ODDLY ENOUGH, Gerald Bryan Gainous Jr. began to think in terms of the White House only after things went bad. But then Gainous was never your average Presidential hopeful and in fact, seeing how everything turned out, it was maybe not so odd after all.
Things went bad for Gainous after his father, a master sergeant in the Air Force and one of the few blacks to crew abroad B-52 bombers over Vietnam was busted in connection with what comes close to being the country's most bizarre heroin smuggling case. Dope was supposed to be coming in from Southeast Asia hidden in the corpses of American soldiers, among othee things.
This was in January, 1972, Sgt. Gainous, his wife and four children were stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Sgt. Carolina was extradited to Denver to stand trial and the family was asked to leave the base. At the time, Gerald Bryan Gainous Jr. was halfway through his year at the University of North Carolina, a political science major who had grown up military middle class and believed, up to that point at least, that in American "everybody has the opportunity to be a superstar."
The arrest changed all that. While his father spent their savings fighting the smuggling case in Denver, the rest of the family moved into public housing projects in Goldsboro. The usual social workers and inspectors filed through their cinderblock cell-rooms in an ant-army. Dealing with various poverty agencies seemed to be their only connection with the world. Their friends on base dropped them cold. It took only a few months for the Gainous family to fall out of their treasured middle class life, down under the poverty level and into the kind of existence they had spent their lives trying to avoid. They were now tainted by crime, penniless and jobless, just like the family down the hall.
Gainous began to drift away, doing more and more reading and studying "revoluntionary theory." He couldn't shake the feeling that his father really was part of the heroin scam and that made the whole system that had produced him, it, even the middle class itself, suspect.
Now Gainous, had always been an intense kind of kid, with eyes that could pop wide open at you like a pair of 500-watt lightbulbs, very quick-talking and articulate. After the arrest, though, it began to seem as if expounding his political theories was more important to him than eating. Hamburgers grew cold on his plate as he talked, and his face glowed like a dark sun. he got heavily into dope, acid, and loud music.
It was about this time Gainous made a "modest breakthrough" in his studies.
He has never made clear exactly what it was. But at the time he was taking a course in welfare politics, which discussed in theory his famliy's actual situation. The main thing wrong with welfare politics, he could see from the ground floor, was the huge bereaucracy that administered the programs and managed to strip every shred of independence, self-respect and humanity away from the benefitciaries. You pare away the bureaucracy holding them down, he figured and the poor couldn't help but rise. Like in Switzerland.
Gainous had studied Marz, and it became clearer and clearer that he too could write a Manifesto. He could call it the manifesto of American Democracy, and might easily have as much impact on American society as Marx's work had on Asia's.
After a while, the Gainous family's situation improved a bit. They got out of the Goldsboro projects and moved to Denver to be near the sergeant, who was out on bail and still struggling with his heroin case.
Gainous continued his research on the Manifesto of American Democracy in Denver, doing a lot of reading in the public library and writing at home. The case dragged on, but at least his father remained out of jail. The two younger boys entered school in the Denver area and in the fall Gainous returned to the University of North Carolina as a senior.
IN 1973 two things happened.
Sgt. Gainous was finally convicted on a conspiracy charge ralating to the alleged heroin operation, sentenced to ten years in Fort Leavenworth, and stripped of all his military benefits, including his pesion.
And Gerald Bryan Gainous Jr. began to suspect one of his political science professors of pirating his material.
Gainous had made another break-through early in the year and decided to put some of it into a course paper he was writing. Once again, it had to do with cutting down the size of the federal government, and it was so simple he couldn't believe he'd missed it before. His professor encouraged him to write it up and seemed very interested and impressed.
Gainous decided the material was too important to hand over, and left the university.
"I became what could be termed as a gypsy revolutionary intellectual searching for a stragetic location," he wrote in the introduction to his Manifesto. "As a result, my travels after leaving Chapel Hill, N.C. in August of 1973 took me to Goldsboro, N.C., to Washington, D.C., back to Goldsboro, to Denver, Colorado, with my family, then alone to Berkeley, Calif., back to Denver after being disillusioned with the sterile radicalism of the Bay area, then to Chapel Hill, N.C. again, hoping to link up my past social relationships with my revolutionary ideology, creating the seed of a political movement, and finally to Washington, D.C., when I realized that my personal problems and political ideals could be more effectively realized there."
