Washington Week

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101 years of security incidents at the U.S. Capitol

By Dan Cooney

A man with a gun attempting to enter the U.S. Capitol Complex was shot and detained by law enforcement officers Monday. The alleged gunman -- who was known to Capitol Police because of previous incidents -- reportedly pointed the weapon at police officers at the entrance to the underground visitors center on the east side of the Capitol building. The suspect was wounded in the shooting and taken to a Washington hospital.

Today's incident shows why the Capitol, like every government building in Washington and across the country, requires extensive security and safety measures. In the last century, however, there have been attacks within the building known as "The People’s House":

July 2, 1915: Several sticks of dynamite exploded in the Senate Reception Room at the start of the Fourth of July weekend. Erich Muenter, a German-born professor at Harvard University, claimed that he placed the dynamite in the hope that it would "make enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamor for war. This explosion is an exclamation point in my appeal for peace." He was later captured after trying to kill financial executive JP Morgan, Jr.

March 1, 1954: A group of Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire onto the House Chamber from an upstairs visitors' gallery, injuring five congressmen. "The House members -- at least 243 of them in the chamber at the time -- were set up like sitting ducks for their assailants. The Puerto Ricans literally sprayed the House floor with their fire," The New York Times reported the day after. "As they shot, they screamed: 'Viva Puerto Rico.'"

March 1, 1971: "A bomb, apparently planted by a group or person protesting against the Vietnam war, exploded early this morning in the Senate wing of the Capitol, causing extensive damage but no injuries," The New York Times reported. Weather Underground, a violent leftist group, later claimed responsibility for the attack. The Senate barber shop was among the rooms damaged by the blast.

November 7, 1983: Moments after telephone calls to The Washington Post and Capitol switchboard warned that a bomb had been placed in the Capitol, an explosion ripped through the Senate side of the building. No one was killed or injured, partly because Senate business had concluded earlier than expected. The calls, from someone claiming to represent the "Armed Resistance Unit," said the bombing was in response to U.S. military aggression in Grenada and Lebanon.

July 24, 1998: In the deadliest shooting inside the Capitol since Congress first met in the building dating back to 1800, a gunman skipped past a security checkpoint and fatally shot two Capitol Police officers. The gunman was captured near the office of then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas). The two officers were the first private citizens to lie in honor in the rotunda of the Capitol, according to the Office of the House Historian. The shooter, Russell Weston, Jr., was found to be mentally incompetent and remains in a psychiatric facility in North Carolina. 

October 3, 2013: A 34-year-old woman attempted to enter White House grounds by ramming a security fence with her car. After the unsuccessful attempt, police chased her to the grounds of the Capitol. Amid the chaos outside, lawmakers were engaged in a bitter battle over the ongoing government shutdown. She was shot and killed by police near a Senate office building