Reporter Recounts What He Saw Covering 2020 Riots

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The corporate media lied that the riots across America during the summer of 2020 essentially were “fiery, but mostly peaceful.” Americans, however, watched in horror as places such as Portland, Seattle, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, burned while radical leftists swarmed the streets.

Through it all, though, one journalist braved the mobs.

Townhall’s Julio Rosas spent much of 2020 moving around the country, capturing footage of rioters as they looted stores, fought police, and, of course, burned buildings.

Rosas is the author of the new book “Fiery (But Mostly Peaceful): The 2020 Riots and the Gaslighting of America.”

Rosas joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his book and reveal the truth that the media won’t tell you about the riots. We also cover these stories:

  • The Labor Department reports that inflation dipped to 8.3% from 8.5% in March, as measured by the the consumer price index, but that Americans likely will continue to see high inflation.
  • Pro-abortion activists make their way to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco, accusing Democrats of being “complicit” in the likely repeal of Roe v. Wade.
  • Hong Kong’s national security police arrest Cardinal Joseph Zen and several others on charges of colluding with foreign forces to undermine China’s national security.
  • New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that over 107,000 Americans died last year of opioid overdoses, a record high.

Listen to the podcast below, or read the lightly edited transcript.

Doug Blair: My guest today is Julio Rosas, senior writer at Townhall and author of the new book “Fiery (But Mostly Peaceful): The 2020 Riots and the Gaslighting of America.” Julio, welcome to the show.

Julio Rosas: Well, thanks for having me, Doug.

Blair: I am very excited to have this interview because this was a topic that I think was completely botched by the mainstream media, and it affected so much about how we viewed their coverage of these types of events, but it also viewed how we were trusting this coverage of things in general. You were at a lot of these riots that happened back in 2020. Can you paint us a picture of what most of these riots looked like?

Rosas: Well, for the riot portion, usually when it comes to these things, overall it’s a very fluid situation, just no matter what. Because when we have lots of people out and they’re emotional, a lot of things can happen. So, there were protests. This is one of the things, like, “What about the peaceful protests?” No, there were, but this is what you were looking to earlier, is that there were also riots.

So, with riots, I mean, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. With my background growing up in Wheaton, Illinois—that’s where Wheaton College is at, suburbs, 45 minutes south of Chicago—it was great. It was a good life in terms of that, because it’s not like we’re in a Third World country. But when it came to places like Minneapolis—and Minneapolis, to date, for me, is the worst riot I covered in terms of scale, in terms of damage, in terms of just chaoticness.

Because what I talk about in the book, actually, at the very beginning, was I had covered Antifa-Proud Boy faceoffs in Portland, Oregon. That’s not necessarily a riot, per se. It’s just a giant street brawl. But you go a couple blocks away, and everything’s just kind of going normal.

But with Minneapolis, for example, I had to figure out, “Oh, wait.” So, I flew in from Los Angeles because that’s where I was staying during the COVID lockdowns. I was thinking, “Oh, wait.” I had to figure out how am I going to get from the airport to my hotel and how I’m going to get from the hotel down to south Minneapolis, which [was] the epicenter … for everything.

So, I had to hit up a local contact, and I had a friend and he helped pick me up. But even something as simple as what we considered a normal society of, “Oh, yeah, if you go to an airport, there’s going to be public transportation with a taxi, Uber,” there was none of that. There was nothing running because everyone was scared.

I mean, by the time I got there, that was Day Three of riots. Things calmed down during the day, but then at night, things turned up. So, people were really just bracing and preparing for that Thursday night. The Thursday night that I was there, that’s when the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was ordered to be evacuated and it was set on fire. So, really, overall, when riots happen, it’s just a free-for-all.

Blair: Now, you were there, like I said, so could you maybe talk to us about that night that the precinct was burned down? You were there. I’m assuming you felt the flames, you felt all this stuff. What was that like?