By this time it was the fall of 1975, and a lot of water had flowed under the bridge. For one thing, Nixon was no longer President. He'd resigned in the Watergate scandal, been pardoned, and was writing his memoirs in San Clemente. The man who pardoned him, Gerald Ford, was in the White House now.
Sgt. Gainous had been in Leavenworth for about a year and a half. Gainous himself had just turned 24.
The Nixon scandal and pardon was an eyeopener.
Gainous felt better than at any time since his father's arrest. Then he had been in a "form total social withdrawal rivalling the asceticism of Buddhist monks." But after the Watergate debacle "I began to realize that I was being extremely immature about the situation and that based on my father's spotless service record, the handling of the trial, the Nixon resignation and pardon precedent, and the severance of his (Sgt. Gainous") retirement pension, I perceived I had to do something to show which side I was on, and that I cared."
If Nixon could be pardoned, why not his father?
Ford above all looked like a reasonable man, and came from a good solid middle class family. Betty Ford was the kind of mother anybody could be proud of. Steve, Jack, Mike and Susan were terrific. Susan looked particularly understanding. In fact, if he could get to Ford through Susan, he might be able to interest the President in his Manifesto.
In Washington, Gainous stayed with relatives of his mother and father, both born in the Washington area, but found he had less and less to say to them. They didn't understand his Manifesto and thought he should get a steady job. He began to hang around the White House, going through it on tours and walking around the outside of the fence. He was not awed by it in the least, he remembers, but felt completely confortable and absolutely at home. He was a citizen of the United States and the house belonged to him.
The day before Thanksgiving, Ford scheduled a press conference to discuss New York's financial crisis. Gainous decided to make his move.
Dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and a windbreaker and carrying his Manifesto in a black briefcase, gainous walked down to the White House at about 7 p.m. The press conference was underway in the West Wing, and everything was all lit up. The White House itself, where the rest of the Ford family was, had never looked more brilliant. The cold air was sharp as diamonds.
Gainous climbed easily over the south part of the White House fence (on the Monument side) and began making his way from bush to bush, moving on his belly in the open parts like a Marine. "I wasn't scared at all," he says now. "For some reason I didn't think anything bad was going to happen. I enjoyed doing it, it was exciting. I was just crouching and crawling and running. I didn't feel I was going to be shot. I knew I wasn't going to be harmed."
At one point Gainous tripped a sensor and klieg lights hidden in trees and bushes turned the South lawn into a kind of outdoor stage. He stayed put, flat on his belly in the center of a huge boxwood, and the Secret Service men who rant out to search missed him. He had to lie in th bush for about half an hour and it was freezing.
When the kliegs went off he began moving again.
Gainous' idea was to walk in a side door or climb in an open window of the White House. "I knew I was going to be a little tongue-tied when I first got to meet the President," he remembers. "But I was sure it wouldn't take me long to settle down and express myself in clear, concise terms."
If they were clear and concise enough, it occured to Gainous, Ford might even be interested in "entering into a political partnership." He also wanted to tell the President about a very strong premonition he'd had: on July 4, 1976, the Russians were going to launch a Bicentennial missile strike.
All the White House windows were closed and had blinds drawn and all the doors were guarded. It had been about two hours since Gainous jumped the south fence, the cold was knifing through his windbreaker, and it was getting very uncomfortable in his most recent bush - about twenty-five feet away from the South Portico.
He heard a car crunching on the gravel drive and peeked out. It seemed perfectly logical that Susan Ford was in the car, perfectly right. As she climbed out with her camera gear and White House photographer David Kennerly, he left his bush and walked toward her. She noticed him when he was about an arm's length away.
"I just smiled, didn't say anything," he says. "Didn't try to make any advances. She didn't quite believe I was there. She seemed surprised, but not scared."
The incredulous Secret Service hustled Susan inside. "Who are you?" they asked Gainous.
He pointed at the disappearing Susan Ford. "Ask her."
