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A brief history of White House fence-jumpers

They all had their reasons.


Eric Geller


Posted on Sep 22, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 1:22 pm CDT

The Secret Service is reviewing its procedures after a serious breach of White House security led to a mentally-disturbed war veteran accessing the front doors of the president’s home and workplace on Friday night.

Omar Gonzalez, a 42-year-old veteran of combat in Iraq in the 1990s and early 2010s, dashed across the front lawn of the White House after scaling the fence and made it to the double doors of the White House’s North Portico, the iconic front face of the building that serves as a backdrop for thousands of tourist photos every day.

The Washington Post reported several striking details about the incident, including the fact that the North Portico’s doors were unlocked. “It is a frequently used door, just one flight of stairs away from the Obama’s living quarters,” the Post’s story read, “and until now, the Secret Service didn’t imagine an intruder could reach it.”

Even more interesting was the fact that the Secret Service’s highly-trained guard dog was not released, even though, according to the Post, “[c]anine teams are trained to have the dog in position to be released within four seconds of the alarm sounding.” The dog, a Belgian Malinois, “is trained to act as a missile” and is part of a unit that was created in 1976 to stop suicide bombers.

Immediately after news broke of the incident on Friday night, the first question was how Gonzalez could have made it as far as he did. Part of the reason is that Secret Service personnel are trained to only shoot an intruder if he or she appears to have a weapon or a bomb. Agents on the scene apparently decided that Gonzalez did not appear armed, although he was later found to be carrying a knife.

New security procedures are already in place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. CBS’ Mark Knoller tweeted pictures of an enhanced Secret Service presence on both sides of the fence guarding the White House’s North Lawn. The fence separates the lawn from a publicly accessible street next to an area called Lafayette Square.

Additional Secret Service visible inside and outside watching the fence line and North Lawn of the WH this morning.

— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) September 22, 2014

White House fence-jumping incidents are nothing new. In February 2001, seven months before the September 11 terrorist attacks that moved the country closer to a security state, the BBC reported on the fence-jumpers of the 1980s and 1990s. A taxi driver scaled the fence holding a meter’s worth of pipe in 1976. Two years later, a man in a karate suit climbed over the fence and slashed two security guards with a knife hidden in a Bible. An armed man climbed the fence in 1995 and was stopped about 90 feet from the East Wing, the workplace of the First Lady. In the former two incidents, security officers shot the intruders. The taxi driver later died.

Here’s a brief look back at the fence-jumping incidents from the past decade, which have refocused attention on the security of the White House grounds.

February 27, 2004

A 40-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., man named Brian Patterson jumped over the fence while shouting that he had been a victim of terrorism. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he was “was quickly brought down by a security dog.” Remember Patterson’s name. You’ll be seeing it again.

March 28, 2005

A 31-year-old Japanese man named Yasuharu Kyga jumped over the fence and was charged with unlawful entry. Kyga, who was reportedly wearing “military style camouflage clothing,” was taken to the hospital with minor injuries suffered after falling over the fence.

December 4, 2005

A 29-year-old Arkansas man named Shawn Cox, who had “previously come to the attention of the Secret Service” according to the Washington Post, climbed over the fence “around lunchtime.” The kicker? Cox was looking for Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of the White House’s former occupants, whom he believed he was “destined to marry.” Among Cox’s other thoughts was that his head was a “cell phone implanted by Jesus,” according to the psychologist who assessed him the following week.

April 10, 2006

Remember Brian Patterson? He’s baaaaack. Two years after his last appearance, Patterson was again arrested while jumping the fence. This time, in addition to claiming that he was a victim of terrorism, he also shouted, “My family is being poisoned in New Mexico.” Patterson, who was wearing an American flag t-shirt emblazoned with the words “God Bless America,” told the Secret Service, “I have intelligence information for the president; I’m not afraid of you.” According to CNN, this was actually his fourth attempt to reach the White House.

March 16, 2007

A 66-year-old man named Catalino Lucas Diaz jumped over the fence and falsely claimed to have a bomb. The Secret Service “used a water cannon to destroy the package,” per USA Today. At a press briefing later that day, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters, “When he and his bundle made it over the fence, there were three separate packages — a book, a tape recorder and some other items.”

June 9, 2009

A 46-year-old woman named Pamela Morgan jumped over the fence while carrying a backpack. Shortly after the grounds were locked down, a Washington Times reporter saw members of Congress leaving a scheduled meeting with the president. He asked a Secret Service agent what was happening and was told, “There is a bomb 150 yards away!” The Secret Service later denied that there had been a bomb on the White House grounds.

August 2, 2011

A 41-year-old homeless man named James Crudup scaled the fence and was “tackled immediately” by the Secret Service, according to the Washington Post. The Post’s story features an AP photo of a Secret Service agent handling one of the security detail’s elite Belgian Malinois guard dogs. CNN’s John King was reporting live from the White House when the incident occurred, and the network’s cameras captured the scene.

June 26, 2013

Code Pink protester Diane Wilson was arrested for jumping the fence during a protest against the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Wilson, one of several Code Pink protesters wearing orange jumpsuits to highlight the conditions facing Guantanamo detainees, had been on a hunger strike for almost two months when she jumped the fence, according to Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin.

March 30, 2014

At the end of March, a man whose identity was not released jumped the fence and the Secret Service arrested him.

September 11, 2014

America’s most famous residence was last locked down on the thirteenth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, when a man holding a Pikachu doll and wearing Pokemon clothing jumped over the fence and “refused to heed agent’s [sic] commands to ‘get down,’” according to NBC News.

UPDATE: The White House jumper was also carrying a Pikachu stuffed animal.

— Charlie Gile (@cwgile) September 11, 2014

H/T Slate | Photo via ttarasuik/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Sep 22, 2014, 1:26 pm CDT