The American people have been led to believe that the U.S. Capitol is the most secure airspace in the country especially following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the nation that almost took out the White House and Congress – and they couldn’t be more wrong.
Proof was supplied on Wednesday when a Florida man used remote control to fly a gyrocopter – capable of carrying a pilot – from the Lincoln Memorial at one end of the Capitol Mall to the other end before landing the craft on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
It could have been loaded with explosives, deadly pathogens or even nuclear material but not this time. Rather, it carried 535 letters protesting campaign finance laws addressed to every member of Congress.
And while some might describe the stunt as an effective way to bring attention to a weighty public issue, the Capitol police, Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and clandestine security forces weren’t impressed.
Upon arrival at the scene, Capitol Police arrested Florida resident Doug Hughes while the Capitol Police bomb squad inspected the aircraft declaring it harmless. Authorities removed the craft from the Capitol grounds to a secure location.
In a statement shortly after the incident, the Capitol Police said “the U.S. Capitol Police continues to investigate with one person detained and temporary street closures in the immediate area,”
According to Ben Montgomery reporting for the Tampa Bay Times, Hughes, who works for the U.S. Post Office, transported his gyrocopter from Florida to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where it took flight at noon landing at the Capitol building about 90 minutes later. Hughes protest letters read in part:
“I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion in a manner consistent with Jefferson’s description of rights in the Declaration of Independence”…”As a member of Congress, you have three options. You may pretend corruption does not exist. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform. You may actively participate in real reform.”
Hughes did not conduct his protest without warning. Reports indicate that Hughes notified the U.S. Secret Service of his plan and was questioned about it by service agents last year. Hughes added:
“I don’t believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 61-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle”…”I don’t have any defense, okay, but I don’t believe that anybody wants to personally take responsibility for the fallout.”
The Capitol Police is leading the investigation with the assistance of the FBI who will carry out a search of Hughes’ home outside of Tampa.
Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement that it is working to investigate the incident. According to airspace security rules that govern the National Capitol Area, private aircraft flights are barred without prior coordination and permission from the FAA that was not obtained in this instance.