By LINDSAY WHITEHURST
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Missouri man flew to Washington, rented a U-Haul truck and drove straight to the White House, where he crashed the truck into a security barrier and began waving around a Nazi flag in the culmination of a six-month plan to “seize power” from the government, authorities said Tuesday.
Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, removed the flag from a backpack shortly after smashing the box truck into the barrier near the north side of Lafayette Square on Monday around 10 p.m., according to charging documents. He was quickly arrested by a U.S. Park Police officer who rushed to the scene of the crash and saw him take out the flag.
Kandula later told Secret Service agents that he’d flown from St. Louis on a one-way ticket that night after months of planning. He wanted to “get to the White House, seize power, and be put in charge of the nation,” and he said he would “kill the president, if that’s what I have to do,” charges state.
Kandula, who is from the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Missouri, said he bought the flag online because he admires the Nazis’ “great history” as well as their “authoritarian nature, eugenics, and their one world order.”
No one was injured in the crash. No explosives or weapons were found in the truck or on Kandula.
Kandula rented the U-Haul in Herndon, Virginia, and had a valid contract in his own name, the company said. People can rent a truck from U-Haul at age 18, and there were no red flags on his rental record that would have prevented the contract, according to U-Haul.
A witness, Chris Zaboji, said the driver smashed into the barrier at least twice. Zaboji, a 25-year-old pilot who lives in Washington, was finishing a run close by Lafayette Square when he heard the loud crash of the U-Haul truck hitting the barrier. He said he took out his phone and captured the moment the truck struck the barrier again before he heard sirens approaching.
“When the van backed up and rammed it again, I decided I wanted to get out of there,” he said.
Officers from the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department searched the truck after the crash. Video posted by WUSA-TV shows a police officer at the scene picking up and inventorying several pieces of evidence from the truck, including a Nazi flag.
Kandula was arrested on multiple charges, and prosecutors charged him with damaging U.S. property.
Biden was briefed on the crash Tuesday morning by the Secret Service and Park Police, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “He’s relieved that no one was injured last night,” she said.
The U.S. Secret Service monitors hundreds of people who have made threats to the president, but it’s not clear whether Kandula was on their radar at all or if he had threatened the president before, which would trigger the Secret Service’s involvement.
No attorney was listed for Kandula in court records, multiple telephone numbers listed under his surname in public records were out of service, and efforts by The Associated Press to reach relatives who could speak on his behalf on Tuesday were not immediately successful. People at a Missouri home listed as being associated with Kandula would not speak with an AP reporter.
Lafayette Square offers perhaps the best view of the White House available to the public, and Kandula sent multiple people running when he drove onto the sidewalk to reach the barrier.
The square has also long been one of the nation’s most prominent venues for demonstrations. The park was closed for nearly a year after federal authorities fenced off the area at the height of nationwide protests over policing following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but it reopened in May 2021.
U-Haul is a moving truck, trailer and self-storage rental company based in Phoenix.