Rosas: Like I said, I’d never seen police officers run. And it wasn’t even because they necessarily wanted to—I’m sure some did. But we later found out that they were ordered to by the mayor, Jacob Frey.

You can imagine. George Floyd died on Sunday, the video went viral that Monday, the following day. Then that very first day when people were protesting and rioting, I mean, literally that first day outside of the police precinct. So, for that entire week, a lot of the anger and a lot of the action and rioting was taking place at the precinct.

But as time went on and people realized, “Oh, we can start getting away with whatever we want because all the police in this area are holed up in this building, because they’re being preoccupied,” that’s when it started to spread out.

That Thursday, it really reached a fever pitch. I mean, I really wish I got it on video, but people were shouting to burn the police station with the officers still inside. They wanted to kill these officers. It quickly became very untenable for them to hold their position, because not only was the front portion of the police station breached, but also the back portion.

Actually, we later found out that they couldn’t open up the gate to let the vehicles out because someone had jammed it. So, when they were getting their vehicles out, they just had to bash the gate out. That’s how dedicated these rioters were to try to kill these guys.

But you could just feel the jubilation within the [Black Lives Matter] crowd once they realized that their actions were really having their desired effect, to, at a minimum, push the cops out of the area. And they did. As soon as the cops left, there was no law enforcement presence at all after that point, and it invigorated them. They said that they wanted to go to the 5th Police Precinct—which was a straight shot west about 2 to 3 miles—so that they could burn that police.

They were just so happy at that moment because they were really trying to accomplish this kind of revolution that they wanted. When we talk about abolishing the police, I’m like, “Well, that kind of already happened,” and it was absolutely disastrous in Minneapolis. Even to this day—and again, talk about it in the book—in the aftermath, it was very, very devastating, especially south Minneapolis.

Blair: I’m curious if you were able to interact with some of the rioters. I have a two-part question. One, did you talk with any of the rioters? Were they willing to speak with you? And then, two, we’ve seen in certain circumstances where reporters for conservative outlets are recognized by some of these people of the leftist persuasion. Like Antifa will generally recognize Andy Ngo when he goes out and does coverage, and they’ll try and—

Rosas: Even people who aren’t Andy Ngo.

Blair: Exactly.

Rosas: They’ll still harass them … because they’re racists.

Blair: Right, right. But were you ever recognized by any of these rioters and pursued?

Rosas: It’s kind of tricky. Obviously, I do want to get people’s perspective on, “Hey, why are you rioting?” But obviously, the next question is, “Well, who are you with?” It’s kind of hard to say, “Well, I’m from Townhall and I go on Fox News every once in a while, so please talk to me.” So, even in a hectic situation like a riot, it is hard just to talk to anybody because they’re too busy rioting, in which case, that’s fine with me because I’ll just film that.

But in terms of getting recognized, no, especially at the very beginning because I’d only been on Fox News once prior to that. That was kind of the benefit of starting out with not having a super large following already, not being like an Andy Ngo off the bat.

I’d covered some Antifa, some Proud Boy stuff prior to that. I mean, I covered Charlottesville back in 2017 during that whole hot mess. But even back then, my coverage, at least on Twitter, didn’t game that much traction because my following was way, way, way smaller.

But covering Charlottesville really solidified my desire to cover these types of events. That’s why I started going there in the first place. But I always joke that I’m glad that mask-wearing was a thing, because I would always just cover up my face.

As time went on and my tweets would go viral and people were reading my stories and going on Fox News a lot more—I mean, there’s literally one point where I was on Fox News every night for a week. Actually, I had to say no to them on the last day of that Friday because I [was] already like, “Look, I need a break.” That was probably my worst interview because my mind was just so melted from everything.

So, I haven’t been recognized in a bad way. I have been accosted once or twice, but it wasn’t because they recognized me. They just saw that I was a reporter.

