Man who rammed barrier near White House is not U.S. citizen, prosecutor says

Man who crashed a U Haul truck into barricades near White House, identified as Sai Varshith Kandula, May 22, 2023. PHOTO Twitter @Ashoswai Ashok Swain

WASHINGTON – The man with a Nazi flag who authorities say crashed a U-Haul truck into a security barrier outside the White House on Monday and told investigators he would kill President Biden is not a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday May 24, 2023.

The new details came during the initial hearing for Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, in U.S. District Court in D.C., where he is facing a single count of destroying property in the incident that grabbed national media attention. No one was hurt, but authorities allege Kandula said he was willing to commit violence as part of a plan to seize power.

A fuller picture of Kandula also began to emerge from an acquaintance, who attended high school with him in suburban St. Louis. Errion Barfield said he and other friends were shocked by the allegations against Kandula, whom he portrayed as quiet and kind.

Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather ordered Kandula held until a bond hearing on Tuesday. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Schneider argued Kandula should be detained because he was a flight risk, and his attack was violent and aimed at disrupting the government.

Schneider said Kandula’s last known address was in Chesterfield, Mo., but did not say what country he was originally from or when he arrived in the United States.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Diane Shrewsbury, who was appointed to represent Kandula, did not offer a defense of Kandula in court and declined to comment after the hearing. Kandula, who appeared in an orange jump suit, did not enter a plea and spoke only to answer the judge’s questions.

Barfield, who ran on the track team with Kandula at Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Mo., wrote in a series of Facebook messages to The Washington Post that he had difficultly reconciling the actions Kandula is accused of taking with the person he knew. Barfield wrote Kandula kept to himself and “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Barfield was particularly surprised by the alleged threat to kill the president. Barfield wrote that Kandula liked to wear a surgical mask with Biden’s name on it during the pandemic because it would get a reaction from people at Marquette, which Barfield described as conservative.

Barfield and Kandula had an introduction to computers class together, and they had discussed pursuing careers in computer engineering. Barfield wrote he never heard Kandula espouse any support for Nazis and he didn’t appear to struggle with mental illness. Kandula had “plenty” of friends in high school, Barfield wrote.

Kandula graduated from Marquette in 2022, school officials said. He also played on the tennis team and was part of student council. His family did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

“He was a good kid,” Barfield wrote in one message. “He was very, very kind.”

The incident began shortly before 9:40 p.m. Monday when a Park Police officer saw an orange U-Haul box truck drive onto a sidewalk near Lafayette Square, sending some pedestrians fleeing, according to charging documents.

The truck then twice struck metal bollards that keep vehicles from entering Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, according to the documents. The crash caused smoke to pour from the front of the vehicle and liquids to leak out. The officer exited his vehicle to investigate.

Kandula got out of the truck and removed a red and white flag with a Nazi swastika from a backpack he was carrying, according to the charging documents. At that point, the officer ordered Kandula down on the ground and detained him.

A search of Kandula and the U-Haul turned up no weapons, ammunition or explosives, according to charging documents.

After he was taken into custody, Kandula told Secret Service agents he had flown from St. Louis to D.C. on a one-way ticket, arriving around 8 p.m. Monday, according to charging documents. After landing, he rented a U-Haul near Dulles Airport and drove directly to the White House.

Kandula told agents his plan – which he claimed had been in the works for six months – was to “get to the White House, seize power, and be put in charge of the nation,” according to charging documents. He said he would “kill the president, if that’s what I have to do,” the documents state.

He also told authorities he bought the flag because “Nazis have a great history” and he admired their “authoritarian nature, Eugenics, and their one world order,” according to the charging documents. He called Adolf Hitler “a strong leader” and said he would “hurt anyone that would stand in my way,” the documents state.

U.S. Park Police had said previously he was charged with threatening to kill the president and other counts, but court records show he is facing only the single count related to destroying property. Kandula faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.



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