The Florida postal worker who landed a gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol last month pleaded not guilty to all counts Thursday and announced he would take his fight for campaign finance reform to a jury trial if necessary.
Douglas Hughes, 61, of Ruskin, Fla., made the statement blocks from the Capitol outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington after being indicted Wednesday on six felony and misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 9
Before a bank of news cameras, he said the Constitution defined a marriage between government and “we, the people.”
“Over time,” Hughes said, “the Congress, our Congress, has rewritten the rules to define an open marriage: They’re in bed with lobbyists, special interests, Wall Street and big banks.”
He added: “We are not asking, we are demanding that our government honor the vows of fidelity implicit in the Constitution. . . . As long as I am free, I am going to keep introducing voters to solutions to the problems of corruption that the vast majority of voters recognize and oppose.”
The events came as public interest groups rallied behind the letter carrier who made a quixotic, low-altitude flight April 15 from Gettysburg, Pa., to Washington aboard his low-powered gyrocopter carrying letters to all members of Congress protesting campaign finance laws.
On Thursday, dressed in a gray shirt and suit and tie instead of his letter-carrier uniform, Hughes pressed what he called “a voter’s rebellion” over the “corruption” of the electoral process by rich special-interest groups.
In opinion pieces and news interviews from Florida to the District in recent days, Hughes has called for a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down limits on campaign donations by corporations and unions.
Hughes made his brief statement after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Alan Kay, pleading not guilty to a federal grand jury indictment charging him with two felonies — violating registration requirements involving an aircraft and operating without an airman certificate — and four misdemeanor counts of violating national defense airspace and operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier.
Prosecutors said Hughes flew through three no-fly zones: one called Prohibited Area 56A, surrounding the White House and spanning the length of the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to east of the Capitol and from Independence Avenue to K Street; a 15-mile-radius Flight Restricted Zone surrounding the nation’s capital; and a roughly 60-mile-radius Special Flight Rules Area that envelops the region’s three major airports.
But Hughes said that he believed any gaps in the capital region’s airspace security have been closed and urged others not to attempt to repeat his flight. While he said he would never do anything like it again, Hughes maintained that he would not have acted differently.
“The purpose of my civil disobedience was to get Congress and the federal government to work for the people instead of special interests, and to draw attention to my Web site and to solutions that already exist,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he accepted responsibility for his actions, was “not eager for jail time” and open to a plea agreement with prosecutors, considering there was no property damage or injuries in his flight.
However, he added, “this is going to play out in the courts, and it may finish up before a jury of my peers.”
He was supported by groups like Public Citizen, which presented Hughes with an oversize stamp in his honor in the name of the people of the District, and Greenpeace, whose spokeswoman released a statement saying, “Doug Hughes’ courageous and compelling nonviolent direct action struck a chord and his message has reverberated across the country.”
Kay released Hughes on personal recognizance until his next hearing Tuesday.
The judge also removed an order confining Hughes to his home, instead limiting him to surrounding Hillsborough County, Fla., except for court dates.
Hughes remains under orders to stay away from the Capitol, the White House and nearby areas and to not operate any aircraft.