How Frequent Are Security Incidents At The U.S. Capitol?
There was some frightening breaking news out of Washington, D.C. on Saturday, with reports of gunfire at the U.S. Capitol prompting a security lockdown. According to CNN, the U.S. Capitol Police have since confirmed that the shooting was a suicide, and the lockdown has since been lifted. It's a grim story all around, but it might help to have some historical context for this sort of thing — just how frequent are security incidents at the U.S. capitol?
The best, shortest answer is probably less than you might worry about, but also more than you'd like. For over 180 years, the U.S. Capitol Police Department has been responsible for protecting the U.S. legislature, and they've been pressed into service their fair share of times. In fact, over the last 100 years the Capitol has been the site of six noteworthy security incidents, although the circumstances of each one are somewhat unique.
Whether it's a result of personal political extremism, mental illness, or maybe reasons we still don't quite understand, some people have triggered major alarms around the home of the legislature, and it's a history that deserves a look back. Here are those six such instances over the last century — hopefully these will keep being scarce.
The Miriam Carey Incident (2013)
This one didn't start at the U.S. Capitol, but it ended there. On October 3, 2013, a 34-year-old woman named Miriam Carey was shot and killed after leading law enforcement on a chase from the White House to the Capitol, an encounter that's still shrouded in some degree of uncertainty.
Authorities stated that Carey drove into a restricted White House checkpoint, collided with a barrier, and ultimately hit a Secret Service agent as she tried to leave the scene. She was fatally shot five times while attempting to flee near the Hart Senate Office Building, with her 1-year-old daughter riding in a carseat in the back.
The Killings Of Jacob Chestnut And John Gibson (1998)
In June of 1998, two U.S. Capitol police officers paid the ultimate price for their service, being fatally shot by a severely mentally ill man named Russell Eugene Weston Jr. Reportedly suffering from an established history of paranoid schizophrenia, as detailed by the Washington Post's Bill Miller in 1999, Weston Jr. believed that he had to secure something called the "ruby satellite" from a Senate office that would halt the spread of a deadly, cannibalism-fueled worldwide disease. According to what he reportedly told a doctor after the shooting, he killed officers Chestnut and Gibson because he believed them to be cannibals themselves.
Both officers were given a appropriate hero's service. And a little history was made in the process, as Chestnut became the first black man to have their body lie in honor within the Capitol rotunda. Weston Jr. never served any prison time for the killings, but has been interned at a psychiatric center in North Carolina ever since.
The Armed Resistance Unit (1983)
This is a more thoroughly political example — as violent retaliation for American "imperialist aggression" in a number of foreign states, as detailed by the New York Daily News' David Knowles, conspirators working under the name "Armed Resistance Group" planted a bomb near the office of longtime Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. Mercifully, there were no fatalities when it went off, but it did do some big-time damage, blowing Byrd's door away, and damaging the Republicans' cloakroom.
The Weather Underground (1971)
Remember those Sarah Palin-led accusations about Barack Obama "palling around with terrorists?" Well, this is the group some conservatives were desperate to mark him with — the Weather Underground, of which Bill Ayers was a member. In protest of the U.S. government's invasion of Laos in 1971, the organization bombed the U.S. Capitol. Nobody was killed in the attack. In total, the Weather Underground's actual death toll amounted to just three people, members of the group who fell victim to an accidental explosion while prepping such acts.
Shooting From The Gallery (1954)
On March 1, 1954, shots rang out inside the U.S. House of Representatives. They were fired by a quartet of Puerto Rican nationalists, led by Lolita Lebron, who were fighting for the island nation's independence — Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory of the United States to this day.
They ended up shooting five representatives with pistol fire from the House viewing gallery before being apprehended. None of them died, thankfully.
The Muenter Bombing (1915)
Back in 1915, America was effectively standing at the doorstep of World War I looking in, but hadn't yet directly engaged, maintaining an official state position of neutrality in the conflict. Former German professor at Harvard University Eric Muenter, however, couldn't tolerate the notion of "American financiers who were aiding Great Britain against Germany," according to Senate.gov's history archives, so he decided to set off a bomb in the Senate chamber.
He failed to do so, thankfully, settling instead for the Senate's reception room, and when it went off nobody was injured. Muenter attempted to rationalize his bombing as a plea for peace in a pseudonym letter to a newspaper published after the fact.
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