Tags: Homeland Security | gyrocopter | reporter | Capitol | video | mailman | arrested

Reporter Knew of Gyrocopter Pilot's Capitol Hill Plan

By    |   Wednesday, 15 April 2015 07:52 PM

A reporter for the Tampa Bay Times was aware of the plan by a postal worker to fly a gyrocopter onto the Capitol grounds, and even produced a video about him before the man left for Washington, D.C.

Reporter Ben Montgomery told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" on Wednesday that Doug Hughes, 61, had informed him of his plan to deliver 535 letters addressed to members of Congress to advocate for campaign finance reform.

"He's been thinking for a very long time about a very boring issue, campaign finance reform," Montgomery said. "His mission was to do something big, a sort of a mix of P.T. Barnum and Paul Revere."

Story continues below video.

Hughes' intent was to deliver a copy of his letter to every member of the Senate and House of Representatives about the corrupting influence of money in politics. But he was well aware he might not succeed and might even be killed, Montgomery said.

In the video, Hughes admits, "No sane person would do what I'm doing." He says he has carefully planned his flight so no one will get hurt, especially himself.

"I'm not suicidal, and I'm not going to commit suicide," he said.

Hughes took off about an hour north of Washington, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He notified authorities about his flight just before taking off to avoid being shot down, but did not give enough notice that they could stop him from reaching the Capitol.

He assumed he would have a Blackhawk helicopter as an escort, Montgomery told CNN.

"I'm not going to fly into any monuments. Terrorists don't announce their flights before they take off. Terrorists don't broadcast their flight path," Hughes says in the video.

"Terrorists don't invite an escort to go along with them. I have got a plane, a gyroplane, and I'm going to fly it. I'm going to violate the no-fly zone nonviolently and for nobody to get hurt."

Hughes said he was delivering the letters straight to members of Congress not for their own sake, but for the impact it would have with the public.

"I'm trying to galvanize millions of people to do a relatively simple thing: Change the government to build a wall of separation between the government and big money so that government will represent the people," Hughes said.

There are plenty of problems much more important than campaign finance reform, Hughes acknowledged, but he argued that none of them will be addressed until "we fix campaign finance reform."

In the end, Hughes did not get an escort and simply flew undetected onto the West Lawn of the Capitol, where he was promptly arrested. Authorities said he likely would have been shot down if he had flown much closer to the Capitol building.

The Tampa Bay Times called the Secret Service before Hughes landed to see if it was aware of Hughes' plan, and was directed to call the Capitol Police, Montgomery reported on the Times' website. The Capitol Police said they had no knowledge of Hughes' intentions.

Hughes' friend and co-worker Mike Shanahan also alerted the Secret Service that Hughes might be making his long-talked-about attempt Wednesday.

Shanahan said he "didn't want to get all of D.C. in an uproar and [have] it turn out he was just practicing or something or he was just pulling my leg."

Hughes and Shanahan were interviewed by the Secret Service a year ago, after Hughes got into a political spat with a relative, Montgomery said. Hughes was truthful about his plan, but gave no specifics to the agent, he said.

Hughes began his plan about two-and-half years ago, inspired by the suicide of his grown son, who had driven his car into another vehicle, Montgomery told CNN.

"He told us that he felt like his son did something stupid, but he had made a point," Montgomery said. "I wrestle with this a lot. We thought long and hard about whether Doug had a death wish. And ultimately, I didn't think so."

Hughes bought the gyrocopter for $5,500 and put $1,000 worth of parts into it, Montgomery said. It had a U.S. Postal Service logo on the tail, though it is not known to be connected to Hughes' job as a postal carrier.

"I don't believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 60-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle," Hughes says in the video. "I'm going to give them plenty of warning."

Ultimately, Hughes said, he didn't want to see his country go down the tubes.

"I have thought about walking away from this whole thing, because it's crazy. And I have thought about being 75 years old and watching the collapse of this country and thinking that I had an idea that might have arrested the fall and I didn't do it," he said. "And I will tell you completely honestly, I'd rather die in the flight than live to be 80 years old and see this country fall."

Rep. Ed Royce told CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," that the incident will likely lead to tighter security to defend the Capitol.

Royce said that instead of delivering a demonstration, someone on such a device could have had a bomb or some other weapon.

"That is why this is such a disaster in terms of the ability to apprehend him … or turn him back in terms of that airspace" he said.

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A reporter for the Tampa Bay Times was aware of the plan by a postal worker to fly a gyrocopter onto the Capitol grounds, and even produced a video about him before the man left for Washington, D.C.
gyrocopter, reporter, Capitol, video, mailman, arrested
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 07:52 PM
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