A driver who was arrested after crashing into security barriers near the White House has been charged with threatening to kill or harm the US president, along with other crimes.
Police named the suspect as 19-year-old Sai Varshith Kandula from Chesterfield, Missouri, which is just to the west of St Louis. He was accused of threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on the president, vice-president or a relative, said a statement from the US park police, who have jurisdiction of the area where the struck barriers are located.
The driver was also charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless operation of a vehicle, and other criminal charges. He had been accused of having a Nazi flag on him.
The news of the accusation about the Nazi flag and Kandula’s identity was met with skepticism among some quarters on social media.
But experts say people of color in the United States are being increasingly drawn to the political far right as well as groups which are sympathetic to Nazi beliefs of white supremacy because of misinformation, particularly online; the presence of authoritarian influences from their families’ country of origin and a proximity to whiteness in the US which relies more on dominance over people rather than one’s skin color.
A LinkedIn profile matching Kandula’s name while listing a home town of Chesterfield as well as a 2022 high school graduation date described experience in computer coding as well as a background in data analytics.
The crash happened at about 10pm Eastern Time on Monday. According to witnesses, the driver crashed repeatedly into the security barriers in Lafayette Square, near the grounds of the White House.
Authorities in Washington DC detained the driver of the truck, which was deemed safe by District of Columbia police. A swastika flag, used by the Nazi regime as it systematically murdered 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, was found in the rented truck that crashed.
The flag and plastic evidence bags were photographed laid out on the road after the crash. A Reuters witness said investigators found the flag, which apparently came from inside the truck.
“Preliminary investigation reveals the driver may have intentionally struck the security barriers at Lafayette Square,” Anthony Guglielmi, the chief of communications for the Secret Service, said on Twitter.
WUSA television showed video of a U-Haul truck stopped alongside a row of steel bollards as police officers and a dog approached the vehicle. A remote-controlled robot then pried open the truck’s rear door, revealing a trolley but no other obvious cargo.
Chris Zaboji, a witness to the crash, posted a brief video to social media showing the truck driving into the barriers. The video was verified by Reuters. After crashing once, Zaboji said the driver hit the barricades a second time.
Zaboji, 25, an airline pilot who lives in Washington, said he had just finished jogging on the National Mall and was walking home when he heard a loud crash.
“I looked back and saw that the U-Haul van had rammed into the barricade. I backed away behind a guy on a golf cart and took the video on my phone. After I saw it rammed again. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the truck and left,” Zaboji said.
A previous tweet from Guglielmi said nobody from the White House or Secret Service was injured as a result of the crash.
The exact location of Joe Biden at the time of the crash was unclear. He met the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, at the White House earlier on Monday evening.
The nearby Hay Adams Hotel was evacuated at the request of the Secret Service, the Washington Post reported, citing a hotel official, while the Secret Service said some roads and pedestrian walkways around the park were closed.
Reuters contributed to this report
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