Man pleads guilty to crashing U-Haul into barrier in attempted attack on White House

WASHINGTON — A St. Louis man pleaded guilty Monday to damaging government property in May 2023 when he drove a U-Haul into a barrier outside the White House in an attempt to seize political power, authorities said.

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Sai Varshith Kandula, 20, pleaded guilty in court Monday. With an enhancement for “terrorism,” Kandula could face a maximum sentence of nearly 16 years in prison, though prosecutors agreed to request that he face eight years behind bars as part of a plea agreement, The Washington Post reported.

Kandula was born in India and was a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. at the time of the attack, court records show. He acknowledged in his plea agreement that he could face deportation following his time in prison.

Authorities said Kandula flew from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2023, hours before he drove a rented U-Haul into metal bollards bordering Lafayette Square. The square is just north of the White House grounds, with views of the building.

Authorities said his goal was “seizing power and potentially harming the President of the United States.”

Kandula’s attorney, N. Scott Rosenblum, said in court Monday that his client had been seen by mental health specialists and “diagnosed with schizophrenia,” the Post reported. He added that Kandula was taking medication.

Around 9:35 p.m. on the night of the attack, a U.S. Park Police officer patrolling the area saw Kandula drive a U-Haul onto the sidewalk outside Lafayette Square, sending pedestrians scrambling and nearly striking two people. Kandula hit metal bollards meant to prevent vehicles from going into the square before he backed up and hit the bollards a second time. The second hit disabled the truck, sending up smoke from its engine compartment and leaving it leaking fluids.

Kandula got out of the U-Haul and went to the back, where he took out a Nazi flag from a backpack. Prosecutors said he wanted “to replace the democratically elected government with a dictatorship fueled by ideology of Nazi Germany and for himself to be put in charge of the United States.”

Park Police and U.S. Secret Service officers quickly detained Kandula at the scene.

He told authorities that he was trying to “get to the White House, seize power, and be put in charge of the nation,” court records show. When asked how he would seize power, he said he would “Kill the President if that’s what I have to do and would hurt anyone that would stand in my way,” according to authorities.

He also described a “green book” which included his written-out thoughts and plans for the country. It also included entries about harming family members and others, officials said.

In a passage in the book, apparently from a speech planned for after he seized power, Kandula wrote, “There shall be consequence of civil unrest happens. … Any opposition will be met with the death penalty.”

“We will rebuild this world, and put a new system in place once the objective has been achieved,” he added, according to court records. “Sieg hail.”

He told investigators that he bought a Nazi flag online because “Nazi’s have a great history” and praised their “authoritarian nature, eugenics, and their world order,” court records show. He said that he looked up to Adolf Hitler, calling him “a strong leader.”

Speaking with investigators, Kandula said he had been planning the attack for six months. Earlier, he tried to get access to vehicles or armed security guards for an attack on the government, prosecutors said, though he was unsuccessful.

The May 2023 incident caused more than $4,300 worth of damage to the National Park Service and over $50,000 worth of damage to U-Haul International, prosecutors said.

He is set be sentenced on Aug. 23.

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