Blair: So, they were attacking reporters. They didn’t even care if it was a right, left, or center reporter?

Rosas: Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing, even if you’re someone like CNN, as garbage news outlet that is, people still—I mean, that’s not just people on the right. A lot of people on the left also hate CNN.

The example that comes to mind with that was with Brooklyn Center in 2021 after the Daunte Wright situation. I can’t remember her name, but the female CNN reporter, she was being accosted and heckled, and their security guy got hit in the head with a frozen water bottle and knocked him out.

This is what’s so confusing about why the rest of the mainstream media coddles and makes excuses for left-wing rioters and BLM, is that they’re not your friends either. They will attack you just as easily as they’ll attack someone like me or some of my colleagues. It’s not the fact that even if they’re attacking you, you then portray them in an unfair light. It’s just you show what’s happening.

… And that’s what I did, and that’s what a few others did. And obviously, they didn’t like us for that because we were showing what they were actually up to and what they were doing. But then, OK, especially if they’re going to attack you, you should definitely tell the truth of what’s going on. But then, like the title of the book, “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful,” CNN ran in Kenosha [Wisconsin]. I don’t know why, I think it’s just because they really believe that the ends justify the means when it comes to that type of coverage.

Blair: Right. I want to focus on one city in particular. And again, cards on the table, we talked about this a little bit beforehand—I am from Portland, Oregon, so when I was watching this coverage, it really hurt me because I recognized a lot of the places that were getting destroyed.

Did you have the opportunity in writing this book to talk with some of the other residents of these cities, maybe Portland in particular, who just said, “I don’t know what’s going on. What is happening? Why is my city on fire?”

Rosas: Yeah, yeah. Over the course of during my coverage of the riots and then months afterward when I went back to Minneapolis and Kenosha.

But with Portland, specifically, I talked to one gentleman, and his business was located right across the street from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement station, which is a very common target for the local Antifa groups there. Because the ICE officers and the Federal Protective Service, they protect the building, so because after the initial attack they then get pushed back, and so then they start damaging other property that’s left unguarded.

So, his place has been broken into before, windows had been smashed. He told me he was just so beat down from everything, because like I said, that was far from the first time that he had to be out there to shoo people away. He said, “All I want is just sleep.” I mean, just a very basic human need, and he wasn’t getting it because these punks were just constantly trying to pick a fight with federal officers, in the name of anti-fascism.

So, that was one of the hard things with covering the riots. And then in the aftermath, too, because these were ordinary Americans who, in virtually every case, had nothing to do with whatever was causing the riot in the first place, and yet they were bearing the brunt of this anger. You would think a lot of people would be against rioting, but apparently not.

But for me, personally, I just don’t like rioting because I have just seen the negative consequences of it. And then the anger comes when I see, again, people with bigger platforms saying, “Oh, well, it’s not that big of a deal,” or, “It’s just property, there’s insurance,” and just all this other nonsense. A lot of people who say that are privileged with having a stable income. …

Of course, on top of everything was the COVID lockdown. The negative effects from the COVID lockdowns [were] already pronounced for months. And then, even if the business wasn’t burned down, if it was still ransacked, I mean, that’s still thousands of dollars that they might have had, but they didn’t because the government said, “No, you can’t open your business.”

Blair: That reminds me of maybe what the day after would look like. Obviously, we saw a lot of this rioting happening at night, and then the days would be a little more peaceful. What did it look like as you were wandering around? I’m sure you did coverage of this, but were you wandering around the city streets, just in the aftermath of a lot of these riots?

Rosas: It was weird because sometimes it would just be people would still be out and about cleaning up, and people just looking at the damage, and just going about their daily lives. It was kind of quiet, in some regards. It was really the calm before the storm. That was really pronounced in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin.

But for me, the one that really disturbed me the most was Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, which is about an hour northwest of Kenosha, outside of Milwaukee.