The guard yelled to keep Susan in the house, and asked Gainous for his pass. "I have no pass," he answered calmly. "I wanted to speak to the President about a pardon for my father. If he can pardon Nixon, he can pardon my father."
Gainous was charged with unlawful entry and taken to Second District Headquarters.
The incident, and the fact that Gainous had been on the White House grounds for two hours and come within an arm's length of Susan Ford, was kept out of the papers for the time being.In two days Gainous was released on personal recognizance under the condition he moved back with his grandparents and report once a week to the bail agency until his January trial.
Gainous' clean-cut looks, his politeness, articulateness, his . . . middle class education . . . had worked against him in ways he found hard to believe. It was just as if the whole adventure had never happened. He had not gotten to see the President, had not gotten a single shred of publicity of his father, himself or his Manifesto. They had obviously figured he was nothing more than a slightly misguided college kid.
They wouldn't even keep him in jail.
Going back to his grandparents after his failure was out of the question. He bummed floor space from some people he'd met around George Washington University. In a little more than a week he was ready to jump again.
This time there would be no beating around the bush, so to speak. Carrying his Manifesto in its leather briefcase, he went right over the Pennsylvania Avenue part of the fence at 3:50 p.m. and was arrested almost immediately. Calm and cooperative once again ("emotionless" was the word in the report) he told the Secret Service he should be appointed President, that he would attempt to overthrow the government by nonviolent means if he wasn't, and that the President should call for a Consitiutional and Convention in 1976 and abolish the federal government because it was illegal.
"If Nixon was charged in the Watergate scandal," he explains now, "it was the duty of Congress to impeach and convict him, not allow him the option of resigning. Ford had really come to power illegally."
Unfair treatment of his father was "intensifying" his revolutionary tendencies, he told them.
Gainous' second jump was more satisfactory than his first. There were stories about it on television and in the papers, saying he had been seeking a pardon for his father. WMAL found out about his Thanksgiving jump and Ford himself demanded a report on how he had pulled off the "daring escapade."
It came out that people jumped the eigth-foot-high White House fence about once a week, and had been jumping ever since the gates were first closed to the public during the Second World War. Apart from the "jumpers" about 300 people appear at the gates annually, demanding to see the President, and if the Secret Service thinks they are unusually persistent, bizarre or threatening, they are sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital for observation. It is one of the fastest ways to get in and some people have learned to hop a bus and come to Washington when they feel a breakdown nearing. One man simply throws a bag of laundry over the fence.
The referrals are known as White House Cases.
Most are released after two or three weeks. A few are in for the duration. Not surprisingly the all-time high water mark years for White House Cases were 1967 and 1968, the height of the Vietnam war, when more than 200 cases were referred annually. The general curve has risen dramatically since Truman, when there were fewer than ten a year, and varies according to the personality of the President. According to a 1965 study, Kennedy produced four times the cases in 1961 that Eisenhower inspired in 1960. (Eisenhower's public colorlessness was perhaps a factor in the 1950s case of a man who attempted to get into the White House to make sure Eisenhower "really existed.")
Last February, a man showed up with a plastic pistol and said "bang, bang" to the Secret Service. In April, the most recent publicly reported incident, a 26-year-old Bakersfield, California, woman climbed over the fence as the President was returning from the National Theater. Referrals as a whole since Carter took over have been running about nine a month and St. Elizabeths officials are projecting a heavy year. "The President's open house policy is going to contribute to it," estimated one.
White House case referrals tend to be highest in the spring and summer.
There seem to have been jumpers and intruders almost a long as there has been a fence. In 1835, the District's Daily National Intelligencer had this to say about them:
"It is a notorious fact that our city, from being the seat of government, is liable to be visited by more than its proportion of insance persons, strangers who fancy that Congress or the executive is omnipotent, and that for the accomplishment of any cherished scheme, however wild, or the redress of any grievance, however imaginary or remediless, nothing is necessary but a pilgrimate to Washington (sometimes performed barefooted)."
