A U-haul truck, a Nazi flag and threats to kill the president: What we know about the White House crash

The incident will no doubt be setting off alarm bells around Capitol Hill – coming at a time when lawmakers and government officials have faced growing threats and just two years after Donald Trump supporters succeeding in storming the US Capitol in the January 6 riot. Rachel Sharp reports

Wednesday 24 May 2023 05:37 EDT
<p>A Nazi flag is seen on the ground outside the U-haul van </p>

A Nazi flag is seen on the ground outside the U-haul van

It was a balmy spring night in Washington DC when a U-haul truck suddenly slammed into security gates close to the White House.

The driver, who was allegedly carrying a Nazi flag, then made threatening statements about the building that President Joe Biden calls home.

Now, the male suspect – 19-year-old Sai Varshith Kandula – has been arrested on charges of threatening to kill or harm the president, Vice President Kamala Harris or one of their family members.

The details so far remain scant, with the driver’s possible motive and plans still unclear. According to ABC News, Mr Kandula flew from Missouri to Dulles International Airport, rented the truck and drove towards the White House with intentions of harming the president. Mr Kandula reportedly told law enforcement officers he wanted to take over the government.

The incident will no doubt set off alarm bells around Capitol Hill – coming at a time when lawmakers and government officials have faced growing threats and just two years after Donald Trump supporters succeeded in storming the US Capitol in the January 6 riot.

Here’s what we know so far about Monday’s incident.

What happened?

The incident unfolded at around 9.40pm on Monday night when the white U-Haul box truck crashed into the security barriers on the north side of Lafayette Square on 16th Street, US Park Police said.

The crash took place just a few hundred feet away from the White House, where Mr Biden had been holding talks with Senate Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy just hours earlier.

Sai Varshith Kandula is pictured in a Marquette High School yearbook image from 2022, courtesy of the Rockwood School District

US Park Police and US Secret Service Uniform Division officers responded to the scene to find a truck that is believed to have been intentionally crashed into the bollards outside Lafayette Park.

A video posted by eyewitness Chris Zaboji appears to show the truck driving into the barricades once and then driving into them a second time.

Mr Zaboji, an airline pilot living in Washington, said he was walking home after jogging on the National Mall when he heard a loud crash.

He pulled out his phone to capture what was going on.

“I looked back and saw that the U-Haul van had rammed into the barricade. I backed away behind a guy on a golf cart and took the video on my phone,” he told Reuters.

A box truck is seen crashed into a security barrier near the White House

“After I saw it rammed again I didn’t want to be anywhere near the truck and left.”

Nazi paraphernalia and threats

A police source told NBC News that Mr Kandula made threatening statements about the White House at the scene but was quickly detained by law enforcement — after which, according to reporting by CNN, he praised Adolf Hitler. According to court documents, Mr Kandula also praised eugenics and said the Nazis “have a great history.”

Police found a Nazi flag in the truck Mr Kandula was driving as seen in photos captured by a Reuters photojournalist.

Following a search of the truck, officials found it contained no weapons or explosives. There were no injuries in the crash and there is no ongoing danger to the public, officials said.

“There were no injuries to any Secret Service or White House personnel and the cause and manner of the crash remain under investigation,” said Anthony Guglielmi, the Secret Service chief of communications, in a statement on Monday night.

The suspect

US Park Police released the identity of the driver – Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, of Chesterfield, Missouri.

While police have yet to elaborate on Mr Kandula’s motive, US Park Police spokesman Thomas Twiname said in a statement that he had been arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on a president, vice president, or family member, destruction of federal property, and trespassing.

Moment truck slams into barriers near White House grounds

Mr Twiname said that the preliminary investigation indicates that the driver “intentionally” crashed into the security barriers.

Mr Kandula appeared in court in Washington on Tuesday, but has not yet entered a plea.

Threats against officials

It is not clear if the president and first lady were home at the time of the incident which comes amid a rise of potential threats against politicians.

Data from the Capitol Police revealed that the agency had investigated about 7,500 cases of potential threats against members of Congress in 2022.

While lower than the 9,600 threats recorded in 2021, it was twice as many as in 2017.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and the US Capitol Police sent a joint intelligence bulletin to law enforcement partners across the country warning that a rise in domestic violent extremism (DVE) and “perceptions” of election fraud could lead to a spike in violence.

Among the most “attractive targets” to extremists are lawmakers, government officials and personnel involved in elections including both political candidates and election workers, it warned.

“Potential targets of DVE violence include candidates running for public office, elected officials, election workers, political rallies, political party representatives, racial and religious minorities, or perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin read.

Rioters attack the US Capitol on January 6

That same day – 28 October 2022 – the husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the victim of a violent hammer attack at the couple’s home in California.

David DePape, a 42-year-old hemp jewelry maker, allegedly broke into the couple’s San Francisco home in the early hours of the morning searching for Ms Pelosi.

Ms Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi, 82, was home alone, with his wife away in Washington DC at the time.

Mr Pelosi managed to call 911 but the suspect allegedly struck him over the head with a hammer when officers arrived.

This came over one year after the January 6 Capitol riot on 6 January 2021 when a mob of Mr Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol – fuelled by his lies that the presidential election was “stolen” from him – to try to overturn Joe Biden’s win.

Chilling footage from that day reveals how some of the rioters hunted for Ms Pelosi, chanting “Where’s Nancy?” as they ransacked her office.

Others were seen chanting “Hang Mike Pence” after the vice president refused to attempt to overthrow the election in Mr Trump’s favour.

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