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Is The Gyrocopter Hero A Bad Guy?

Before you get angry with Douglas Mark Hughes, the Florida letter carrier who landed a gyrocopter on the west lawn of the Capitol, you might want to think about what he did — and why.

Gyrocopter Hero?In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Hughes explained that he objects to the importance of political donors and lobbyists.

“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 paper.

Hughes was very careful to say that he is simply a protestor, someone trying to make his voice heard. He was actually interviewed by the Secret Service and a local sheriff last year and they found no cause for alarm.

He had no intention of hurting anyone or anything. He’s not violent and does not advocate violence. Instead he advocates buying postage and sending letters. No doubt this is a trend the Postal Service would like to encourage, though they perhaps disapprove of his delivery approach….

Not The First

In fact, Hughes is not even the first postal worker to land a gyrocopter on Capitol Hill. According to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in the 1930s such craft were called autogiros and numerous flights — and landings — were made in DC:

“On May 20, 1938, pilot Johnny Miller made a demonstration flight from the Bethesda, MD postal station to the main DC post office (now home to the National Postal Museum), as well as a trip from the DC post office to the Washington airport. DC postmaster Vincent Burke told reporters that there had not been time to  mark the mail Miller carried in any special way, no doubt crushing the hopes of airmail philatelists everywhere.

“Autogiro test flights were common through the 1930s in the United States. At least two such flights involved the US Capitol and the mall, although only one of those involved carrying the mail.”

(Thanks and a tip of the hat to PostcomThe Association for Postal Commerce — for spotting the National Postal Museum story.)

Gyrocopter Hero?

Hughes’ whole purpose was to get attention for his view that campaign finance reform is needed, that the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision allowing unlimited campaign spending by corporations was wrong. He simply engaged in non-violent civil disobedience, protesting in the same way as civil rights marchers, gay-rights protesters and Tea Party demonstrators.


Unfortunately, Hughes was so successful with his protest that his point has been missed.

Landing a gyrocopter on Capitol Hill means he flew in the most-restricted air-space in America without approval, authority or permission. This is a very serious matter because it shows how people not as nice as Mr. Hughes could access our most important buildings and institutions, people who could be a real and present danger to us all.

The question that ought to be asked is what option was available to Mr. Hughes. He’s a postman from Ruskin, FL, he doesn’t have a billion dollars to impact political campaigns, he can’t afford a lobbyist or $25,000 for a fund-raising dinner with politicians. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court says that corporations are “people” just like him — except that they never die in wars.

Hughes merely wanted to deliver stamped letters to every member of Congress.

According to the paper, the letters said “I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion in a manner consistent with Jefferson’s description of rights in the Declaration of Independence. As a member of Congress, you have three options. 1. You may pretend corruption does not exist. 2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform. 3. You may actively participate in real reform.”

This is pretty mild stuff, especially given the political discourse of the day.

Gyrocopter Court Case

Mr. Hughes deserves his moment in court for violating restricted air space. Hopefully, the judge will have some sense, realize that Hughes did us all a favor by exposing holes in the DC security perimeter, and sentence Hughes to 50 hours of community service, perhaps teaching civics to high school students. He seems to know a lot about history, the concept of democracy and the First Amendment. Moreover, he seems like an awfully decent guy.

A greater sentence will simply make Hughes into a national hero, a little guy who stood up for his rights and got attention for his cause without a $12 million PR budget, spokesmen, media tours, lawyers, lobbyists, fact sheets or tax credits.

You can bet that Hughes is someone with minor real estate holdings, not more than a home and a mortgage, just like most of us. Hopefully, a lot of people will consider the message he’s trying to send and — maybe — somebody will start a legal fund to offset his defense costs.

Kickstarter, anyone?

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