How a Protest Against Money in Politics was Spun as a Story on Terrorism

Doug Hughes wanted to deliver a message about campaign finance reform. Instead, the media and politicians used his story to talk about security at the White House and Capitol Building.


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Story Transcript

OVERLAPPING NEWS REPORTS: Washington is still reeling over a shocking security lapse here this week–.

Pilot breached Washington’s no-fly zone today–.

What if this happens again tonight–.

Now bad guys know there is a gap in the airspace.

Another stunning reminder that despite billions spent on homeland security after 9/11 the creative and simple can still beat the country’s most complex defenses.

[CAPTION] Last week, Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the front lawn of the Capitol. He was delivering letters to representatives, asking them to get big money out of politics.

DOUG HUGHES, PILOT, MAILMAN: We need to be worried not about whether or not somebody can fly into D.C. We need to be worried about the piles of money that are going into Congress.

[CAPTION] Days earlier, another man named Leo Thornton shot and killed himself in front of the Capitol.

ABC NEWS: Developing tonight, the investigation into the man who killed himself outside the U.S. Capitol.

Witnesses say he was carrying a sign.

He had a sign, and the sign said something about taxing the 1%.

The violence shattered a beautiful spring day and threw the Capitol into a nearly three-hour lockdown.

DAVID SWANSON, WRITER AND ACTIVIST: The media reports the incidents as if they’re apolitical, they’re lone madmen, there’s no message there.

ABC NEWS: Critics say what if he’d been a terrorist with guns or bombs?

SWANSON: There are these two incidents within a few days of a man knowingly risking losing his job and career–.

HUGHES: I 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.

SWANSON: He had 535 messages to deliver to every representative and senator to get the money out of politics.

ABC NEWS: So you have 1920s technology that’s pointing out flaws in a $100 million air defense system. It’s a federal employee committing a felony to point out the flaws in the system.

SWANSON: These were, these were strategic demands for solutions. This wasn’t blind, inarticulate rage. This wasn’t crashing an airplane into the IRS.

HUGHES: I’m delivering the message right to them. Not for their sake, but for the impact.

SWANSON: We saw the reaction in Tunisia when a man burned himself. We saw the reaction to similar incidents in Vietnam in the United States back in the day. But we aren’t told.

HUGHES: 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.

SWANSON: This was demanding change that is quite popular. And it strikes me that those two individuals are representative of thousands more. That there’s a potential out there for passionate, mass action around these radical, serious demands.

[CAPTION] Hughes is scheduled to appear in court later this month. Representatives harangued Capitol Hill security, finally saying Hughes should have been shot out of the sky.


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