we say, solidarity with those who had been gathered there. And from what I remember, people did seem to be excited to see him. Anyone who follows the news knew that he had been someone who had publicly announced he was going to vote against certifications. I think it was a moment when the energy of the crowd did increase. There was cheering. He wasn’t very close to the crowd, but to my recollection, it seemed to liven people up.

I took a few more photos of the crowd and then went in to file in one of the House office buildings where I had access, because I thought this Hawley shot might be something that would be newsworthy.

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