I was hoping that I could escape the week without feeling compelled to write about the gyrocopter guy, but alas, circumstances have forced my hand. You’ve almost certainly already heard, but just in case you haven’t: There was a very tiny bit of drama a few days ago when a man landed a one-person gyrocopter on the lawn in front of the Capitol. The Capitol Police scrambled, the guy was arrested, bomb-detecting robots were deployed, and the whole thing ended with nobody getting hurt. Turns out the guy, a retired postal worker, wanted to make a dramatic statement while delivering some letters to Congress about campaign finance reform.
The incident brought up a few questions about security surrounding the Capitol and other federal buildings – how does one protect a critical installation against aircraft so small that it isn’t easily detected by radar? There’s also the ongoing question over how heavily fortified a “public” building like the Capitol should be. “We are a democracy. We don't have fences around our airspace, so we've got to find the right balance between living in a free and open society and security and the protection of federal buildings,” Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters. “And so we want to stay one step ahead of every incident like this, but then again, you don't want to overreact, either.”
Of course, overreaction to these sorts of incidents is the default posture for certain members of Congress who insist upon keeping the public in a constant state of all-consuming terror. One of those members is the always excitable Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show earlier this week and demanded to know why the kooky helicopter carrying the retired mailman and his letters wasn’t shot down over the National Mall. “He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky,” Graham said. “I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege.”
I can think of some very good reasons why he wasn’t “shot out of the sky,” first among them being that he was flying over a highly trafficked public space in an urban area. I get that he posed a potential security threat, but the National Mall is jammed with tourists, especially at this time of year when the cherry blossoms are doing their thing. Graham wants to know why the Capitol Police, in this area full of bystanders, didn’t fire their weapons in the air at a moving target… Also, the Capitol Police have rules for when they can discharge their weapons at moving vehicles. These policies came up after the Secret Service and the Capitol Police fatally shot Miriam Carey in 2013. The Washington Post noted in a 2014 report on the Carey shooting that “police tacticians frown on shooting at moving vehicles because the practice often results in stray bullets spraying public space, speeding cars being turned into unguided missiles if their drivers are incapacitated, or unarmed drivers being killed before questions can be asked.”
The situation is analogous to the debate that took place last year after a fence jumper at the White House made it past the Secret Service and got into the executive mansion. Rep. Jason Chaffetz demanded to know why fence jumpers aren’t met with lethal force every time. Chaffetz and Graham think they’re sounding tough and serious by demanding that police shoot to kill in situations like these, but police bullets don’t always hit the intended target.
But I’m being one-sided here in pointing out the logical and police-endorsed reasons for not filling the skies over a tourist destination with bullets. Lindsey Graham has his own reasons for wanting to shoot down all the gyrocopters that violate his airspace. Specifically: ISLAMIC TERRORISM IS GOING TO KILL US ALL AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH:
GRAHAM: He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege. Radical Islam is a threat to our homeland. There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already. And if somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril. I don’t know if he’s mentally ill. I’m glad he’s alive in that regard, if he’s mentally ill, but we’ve got to be more serious about our national security.
This incident, of course, had precisely nothing to do with radical Islam. But it could have, and now that the terrorists know that we won’t shoot down gyrocopters on sight, they’re emboldened to become ultralight aircraft enthusiasts with nefarious intent. This is part of the broader Lindsey Graham worldview, which assumes that the next devastating terrorist attack is always mere moments from happening, so we’d better reinvade Iraq and curtail civil liberties and treat American soil as if it were an active war zone.
Also, the gyrocopter thing is President Obama’s fault because he projects weakness or something:
GRAHAM: These are episodes or instances of just poor security, not taking the situation as seriously as we should. But President Obama has done a miserable job of explaining the threat, marginalizing the threats we face, explain away and excusing the behavior of our enemies like Russia and Iran to the point that people have had a false sense of security.
It all makes sense now: The gyrocopter incident, like so much else in this world, started with Benghazi.