A congressman’s claims that “pro-terrorist,” “pro-Hamas” protesters pepper-sprayed police and attempted to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington on Wednesday night are incorrect, according to a journalist who covered and recorded the protest.
About 150 protesters organized by progressive groups gathered outside a fundraiser at the DNC to demand a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. They laid out electric candles to symbolize the more than 11,000 Palestinians who have been killed in Gaza since Israel began a bombing campaign after a surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. A group of the protesters were seen engaged in civil disobedience by linking arms and blocking the entrance to the DNC.
Their goal “was for people inside the building to come out and see our peaceful vigil and hear our songs and requests for a ceasefire,” IfNotNow, a progressive Jewish group, said in a statement. “We had a team prepared to speak with congress people on their way out, while the rest of us intended to continue singing and praying.” IfNotNow had organized the protest with Jewish Voices for Peace Action and the Democratic Socialists of America.
However, videos show U.S. Capitol Police officers forcefully removing protesters from the building’s entrance.
When Semafor reporter Dave Weigel, who was outside the DNC covering and recording video of the protest, got home that night, he was surprised to see a social media post from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) claiming that “pro-terrorist, anti-#Israel,” “pro-terrorist” protesters had pepper-sprayed police officers and tried to break into the DNC.
Sherman repeated his claim that protesters had pepper-sprayed police officers in a CNN interview on Wednesday night. Anchor Abby Phillip initially noted that she did not know who deployed the pepper spray but later repeated, without additional evidence, U.S. Capitol Police claims that protesters had sprayed officers.
Sherman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I had eyes on the door the whole time,” Weigel told HuffPost in an interview. Protesters “were standing in front of the door, they were trying to block the door. They were not trying to break in.”
“When people try to break into the building, they usually don’t have their backs turned to the door,” Weigel added.
Video posted by Weigel and protest organizers show demonstrators standing side-by-side with their arms linked and their backs facing the entrance, singing “Which Side Are You On?” More than 24 hours after the protest, no video or signs of an attempted break-in have emerged, Weigel noted.
Weigel added that although he could not account for every protester present, he did not see any protester deploy pepper spray against a police officer. He did, however, see the police use pepper spray, which has been documented in photos.
U.S. Capitol Police tweeted on Wednesday that it responded to people “illegally and violently” protesting near the DNC and evacuated all lawmakers. The police said that six officers were treated for injuries ranging “from minor cuts to being pepper sprayed to being punched” and that one person was arrested for assaulting an officer. Because of how pepper spray disperses, it is possible that police officers could have been injured by their own pepper spray.
IfNotNow spokesperson Eva Borgwardt said in a statement on Wednesday that Sherman was “spreading dangerous and reckless misinformation about our nonviolent movement.”
“Calling hundreds of progressive Jews fighting for peace, many of whom have family members in Israel, ’pro-Hamas’ is beyond the pale and the Congressman should apologize for his remarks,” Borgwardt said.
House Democratic leaders said in a statement that some protesters “exceeded a peaceful demonstration” but did not echo Sherman’s allegations of an attempt to break into the building.
Weigel, who has extensively covered political protests, noted that the groups that organized this demonstration “are known quantities” that do not have a reputation of engaging in violence.
Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, in which an estimated 1,200 Israelis were killed and more than 200 were taken hostage, Israel has engaged in a devastating bombing campaign and ground operations in Gaza. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, including an estimated 4,600 children. The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, where supply shortages are so dire that doctors have been forced to remove premature babies from incubators and civilians in the Palestinian enclave face starvation.
A majority of people in the U.S. support a cease-fire, according to recent polling, but just 24 members of Congress signed a Wednesday letter urging President Joe Biden to work to establish a cease-fire. The president has repeatedly rejected calls for a cease-fire, despite hundreds of administration employees urging him to do so.
IfNotNow plans to continue protesting, the group said in a statement. “People of all faiths and backgrounds will continue as long as we need in order to pressure our elected officials to take action to save lives.”