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Friday, October 21, 2016

By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Business has returned to normal at the U.S. Capitol — or, at least, as normal as it might be after a man landed a gyrocopter just outside the building Wednesday in an apparent protest demanding campaign finance reform.

The tiny aircraft flew in low over the National Mall, whizzing past a row of trees and a statue of Ulysses S. Grant, as a group of onlookers stood by. Both houses of Congress were in session at the time.

Capitol Police said they detained Douglas Hughes of Ruskin, Fla., after he landed the craft on the West Lawn of the Capitol about 1:30 p.m. He has been moved to a cellblock, and charges against him are pending, they said.

The pilot was the only one on board the gyrocopter, said Shennell Antrobus, a police spokesman. A bomb squad found nothing hazardous on the craft, so it was moved to a “secure location,” police said.

Hughes claimed responsibility for the stunt on a website dedicated to what he called an act of civil disobedience. According to the site, Hughes aimed to personally deliver 535 letters by “air mail” to members of Congress. “The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself,” Hughes writes in a letter, posted by the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion.”

Hughes said he was aware of the risk of being shot down as he approached the Capitol. “There is no way I can prevent overreaction by the authorities,” Hughes wrote, “but I have given them as much information and advance warning as my fuel supply allows.” Hughes added that before taking off, he had sent an email to President Barack Obama to try to convince authorities that “I am not a threat and that shooting me down would be a bigger headache than letting me deliver these letters.”

He took off more than an hour away from the no-fly zone over Washington, he wrote.

In 2013, Hughes was visited by Secret Service agents, Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said in an email.

“On October 4, 2013, the Secret Service obtained information from a concerned citizen about an individual purporting their desire to land a single manned aircraft on the grounds of the United States Capitol or the White House,” Leary said in an email. “That same day, the information was reported to law enforcement partners at the U.S. Capitol Police.”

Leary said the individual, whom he did not identify, was located and interviewed the following day in Ruskin.

The Secret Service had no prior warning Wednesday about the pilot’s plans, Leary said.

About an hour before the aircraft landed at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Times published a story about Hughes, who had told the paper he planned to fly to Congress in his gyrocopter.

“If you’re reading this, Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from Ruskin, has taken flight,” said the Tampa Bay Times story, which was published at 12:11 p.m. local time. Hughes’ goal was to personally deliver a message to Congress to draw attention to the issue of campaign finance reform, the report said.

In a statement released after Hughes landed, the Tampa Bay Times told CNN that Hughes had contacted reporter Ben Montgomery last summer and discussed his plans to fly to the Capitol. The newspaper confirmed with Hughes and a co-worker that they had both been interviewed by the Secret Service at work.

In preparation for the mailman’s attempt, the Times sent Montgomery and a photographer to Washington. Montgomery tweeted photos of the aircraft, which appeared to hover over the heads of unsuspecting pedestrians.

Shortly after Hughes’ streaming of the flight went live, the newspaper published the story, it said. About an hour later, the paper called Capitol Police and the Secret Service to ask whether they were aware of Hughes’ flight; they said they were not. The gyrocopter landed a half hour later.

According to the website, which is registered to a Douglas Hughes of Ruskin, Fla., Hughes is married, has four children and has been flying gyrocopters for more than a year.

He grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., and lives with his wife and 11-year-old daughter, he wrote.

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot did not have authorization to fly there and had not contacted FAA air-traffic controllers to inform them of his flight. “Airspace security rules that cover the Capitol and the District of Columbia prohibit private aircraft flights without prior coordination and permission,” the statement said.

The pilot could face civil and criminal penalties for flying near the Capitol, which is considered part of a national defense airspace. The FAA said it was working with aviation security partners in Washington to investigate the incident.

A White House spokesman said Obama, who was attending a town hall event in Charlotte, N.C., had been briefed on the incident.

The U.S. Postal Service confirmed that Hughes is employed as a rural letter carrier. The agency’s Office of Inspector General is “in contact” with postal management about the incident, a Postal Service representative said in an email.

