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Timeline of White House Gate Crashers, Fence Jumpers, Air-borne Intrusions

whitehouseAn intruder into the US Presidential palace the White House on Friday evening hours after the US First family left the building, caused furore about the security of the US President and the occupants of the White House.

In fact, visits, intrusions and security breaches are not new at the White House, which is protected by the United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police, while the NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) is used to guard air space over Washington, D.C. since 2005.

Here are the most intriguing incidents of intrusions or security breaches at the White House in the past 50 years:

Gate Crashers:

1973: A driver had crashed through a gate onto the White House grounds, the nineteenth-century.

1974: Marshall Fields, on Christmas Day in 1974, who claimed he was the Messiah, crashed his Chevrolet Impala through the Northwest Gate of the White House Complex and drove up to the North Portico. He had flares strapped to his body, which he told SS to detonate but was subdued after 4 hours of talks. In response, the nineteenth-century, wrought-iron gates were replaced with reinforced gates in 1976.

1976: On December 1, 1976, Steven B. Williams became the first would-be intruder to test the new, strengthened gates. He rammed the Northwest Gate with his pickup truck at approximately 25 miles per hour. The gate did not buckle and the front of Williams’ truck was flattened. Since then, many have tried but failed to crash through gates onto the White House grounds. On at least one occasion, a driver attempted to enter the Complex through a gate opened for another vehicle, but he too was unsuccessful, said a report by the SS.

1985: On January 20, 1985, the day that President Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term, an intruder named Robert Latta entered the White House with the Marine Band and wandered around the Executive Mansion for 15 minutes before he was discovered and apprehended.

Fence Jumpers:

In recent history, it has been a common occurrence for intruders to scale the fence around the White House Complex and enter the grounds. Most of these “fence jumpers” have been pranksters, peaceful protestors, and harmless, mentally ill individuals.

1976: Chester Plummer, a local taxi driver with a criminal history, scaled the White House fence carrying a 3-foot length of metal pipe. As he advanced toward the White House, he was confronted by an EPS officer, who shot him dead.

1978: Anthony Henrywho wanted to persuade President Carter that it was blasphemous to place the words “In God We Trust” on United States currency, wearing a white karate suit and carrying a Bible, climbed over the White House fence onto the north grounds. When confronted, he pulled a knife from inside the Bible and slashed one officer’s face and another’s arm but was apprehended.

1975: In December 1975, Gerald Gainous roamed the grounds for an hour and a half and approached President Ford’s daughter while she unloaded camera equipment from her car.

1991: In 1991, Gustav Leijohhufved, a Swedish citizen, was not apprehended until he reached a guard post outside the West Wing. Neither of these men were armed, however.

1997: The only armed fence jumpers have been Plummer and Henry, although an intruder threatened a Uniformed Division officer with a water pistol in 1977.

Air Intrusions:

1974: A stolen Army helicopter landed without authorization on the White House grounds, posing the challenge from the skies for the White House, which was otherwise secured on the ground.

1994: Twenty years later, a light plane crashed on the White House grounds, and the pilot died instantly.

2005: An unauthorized aircraft tried to approach the ground at the White House triggering evacuation of the White House and beefing up the air traffic security.

External Threats:

John Tyler Administration (1841-1845). Perhaps the only instance in which an assailant standing outside the White House fence almost succeeded in harming a President who was inside the White House Complex occurred in the early 1840s, when an intoxicated painter threw stones at President John Tyler as he strolled on the south grounds. Another dangerous episode transpired in 1841, after Tyler vetoed the bill establishing the Second Bank of the United States. An inflamed and intoxicated Whig mob, enraged by Tyler’s action, marched to the White House. Standing outside the locked gates, they threw stones, fired guns, and burned the President in effigy. This was the most violent demonstration ever to occur at the White House Complex.

The Bonus Army (June 1930). In 1930, in the midst of the Great Depression, 20,000 veterans descended on Washington, D.C., demanding that Congress release their service bonuses early. The Secret Service was concerned that this “Bonus Army” would resort to violence and detailed large numbers of extra personnel to guard the White House. Although the veterans focused most of their attention on the Capitol, on the night of June 20, a large group gathered near the White House. As this crowd watched, police attempted to arrest two demonstrators who were marching along the north fence on Pennsylvania Avenue. The demonstrators resisted, and the angry throng surged toward the officers. Ultimately, however, the riot feared by the Secret Service did not occur.

David Mahonski (April 1984). Since 1950, at least four people considered to be serious threats to the President have been apprehended in the vicinity of the White House carrying a weapon. One of these arrests involved a violent confrontation. In 1984, David Mahonski, who had made threats against President Reagan, was under surveillance by both the FBI and the Secret Service. On March 3 of that year, Uniformed Division officers noticed him standing outside the fence bordering the south grounds of the White House. As they approached him, he pulled a sawed-off shotgun from under his coat. One of the officers immediately shot Mahonski in the arm with a revolver. The officers then arrested him.

Air Incursions:

Robert K. Preston (February 1974). On February 17, 1974, Robert Preston, a private in the Army, stole an Army helicopter from Fort Meade, Maryland, and flew it to the White House Complex. He passed over the Executive Mansion and then returned to the south grounds, where he hovered for about 6 minutes and touched down briefly approximately 150 feet from the West Wing. Members of the EPS did not know who was piloting the aircraft and were not aware that it had been stolen from Fort Meade. They made no attempt to shoot down the helicopter.

Preston left the area of the White House and flew the helicopter back toward Fort Meade. He was chased by two Maryland State Police helicopters, one of which he forced down through his erratic maneuvers. Preston then returned to the White House Complex. As he lowered himself to about 30 feet above the south grounds, EPS officers barraged the helicopter with shotgun and submachine gunfire. Preston immediately set the riddled aircraft down. He was injured slightly.

Samuel Byck (February 1974). Samuel Byck, a failed businessman with a history of mental illness, was investigated by the Secret Service in 1972 on the basis of reports that he had threatened President Nixon. In 1974, he hatched a plan called “Operation Pandora’s Box” to hijack a commercial airliner and crash it into the Executive Mansion. On February 22, less than a week after the Preston incident, Byck went to Baltimore/Washington International Airport carrying a pistol and a gasoline bomb. He forced his way onto a Delta flight destined for Atlanta by shooting a guard at the security checkpoint. He entered the cockpit and ordered the crew to take off. After the crew informed him that they could not depart without removing the wheel blocks, Byck shot the pilot twice and the co-pilot three times (the co-pilot died). Police outside the airplane shot into the cockpit and hit Byck twice. Byck fell to the floor, put the revolver to his head, and killed himself.

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