Salahis join list of uninvited White House visitors

By Wil Haygood
Monday, November 30, 2009

Without invitation or appointment, they gallivant up Pennsylvania Avenue -- although they've been known, in modern times, even to fly some form of aircraft -- with unimaginable boldness and fearlessness.

They have been coming since the beginning of the 20th century, their first recorded intrusion believed to have come in 1912.

They come through rain, sleet, snow, the cover of darkness, and the prettiest of days with sunshine touching them.

They make headlines. They go down in history. And most certainly they have their mental capacity questioned.

There are times when they get off with small fines and suspended sentences. Other times, however, they come armed and wind up in the obit pages, dead at the hands of White House security officers who believe them to be mortal threats.

White House gate-crashers. A fraternity of lawbreakers who seek to penetrate one of the most heavily guarded presidential compounds in the world.

A Virginia couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, became linked to this odd and infamous group last week when they strolled -- sans invitation, according to White House officials -- into President Obama's state dinner on behalf of the Indian prime minister. The spiffily dressed couple posed for photographers, even getting a picture with the president.

According to historical records, two-legged interlopers were at their boldest during the 1970s, during the administrations of Presidents Nixon and Ford. Maybe it was the still-burning agonies of the Vietnam War, or the disenchantment in urban America. There were those who thought of the government as boogeyman. An estimated eight intrusions occurred during that decade.

The 1970s gate-crashing was kicked off by one Robert K. Preston. In February 1974, he hopped into a helicopter at Fort Meade and flew the thing to the White House, hovering there in the cold for several minutes like some mechanical insect. (White House officials were stunned when they found out Preston was a private in the military.)

Preston lowered the copter that day onto the White House grounds, but he quickly zoomed off, only to circle back a short while later. He finally surrendered. He later confided his actions were a result of his anger at being passed over by Army officials for a position as a helicopter pilot; his White House incursion was to showcase his flying ability. Preston was court-martialed, sentenced to one year and given a $2,400 fine. And discharged.

Two years later Chester Plummer had a notion to come to the White House, right up and over the fence. He was wielding a 3-foot-long metal pipe. He wouldn't stop striding, and authorities shot him dead when they felt Plummer's threats could not be taken lightly.

In October 1978, White House security officers saw a man wearing a bone-white karate outfit. He also was carrying a Bible -- which concealed his knife. He was disarmed and arrested, but not before slashing two security officers, who survived.

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