Doug Hughes sparked a security emergency in Washington, but says he's a patriot

Credit: James Borchuck/The Tampa Bay Times/AP

Brave patriot, or reckless grandstander?

That’s the debate this morning about Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from Florida who landed his gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, sparking a security emergency in Washington.

Hughes was immediately arrested and is expected in court Thursday to face possible federal charges. The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that Hughes was not in contact with air traffic controllers and that the FAA did not authorize him to enter the restricted airspace near the Capitol. “Violators may face civil and criminal penalties,” the FAA said.

Questions remain over how federal security officials were unaware of Hughes’ flight, given that he has blogged about his plans and was even interviewed by the Secret Service several times. He also told the Tampa Bay Times about his mission – the paper even reported about the flight on Twitter before Hughes landed.

Hughes, who is believed to have taken off from Gettysburg Regional Airport, says he was hoping to spark a debate about campaign finance reform. He was carrying 535 letters Wednesday – one for each member of Congress – protesting government corruption.

Instead, the stunt mostly stirred security fears. Indeed, if he had gotten any closer to the Capitol building, he would likely have been shot down.

“No sane person would do what I’m doing,” Hughes admitted to the Tampa Bay Times in recent weeks.

Still, he believed himself to be a patriot.

“I have thought about walking away from this whole thing because it’s crazy,” he said. “But I have also thought about being 80 years old and watching the collapse of this country and thinking that I had an idea once that might have arrested the fall and I didn’t do it.

“And I will tell you completely honestly: I’d rather die in the flight than live to be 80 years old and see this country fall.”