"I want to emphasize the driven quality of most cases," says Dr. Eugene Stammeyer, who has been studying them at St. Elizabeths for about seven years. "They really do come barefoot, some of the time. One lady sold her blood to get here. A man lived outdoors near the Lincoln Memorial for six months, eating out of garbage cans behind restaurants, because he spent every penny he could scrounge on phone calls to the President. There was a man who brought a roll of toilet paper all the way from California to give to President Nixon because he was sure Nixon couldn't afford his own."
In psychological terms, Stammeyer explains, White House Cases tend to have been socially isolated and alienated for most of their lives. They have had no "role models," no group they can identify with, not even their own father or family. They have never had a chance to develop a practical image of their fathers, in fact, and tend to retain their childhood reverence of them. In later life they develop a "pseudo-community" to fill the void, and the President, as a symbolic father figure, may take on an omnipotent role in it.
In most of the cases the President is a benign figure, who is expected to validate, assist, and lend an air of national importance. But in a few he can be threatening or directly responsible for failure. Then you might have a potential assassin who, as described in a profile by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, "combines a capacity to project onto the President the responsibility for his personal misery with an increaing preoccupation with a fanciful, abstract political or government alternative to his surroundings . . ."
This is not so much the pattern in other countries, where assassination is usually a weapon in the struggle for pure political power. But in the United States, every single assassination attempt (with the possible exception of the Puerto Rican nationalist attempt on Truman) appears to have been by a mentally disturbed person who did not seek to advance any rational political plan.
On a per capita basis, threats against the President far outnumber those against the queen of England, according to Dr. Edwin A. Weinstein, author of Cultural Aspects of Delusion.
There have been no studies of the White House Case type of pattern abroad, but most authorities agree that the frequency and intensity here is unique.
The President is a multifaceted, highly personalized symbol, and he exists in a violent society that is rich and highly developed but has the qualities, as the Commission says, of unstable underdeveloped countries which promise more than they can deliver. The President is so important that he finds his way into our most private hopes, dreams and conflicts. We are wrapped up in his life, and he in ours, to such a degree that if the American Dream turns into a personal nightmare, it's not unnatural to expect him to take up some of the burden.
We are capable of suffering for him , after all. The National Opinion Research Center survey of public reaction to President Kennedy's death, for example, found that forty-three per cent of a national sample of adults experienced loss of appetite, forty-eight reported insomnia, twenty-five per cent headaches, sixty-eight per cent general feelings of nervousness and tenseness, and substantial numbers of people reported anxiety symptoms such as rapid heart beats (twenty-six per cent) and perspiring (seventeen per cent.)
Refusing bail, Gainous managed to spend about forty days in the D.C. Jail after the December jumping, where he was interviewed by a forensic psychiatrist. According to the report, Gainous was a "mature individual who left his senior year at the University of North Carolina in an endeavour to elicit sympathy for his father. Defendant is satisfied he has made his point . . ."
On January 14, he was released on $1000 surety bond to a pre-trial halfway house, run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which he had learned about in jail from one of the Berrigans.
Still, he really hadn't made his point.
In spite of his jumping and his time in jail, his father was still in Fort Leavenworth, he himself was still seen as a misguided college student, and his Manifesto was no closer to being published.
"He was meeting with failure in terms of what his goals were," remembers Richard Dieter, a counselor. "But he struck me as a functioning person, easy to deal with, intelligent. He loved to get into discussions and he was very clean-cut."
Gainous got a couple of local television interviewers and followed up leads to the publishing of his Manifesto, but never held a job for more than a few weeks. After he was sentenced in April to nine months of concurrent terms on probation, his counselors at the halfway house decided he should go out on his own.
On June 5, after about a month of flophouses and street corners, Gainous jumped again. He was carrying his Manifesto in its black briefcase and wearing a business suit. This time he was absolutely sure that when he hit the ground on the inside of the fence, he would be President.
They got him near the water fountain. "I should be emergency President," he told them flatly. "Gerald Ford is the stupidest president this country ever had."
Back in the D.C. jail, he was placed in maximum security, pending another psychiatric exam. He wrote a letter to the judge, explaining in detail how he was "morally and legally qualified to assume the office of the Prime Minister of the United States," and signed it "First Planetary Citizen of the World."
