A man who crashed a rented box truck into security barriers near the White House was charged with threatening the president, U.S. Park Police said on Tuesday, following an overnight incident that authorities said may have been intentional.
A Reuters witness said investigators found a Nazi swastika flag inside the truck, which crashed into barriers at Lafayette Square, a public area one block from the White House compound, on Monday evening.
The driver, identified as Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, of Chesterfield, Missouri, faces several charges including threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on the president, vice president or a family member, the U.S. Park Police said in a statement.
U.S. Secret Service said it had detained the man following the crash, which may have been “intentional.” There was no ongoing danger and no injuries, it said.
“Preliminary investigation reveals the driver may have intentionally struck the security barriers at Lafayette Square,” Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter.
For decades, Lafayette Square has been a prominent site for political protests and free-speech events. It was closed off in May 2020 by a perimeter fence installed after the Black Lives Matter protests. The fence has since been removed but barriers blocking traffic from the side streets remain.
Security around the White House and other federal buildings has steadily increased after a string of breaches and other incidents, including the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. In 2021, a vehicle struck two Capitol Police officers, killing one. The driver was shot and killed by police.
The suspect in Monday’s incident also faces charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, trespassing, destruction of federal property and reckless operation of a vehicle, Park Police said.
A video on WUSA television showed a remote-controlled robot opening the rear door of the box-type, U-Haul truck, revealing a dolly but no other obvious cargo.
Chris Zaboji, an airline pilot who lives in Washington and witnessed the crash, posted a brief video on social media later verified by Reuters. It showed the truck driving into the barricades as he was walking by on his way home.
“I looked back and saw that the U-Haul van had rammed into the barricade,” Zaboji said, adding that he left after the truck rammed barriers a second time.
President Joe Biden’s exact location at the time of the crash just before 10 p.m. (0200 GMT Tuesday) was unclear. He had met with Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy at the White House earlier on Monday evening.
NEW: Police arrested Missouri man they believe intentionally crashed a U-Haul truck into a security barrier at a park across from the White House.
📹: Chris Zaboji / LOCAL NEWS X /TMX pic.twitter.com/IEYLqoKDlD
— KCTV5 News (@KCTV5) May 23, 2023