WASHINGTON — The troubled Iraq war veteran who scaled the White House fence had a dangerous fixation on the president, stockpiling weapons and ammunition and carrying a map to the White House stuffed in a Bible during an earlier arrest, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
When he was arrested, Omar Jose Gonzalez had two hatchets, a machete and 800 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle parked near the White House, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Mudd. A judge granted the government’s request to hold Gonzalez for 10 days without bail.
“Mr. Gonzalez’s preoccupation with the White House and accumulation of large amounts of ammunition in an apparently short period of time renders him a danger to the president,” Mudd said. There was no indication he had a gun Friday night, however.
Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, climbed the fence on Pennsylvania Avenue and sprinted toward the White House. He made it inside the unlocked north door before Secret Service agents subdued him. On him, authorities said they found a folding knife with a 3.5-inch blade.
The Obamas had left for the weekend about 10 minutes earlier.
The breach — believed to be the first in which a White House fence jumper was able to reach and enter the building — has spurred criticism of the Secret Service and led to an internal review of security, including suggestions to restrict pedestrian access near the White House.
Family members said Gonzalez, an Army combat veteran, was wounded by an improvised bomb in Iraq and struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after returning to Texas. He became increasingly paranoid, they said, hiding guns behind every door in the house and saying that people were watching him and trying to poison him.
Gonzalez complained bitterly about his treatment at the now-scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs, according to his family. They said his disability claim was stuck in a backlog for more than a year. Eventually he became homeless and lived in his 1996 Ford Bronco.
By this summer, according to authorities, Gonzalez had begun to focus on the White House and the president.
On July 19, a Virginia State Police trooper attempted to stop him for reckless driving in the Bronco. Gonzalez refused to pull over, police said, and led them on a 20-mile pursuit on Interstate 81 in southwest Virginia. He was arrested on felony charges of possession of a sawed-off shotgun and attempting to elude police.
Ten other weapons were found in his vehicle, including a sniper rifle and five handguns, Virginia police records show. Tucked inside a Bible was a map with a hand-drawn circle around the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria and “a line drawn to the White House,” authorities said.
Gonzalez was held in New River Regional Jail and released a week later on $5,000 bail, according to a jail spokesman. He said records did not indicate who paid it. Police held the guns pending the outcome of the case, which is not yet resolved.
On Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped again, this time by the Secret Service, while walking along the southern fence of the White House with a hatchet in his rear waistband. He gave agents permission to search his Bronco, where they found camping gear and two dogs, but no guns or ammunition, Mudd said. He was not charged.
After he jumped the fence last week, agents found 800 rounds of ammunition in the Bronco, parked on Independence Avenue Northwest, in boxes and in magazines. Gonzalez told an agent that “he was concerned the atmosphere was collapsing and he needed to get the information to the president,” according to the complaint.
Gonzalez’s ex-wife, Samantha Bell, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that she had no idea her former husband had been arrested before last week’s White House intrusion. She had last spoken with him by phone in July.
“That don’t even look like him,” she said, when she saw his mug shot from the July arrest. “His eyes are so dark. He looks so distant. That’s not him.”
But she said she was not surprised by reports that Gonzalez had guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. When they were still living together in Copperas Cove, Bell said, Gonzalez had begun stockpiling weapons and ammo “in every part of the house.”
“For them to say he had 800 rounds of ammo, it didn’t shock me, just because he was living in that Bronco,” Bell said.
Bell reiterated that her ex-husband had never threatened or hurt her or anybody else. If Gonzalez had been the type to want to hurt someone, she said, “he would’ve already hurt someone.”
“He never wanted to do anything against the law,” Bell said. “He liked police officers.”
During Monday’s hearing, Gonzalez stood with his hands behind his back and spoke softly to the judge. His attorney, federal public defender David Bos, did not request a psychiatric evaluation, saying Gonzalez was capable of understanding the charges and the court proceedings. Bos declined further comment.
Gonzalez, who wore close-cropped hair, a chin beard and an orange jumpsuit, was ordered held without bail for apparently violating the terms of his release on the Virginia felony charges. Another hearing was set for Oct. 1.
The Secret Service has already increased surveillance and foot patrols around the White House in response to the breach, and the door that Gonzalez went through will be locked when not in use, the administration said.
President Barack Obama praised the agency Monday during an Oval Office event. “The Secret Service does a great job,” he said. “I’m grateful for all the sacrifices they make on my behalf and on my family’s behalf.”
Any change in policy or additional security must be weighed against the need to keep the White House accessible to employees and visitors, as well as preserving the constitutional rights of those who gather beyond the fence in front to protest, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“Right outside the front gate of the White House is Lafayette Park, which is among the more prominent First Amendment zones in the country,” Earnest said Monday.
In a separate incident Saturday, Kevin Carr, 19, of Shamong, N.J., was arrested after trying to drive his car onto the White House grounds. He told officers he communicated telepathically with Obama and with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a hearing Monday, a judge released him on his own recognizance on a charge of unlawful entry.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced a Sept. 30 hearing on the Secret Service. “These significant security breaches reveal our weaknesses as well as our response capabilities to our nation’s enemies,” the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Monday.
Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, said he would review security procedures but warned against moving rashly.
“I encourage all of us to not rush to judgment about the event and not second-guess the judgment of security officers who had only seconds to act, until all the facts are in,” Johnson said in a statement. “It is important to remember that the U.S. Secret Service remains one of the best, if not the best, protection services in the world.”