Twenty days passed.
he again wrote the judge, this time admitted that "The catalyst for my action was the fact that I was jobless, homeless, penniless and starving." He mentioned his hope of regaining his father's Air Force pension and concluded: "Personally I must add that I do very much want to be a great man, and recognized by others as such, and not a lunatic."
This seems to be pretty much they way he impressed Dr. Karl A. Zener, the next forensic psychiatrist to examine him. Zener noted his good recored at the University of North Carolina, his disillusionment and depression following his father's arrest.
Depression was the key, Zener concluded.
"[Gainous] diverted himself from acknowleding his depression by preoccupying himself with concer for his father and his political theores. Ostensibly hoping to bring his father's cause to the public attention, he jumped the White House fence in November and December 1975. After his court appearances were over for these offenses, he felt more alienated from his family here in town, felt homeless without money or a job," 'depressed and destitute.' He again jumped the White House fence in June more as a cry for personal help this time than a method of bringing his causes to public attention. He has subsequently been in jail, which seems really to have helped him reasses the futility of helping either his father or himself, his depressions or his career through such actions. He says he will not do it again, and I think this is probably correct . . ."
Certifying him competent to stand trial, Zener concluded "there was some grandiosity evident in his theorizing, however it was not of a severe delusional degree." he recommended Gainous be released on an outpatient psychotherapy program.
"On August 13, Judge Hamilton put him on two-year probation with the condition he return to Denver immediately.
On August 14, Gainous jumped again.
The Secret Service by this time had gotten so they recorgnized Gainous on sight, even before he jumped. In the late morning they "observed him walking south on East Executive Avenue, carrying a rose in his hands behind his back." Wearing a business suit and carrying the black briefcase with his Manifesto inside, he asked one of the uniformed officers how to get tickets for a White House tour. At 12:39 p.m. he etnered with the rest of the tourists.
"I love America," he says now. "And I was trying to do my best for it. Maybe I loved it too much."
He left with the tourists and crossed over to Lafayette Park. The Secret Service kept watching.
Gainous walked deliberately back across Pennsylvania Avenue and climbed the exact center of the fence while two picketers from a women's organization cheered him on. It was so perfectly familiar, so right, that he didn't pay much attention. He caught his trousers on a spike, lost his balance and gashed his leg. The women said the Secret Service was "all over him" when he hit the ground.
Instead of explaining himself this time, he slugged one of the officers.
Down at the Second District, he told his interviewers he had expected to become President and Commander in Chief of the Army, because of inspiriation from God. He gave them letters explaining his philosophy and added that he was the only person able to prevent World War III. He slugged the Secret Service, he explained, because God had suggested that like George Washington he was going to have to fight for the presidency.
"Would you use a weapon?" they asked.
"I am a nonviolent person and would never use any type of weapon, just my hands," Gainous said. "And this will definitely be the last time I jump. It is a mistake, I know that now. It just is not working out."
It took six stitches to close his cut. Then he was shifted to the D.C. Jail, where on the basis of his August psychiatric exam it was determined he was competent to stand trial again. On November 29, one of the most liberal judges in the District threw the book at him.
Giving him to the maximum possible sentence of four consecutive six-month terms for the four jumps, Judge David L. Norman said:
"Well, this is, really, in the nature of a political offense, I suppose. It seems to me that nothing is more disruptive to the American people than to have any kind of threatening gesture to the security of our President.
"I think the public ought to know that when that sort of thing happens, that the offender draws the maximum sentence. I think it's too risky, despite the person's philosophy. And, I know Mr. Gainous has a good faith philosophy about the way things have to be run . . ."
Lorton Reformatroy was a complete, all-out trip over the edge for the philosopher. He lost twenty pounds and his movements narrowed down to the trip between the toilet and the bed. He hadn't done anything right, he thought. He was trapped. He was doomed.
In fact, his very life was in danger. He would be kidnapped. He was helpless because he couldn't think anymore.
In March he begged to be transferred to maximum security and, believing he was now a "serious sucidial risk," they ordered his umpteenth psychiatric exam. This time they found him mentally ill . . . a certified paranoid schizophrenic. And he was committed to St. Elizabeths.
Gerald Bryan Gainous Jr. had finally made it to the other side of the fence.