Man who Crashed U-Haul near White House Planned other Attacks, Prosecutor Says

Chris Zaboji/via REUTERS
A box truck crashes into security barriers on Lafayette Square adjacent to the White House grounds in Washington, U.S., May 22, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.

The man who crashed a U-Haul truck into a security barrier outside the White House last month wanted to overthrow the government and replace it with a dictatorship “fueled by Nazi ideology,” and he had planned other attacks, a federal prosecutor said in court Friday.

The revelations came during a hearing before Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya, who denied bond for 19-year-old Sai Varshith Kandula, saying he presented a threat to the community.

Kandula is being held on a charge of destruction of government property, after he repeatedly rammed a U-Haul truck into security bollards that protect Lafayette Square north of the White House on May 22, prosecutors allege. Kandula then exited the vehicle and unfurled a red and white flag featuring a Nazi swastika, according to charging documents. Prosecutors also revealed Friday that Kandula asked officers on scene whether the media would cover what happened.

“He intended to overthrow the government and replace it with an authoritarian regime fueled by Nazi ideology,” said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Schneider.

The other attacks Kandula allegedly planned to carry out were discussed during a closed hearing, so their nature and scope were unclear. But Upadhyaya said afterward she was disturbed by what she heard from prosecutors.

Schneider said he would seek a terrorism enhancement during sentencing if Kandula is ultimately convicted of the charge he is facing, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Diane Shrewsbury argued Kandula, a Chesterfield, Mo., resident should be granted bond, and the incident outside the White House was an “aberration” for him. Shrewsbury also disputed that the alleged planning for other attacks was “forward looking.”

“Mr. Kandula is a very young man, a recent high school graduate with no criminal record,” Shrewsbury said. “He’s lived a very normal life.”

Shrewsbury said she is still trying to determine why Kandula took the actions he did and questioned how dangerous he really is, saying his threats were “very far-fetched.” Kandula’s father, who attended the hearing, declined to comment.

In prosecutors’ motion opposing bond, they wrote Kandula planned to give a speech after overthrowing the government that announced a new authoritarian regime and the death penalty for anyone carrying out “civil unrest.” The text of the speech ends with a misspelled version of the Nazi salute, “Sieg Heil.”

The attack began shortly after 9:30 p.m. on May 22, when a United States Park Police Officer saw Kandula drive a U-Haul onto a sidewalk at the H Street NW walking entrance to Lafayette Square, according to court filings.

Photos in court filings show the truck came close to hitting a pair of pedestrians on the sidewalk. The U-Haul truck then struck the metal bollard barriers that keep vehicles from entering Lafayette Square, according to court filings. The U-Haul then reversed and struck the bollards a second time.

The second impact disabled the U-Haul truck, which started to smoke and leak fluids, according to court filings. Kandula got out of the U-Haul truck and pulled out the Swastika adorned flag, before Park Police officers detained him.

A search of Kandula and the truck did not turn up any explosives, weapons or ammunition, according to court filings.

Kandula told investigators he flew to D.C. from St. Louis on a one-way ticket, arriving 1 ½ hours before the incident, according to court filings. He rented the U-Haul truck near Washington Dulles International Airport and drove directly to the White House.

Kandula told investigators his plan was to “get to the White House, seize power and be put in charge of the nation.” He told them he would “kill the president if that’s what I have to do and would hurt anyone that would stand in my way.”

Kandula told investigators he purchased the Nazi flag online because the “Nazi’s have a great history.” Kandula told them he looked up to Adolf Hitler and called him a “strong leader” and said he admired the Nazis’ authoritarian nature and support of eugenics.

Kandula also had a green book that detailed plans to harm family members and others, and contained the speech he was planning to give, according to court records. He said he had been working on his plan for six months.

Kandula’s attorney wrote in a motion for bond that Kandula was a lawful permanent resident of the United States, contrary to what a prosecutor said in court at a previous hearing. The attorney wrote Kandula emigrated from India as a small child, left and then returned when he was 11.

Kandula recently graduated from Marquette High School in the St. Louis suburbs and had taken some classes at Marysville University, according to the bond motion. He has lived with his parents and brother for his entire life.

Kandula only spoke at Friday’s hearing to answer the judge’s questions. He showed little emotion, as he sat at the defense table in an orange jail jumpsuit. Shrewsbury said Kandula had been hospitalized on Monday for dehydration and malnutrition, but was feeling better.

Kandula’s preliminary hearing was set for July 13.