(Times staff writer Ryan Parker contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter March 17, 2015, near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla. Hughes wants to shine a spotlight on campaign finance reform, so he wrote a letter of protest to every member of Congress with the intent to deliver them by flying through the no-fly zone and landing in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

  • bobnstuff

    Does anyone else think he is a hero? He put his life on the line to try to right a wrong. Our Congress should take a page out of his book and do something to make government for all the people not just the rich.

    • Eleanore Whitaker

      He obviously doesn’t think his life is worth much to try and pull off a stunt he knew was going to fail…If you want to stop the rich from taking over your government…start by not voting for the Koch GOP…they are desperate to hand the presidency to Charles and David Koch for the millions Koch money will buy for their right to the White House.

      • bobnstuff

        If I was going to be crazy enough to try a stunt like this one I think I would choose the Auto Gyro. It would be hard to knock down and small enough to get past the radar. Half the drones are bigger then it. I think it’s the Gyro copter that makes it so cool. Until we stop the money equals speech and corporations are people rules we are in trouble.

    • charleo1

      Call me weird too brother! But I think he deserves a medal. Why? Because he cared enough to risk his own freedom, in order to try to draw attention to a matter that threatens all our freedoms. Of course, campaign finance reform is
      not what the news organizations are talking about. But when do they ever?
      No, they’re beating the drum again about the lack of security in Washington.
      While the pols are now openly joking about their huge Super Pacs. Just not the huge strings being pulled by some of the wealthiest ideologues in the Country.
      That have absolutely nothing in common with vast majority of everyone else.
      BTW. Douglas Hughes was released from custody without bail earlier today. With some issues yet to settle with the FAA, and Homeland Security. But, I see
      no lengthy investigations in his future. Lest the purpose of his mission might become impossible to officially ignore.

      • bobnstuff

        You got to love this guy. I truly hope he gets away with nothing more then a slap on the wrist. He’s my new hero.

        • charleo1

          Yes, I think we should love this guy. He did what he did, not to harm, but to, as I see it, exercise his Constitutional Right to petition his government for redress. And, he did so in about the only direct way left available to ordinary citizens today. Unless you happen to win one of them donation contests they keep pushing. “Come have dinner with me in Washington Charley!”
          Sure! Fact is, he did Homeland a big favor. How many terrorists
          do we suppose were sitting around going, huh, who knew we
          could do that? Now they can’t. They ought to thank Mr. Hughes

  • Bren Frowick

    They should have shot the stupid SOB. Next time, it could be a different kind of nut, with a copter full of explosives. He should consider himself damn lucky if he gets away with a long prison sentence.

  • Daniel Jones

    I’m sure he risked getting shot, down, but at least he warned ahead. The part that ticks me off is he did a voter rant but is now ineligible to vote.


    • Eleanore Whitaker

      What voter rant? He isn’t going to change anyone’s mind up north. All he’s done now is created yet another reason to get rid of the drawling, swaggering Mutton Chops Koch clones.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    He is not a hero…He’s just another redneck out to show he can break laws. What the hell is with these middle aged lunatics who think they can just break laws and push the envelope?

    It figures a hick from Florida would pull off this stupid “ignernt” stunt. This is just more proof of why he should NEVER be allowed to vote. This piece of trailer trash forgets that he isn’t the only member of society in this country.

    I’m hoping Bubba will take good “care” of him while he’s in jail.

    • bobnstuff

      He is a government employee who cared enough to try, as fool hardy as it my be, to get peoples attention. One small step but at least he is trying to make a
      difference. The bravest part was flying that powered lawn chair for 80 miles.

  • bobnstuff

    I just checked and he is facing a fine of between $10,000 and $100,000. No jail time
    and since he has no license he can’t loose it.

  • ralphkr

    Sonofoagun, this rural mail carrier appears to be flying an official USPS craft. Note the tail plane colors & the USPS Eagle. It is as if he cut a panel out of the side of a USPS truck & used it for his gryrocopter to deliver mail to the Capitol. Just an unauthorized attempt to expedite mail delivery. Anyone else remember when mail was delivered twice a day (you could set your clock by the mailman because the routes were all set up so he had to take numerous breaks so he would not be early), Special Delivery mail was delivered seven days a week early morning and late evening (or whenever mail arrived in town)?