Florida mailman Douglas Hughes got a hero's welcome when he returned to Washington Thursday to face six charges related to his April 15 landing on the West Front of the Capitol.
In a lofty speech to supporters and about two dozen reporters, Hughes called on lawmakers to "honor the vows of fidelity implicit in the Constitution." The 61-year-old advocate for campaign finance reform clarified, that's "fidelity to 'We the People.'" Returning to court after more than a month under house arrest in Ruskin, Fla., Hughes pleaded not guilty to two felonies and four misdemeanors. He took full responsibility for flying the gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pa., and the prison time he might face, but said he is open to a plea deal. Hughes emphasized his actions caused "no property damage and no injury."
Judge Alan Kay arrived 29 minutes late for the hearing, delayed by a "luncheon," according to a court employee. The back benches of the courtroom were filled with supporters, who whispered during the wait. One said the gyrocopter flight was "harmless." Another called Hughes "a great American hero."
When Kay did arrive, proceedings were brief. He ordered Hughes to return to court on May 27 for a status hearing. Until then, Hughes will be confined to Hillsborough County in Florida. The judge agreed to lift his house arrest, but kept in place conditions that he stay out of Washington unless he is attending court or meeting with lawyers, and avoid the Capitol and White House when he is in D.C.
Outside the federal courthouse, activists presented Hughes with a jumbo stamp that featured his face. In keeping with the campaign finance message he tried to deliver to lawmakers, protesters with Public Citizen and CodePink waived signs with messages like, "DEMOCRACY IS NOT FOR SALE."
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