The Study

A Brief History Of Assaults On The White House

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An Idaho man who was reported missing last month has been arrested for shooting the White House with a semiautomatic rifle. The suspect is 21-year-old Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who has criminal records in three states and a history of drug and alcohol problems. He is believed to have fired an AK-47 at the White House last Friday night. At least one round hit the building, but it was stopped by bulletproof glass. Where does this incident fit in the history of attacks on the White House?

An official review of White House security, ordered by then-Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen after a small plane crashed into the South Lawn in 1994, reveals that last week’s incident, while serious, is just one of many such assaults on the president’s residenceand a relatively insignificant one at that. Since the Brits torched it in 1814, the White House has faced not just gunfire, but fence jumpers, gate crashers, and more than one air assault. The ’70s were an especially rough decade: Two drivers crashed into the building’s gates in 1974 and 1976, armed fence jumpers assaulted the grounds in 1976 and 1978, and in 1974 a rogue Army private flew a helicopter from Maryland and touched it down just 150 feet from the West Wing. Though the review’s authors take every security breach seriously, they note that the most dangerous attack actually took place over 150 years ago and fell into none of the aforementioned categories. Why did this particular event stand out? Because, they write, it was “perhaps the only instance” wherein someone outside the White House nearly managed to harm the presidentan incident in the early 1840s when “an intoxicated painter threw stones at President John Tyler as he strolled on the south grounds.” 

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