That riot happened because there was, pre-George Floyd, a black officer shot a black 17-year-old who had fired a gun and was pointing the gun in the officer’s direction, so he shot in self-defense. The Milwaukee district attorney didn’t charge the black officer with any wrongdoing, because it’s like, “Well, he’s justified.” Well, because this was happening post-George Floyd, there was a riot.

Surprise, surprise. There was, literally, a BLM caravan from Milwaukee, where they started the protest, and made their way to Wauwatosa. As soon as they entered the city limits, that’s when they started attacking buildings. They attacked people’s homes, where people were at home at night. It was really bad in that regard.

But I’d never been to Wauwatosa before, and I had gotten there at night. I got there just as things started to unravel. So, the next morning, … I went to go out and cover the damage and see the rinse and repeat of people repairing, and trying to get interviews with all that.

Wauwatosa is very similar to Wheaton, in where that it’s a suburb. When I was walking these neighborhoods, I was just shocked that I could have been back home in Wheaton. This, literally, could have been my hometown, if the circumstances just apparently happened just south of here. That was really jarring.

There were homes decorated for Thanksgiving, and Halloween, and just all this stuff. Yet, just the night prior, the people were going crazy because of unjustified police action. That was really kind of the start of being black pilled.

In the sense of, I was starting to think that, “Well, it’s starting to get colder now.” They don’t like rioting when it’s cold, but it was still happening. We were past the summer of love. We were into this, now, fall, so it was like, “Is this ever going to stop?”

I was getting really concerned about with the election, because the election was just before that, and how that was going to turn out. I was just really worried about, is there going to be, not even just riots, but is there going to be like a civil war of some kind or an insurgence? I don’t know.

Obviously, we didn’t have that because the election turned out differently and Derek Chauvin was found guilty.

But there were all these points where I was thinking that we were going to fall off a cliff, and we haven’t done that, we’ve kind of pulled back from it a little bit. But we’re in such a worse spot than we were in terms of national unity than prior to 2020. Part of the reason for the book is to talk about, “Here’s what happened in 2020 and here’s this aftermath. And if we continue down this path, it’s not going to be good.”

Blair: I think that this book is so timely, especially since we are still reflecting on the aftermath of those types of things. Are we seeing any data to suggest that the American people are buying that media narrative, that these riots were isolated incidents over a sort of massive sea of peaceful protesting?

Rosas: A little bit. It is a little difficult now because this is now all in the aftermath of Jan. 6, right? It was really frustrating covering that because, right away, as soon as people started going crazy Jan. 6, the media was like, “Oh, yeah, this is a riot.” They had no problem using the riot, but then they took it a step further, using insurrection.

Now we have people saying it’s worse than 9/11, and Pearl Harbor, and all these other things combined. It’s like, “No, it’s not.” It’s a riot, yes, and it’s wrong, yes. But it’s not 9/11. Are you kidding me?

Now the media just finally got the thing that they wanted for all of 2020, which was the Trump supporters rioting. Now, even today, that’s the only thing, with Democrats heading into the midterms, that’s the only thing that they have, is just this investigation. They have nothing else because everything else has just turned terrible under this administration.

Thankfully, a lot of people see through the nonsense that the media was trying to sell them in 2020. But the Jan. 6 riot has been used by the media to kind of recon a lot of what happened the year prior.

Probably one of the best examples of that was actually shortly after Jan. 6, it was The New York Times story, I referenced it in the book. It was a New York Times story about how Republicans are what-abouting Jan. 6 with the BLM riots. But the author of the piece wrote it such as highlighting isolated incidences of property damage.

We’re talking about a minimum $2 billion worth of damage across the country, over many months, sometimes in the same cities multiple times, like Portland. That’s far from being just these isolated examples of just property damage. Also, people died. The official death toll puts it over 20, but I mean, you kind of have to think of who died, maybe, in the aftermath weeks afterward.

