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Man flies gyrocopter to US Capitol to protest government corruption

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Wednesday just got pretty bizarre. US Capitol Police in Washington, DC have detained a man after he flew a personal gyrocopter through restricted airspace and landed it on the West Lawn of the Capitol building. The strange incident led authorities to close off nearby streets and briefly put the Capitol on lockdown. Reports indicate that police arrived immediately after the pilot, 61-year-old Doug Hughes, touched down. Hughes is a US postal worker from Ruskin, Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and orchestrated the stunt as his own attempt to protest government corruption and urge lawmakers to advance campaign finance reform.

"There's no question that we need government, but we don't have to accept that it's a corrupt government that sells out to the highest bidder," Hughes told the Times ahead of his takeoff. He's kept the Tampa Bay newspaper apprised of his secret plan leading up to today, but hid everything from his own family. "We can have a government that works for the people, that answers to the people, that can only take money from the people in small amounts." Hughes put these and similar thoughts in letters addressed to all 535 members of Congress — and yes, the mailman brought them all along on the gyrocopter trip in hopes they'd be delivered to lawmakers. He even bought $250 worth of stamps.

"I don't believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 61-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle."

Before heading 300 feet in the air, Hughes told the Times that he was concerned about being injured or killed as a result of his defiant act. The US Secret Service was apparently tipped off that he was planning something like this last year; an agent questioned Hughes at his home (the agency knew about his gyrocopter) and also visited Hughes at the post office to talk with his co-workers. The Secret Service eventually backed off, presumably finding that Hughes wasn't any threat to national security.

But clearly he was very serious about making headlines in hopes of starting a conversation about corruption. Will one man's gyrocopter flight accomplish that? Unlikely. But at least no one got hurt or worse. In January, a drone crash landed on the White House lawn, though unauthorized landings of occupied aircraft don't happen very often; The Wall Street Journal says a pilot crashed a small plane on the White House grounds in 1994.

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