An unoccupied black Jeep Patriot rolls down the street and crashes into a light pole and steel bollard of a guard booth near the White House shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday.
A block of wood had been affixed to the accelerator with Velcro. Inside the vehicle – its motor still running, its airbag deployed – are 200 rounds of ammunition, eight knives of various sizes and two machetes.
Heavily armed Secret Service agents, including an emergency response team and a counter sniper team, immediately scramble into action.
The special teams are ordered to take up defensive positions.
Minutes after the crash, agents spot a 5-foot-11 white man jumping a fence of the White House complex. He ignores agents’ orders to halt and runs deeper into the complex, towards the White House.
There’s been a breach.
This is not the beginning of a Hollywood movie, but the real-life drama that unfolded early Sunday morning when, according to federal authorities and a criminal complaint, 32-year-old Joseph Clifford Reel of Kettering, Ohio, crashed his Jeep and jumped the fence because, as he told officers, he wanted to paint the “don’t tread on me snake” somewhere in the White House complex as a symbolic gesture.
What Reel was referring to is the Gadsden Flag, a Revolutionary War-era relic that features a coiled, hissing snake on a yellow background with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” It has become a symbol of the Tea Party movement and is also commonly used by antigovernment “Patriot” groups. Whether Reel is a member or sympathizer of either faction is unclear. According to NBC News, Ohio records indicate Reel is a registered Republican.
A federal detention hearing has been scheduled for Reel on Thursday afternoon in Washington.
President Obama was in California at the time of the incident and was never in any danger.
Reel told investigators, according to the complaint, that “he had conducted his own surveillance on the White House complex, which included taking pictures of the White House complex, for the past day because he was looking for ‘a way in.’”
After the Jeep crash, Secret Service agents spotted Reel on a bicycle near the scene. They asked him what he was doing in the area. He said he was just “trying to see what was going on,” according to the complaint.
They told him to leave the area. “OK,” he said, riding his bicycle about 25 feet away before hopping off and jumping the fence of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex.
He was on the loose in the complex for less than two minutes but did manage to get about 40 feet “from the wrought-iron fence located on West Executive Avenue, N.W., which constitutes the internal perimeter of the grounds of the White House residence,” the complaint says.
Just before being taken into custody at 3:17 a.m., Reel dropped a can of spray paint covered in silver duct tape.
After he was in handcuffs, Secret Service and bomb squad officers used explosives-sniffing dogs to search Reel’s jeep, where they found the ammunition and a hand-held rifle scope.
They did not find any guns or explosives. Reel was unarmed except for a pocketknife. He was also carrying a handcuff key.