But it’s just so aggravating, again, … because Trump supporters rioted for one day, Jan. 6, all of the other stuff doesn’t matter anymore. And I knew that, and that’s why I was kind of angry at the Trump supporters on Jan. 6. Because in that moment I knew, “Oh, my gosh. They just gave this to them on a silver platter.”

All the work I did prior to that on the national stage and national conversation, because before they were trying to ignore it, now they can say, “Yes, this happened, maybe. But it doesn’t matter because Jan. 6.

There’s just so much hypocrisy and just so much double standards with everything. Again, for me, it just goes back to rioting is just—

Blair: It’s bad.

Rosas: … it’s bad.

Blair: Don’t riot.

Rosas: Just don’t riot. It’s very, very, very frustrating. I’ve seen a lot of it.

Blair: As we wrap here, I want to get your opinion on this. As the media is going to clearly be in the tank for these rioters on the left, it seems like we already saw this through the “fiery but mostly peaceful,” weird, trying to whitewash it, that’s always going to be a thing. How do we, as conservatives, respond to that effectively?

Rosas: Buy my book.

Blair: There you go.

Rosas: Well, I say that, but I mean, now more than ever it’s really important to support media companies like Townhall and others who are actually going to be willing to actually just tell the basic truth about these things.

It’s really sad, and I’m not saying this to brag, but I’ve had people come up to me saying, “Oh, you’re a hero,” and, “You’re so awesome.” I appreciate it, but I’m not a hero, I’m just a reporter. But it speaks to just doing the bare minimum of what journalism used to be today, is now you’re all of a sudden this kind of saint almost in people’s eyes, and that’s because the rest of the media has debased themselves.

It’s far from just the riots. It’s the Trump presidency, and all the scandals, and all this other stuff. It happens in big and small ways. People’s faith, understandably, in the rest of the media is very, very lost. For some reason, the people here in the D.C. bubble just think that they’re the ones that are wrong and that they’re going to continue doing it. But even today, really, it’s just, you have to support the news outlets.

Now, it’s not even just news outlet. People support people on Substack. I mean, there’s a reason why those people are popular. It’s no longer about the companies. It’s now more about the individual reporters because you, literally, now, today, unfortunately, you have to seek out these individual people who are willing to actually tell the truth about whatever topic it is.

If that’s where the media is going to go, OK, I’ll be fine, because I’ve worked really hard to make sure that what I report has been accurate, and if it’s not, then correct it and take responsibility for that. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened too much because it’s very simple when you cover a riot. It’s like, “Hey—”

Blair: “Here’s a rioter.”

Rosas: ” … here’s a rioter.” But when it extends to even just something like I’ve been focusing now on the southern boarder, the crisis, and doing that, there’s independent people who do that and are supported. Because again, outside of Fox News, there’s no mega big companies that are really focusing on telling the daily stories. They pop up every once in a while and say, “Hey, OK, now here’s a number,” or something.

So, really, I know it’s tough, but I mean, you have to support the people who are actually going out and doing the work.

Blair: Well, if we want to support it, where can we purchase your book?

Rosas: Amazon. Understandably, if you don’t want to give it to Amazon, you can also go to Barnes & Noble. Also, I think Thrift Books. But you can also go to my website, juliorosas.com. There’s some links there.

[There’s also an] audiobook version and e-book version. If you do buy the audio version, you’ll hear my voice because I’m the one that narrated it. I didn’t want to, just because it was completely new. But it was a slog, but at the same time, well, this is my story.

Blair: It’s your story. You got to go for it.

Rosas: It only makes sense to do it. Now, if Morgan Freeman wanted to narrate it, then that would’ve been fine.

Blair: We’ll keep Mr. Freeman in our minds here. That was Julio Rosas, senior writer at Townhall.com and author of the new book “Fiery (But Mostly Peaceful): The 2020 Riots and the Gaslighting of America.” Julio, thank you so much for your time.

Rosas: Thanks for having me.

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