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Gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes' friend questioned again by Secret Service after Capitol landing

Television trucks gather Thursday morning outside the Ruskin home of Doug Hughes, who flew a gyrocopter into restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon, landing on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building, in an attempt to bring awareness to the need for campaign finance reform. [SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times]
Television trucks gather Thursday morning outside the Ruskin home of Doug Hughes, who flew a gyrocopter into restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., Wednesday afternoon, landing on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building, in an attempt to bring awareness to the need for campaign finance reform. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times]
Published Dec. 15, 2015

Only a few hours after Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the U.S. Capitol lawn Wednesday, secret service agents were at the doorstep of his friend Mike Shanahan's home in Apollo Beach.

"They basically asked the same thing the media was asking," Shanahan, 65, said Thursday morning: Who, exactly, is Doug Hughes and what was he thinking?

Hughes is the 61-year-old Ruskin mailman who sought to deliver 535 letters to members of Congress, urging campaign finance reform and an end to avaricious corruption on Capitol Hill. But he also wanted to make a splash, to make America notice, so he flew through restricted airspace and set his small aircraft down on the lawn of the Capitol.

The building was briefly shut down and armed officers took Hughes into custody. They checked his gyroplane — like a motorcycle with helicopter blades and a propeller — for explosives. They found nothing, and Hughes was moved to a central cell block in Washington, according to U.S. Capitol Police. He was charged under Title 49 of U.S. Code, but it was still unclear early Thursday when and if he would appear in court.

"At least I know he's alive," said Shanahan, who has fielded numerous calls from reporters in the hours since his friend's protest seized national media attention. Shanahan said he is lucky his wife makes strong coffee.

"I've been running on nervous energy," he said. "I had a hard time getting to sleep. I had a hard time staying asleep."

About a year ago, Shanahan said, Hughes told him of the gyrocopter plan. Shanahan, who works with Hughes for the U.S. Postal Service and shares his stance on the issue of campaign finance, was against it. Both were interviewed by the Secret Service at the time, and Shanahan thought for a while that Hughes had abandoned the stunt.

"I argued with him a number of times telling him you can't do this," Shanahan said. "And I think instead of taking it as a warning, he took it as a problem to solve."

Postal inspectors also paid a visit to Shanahan's home Wednesday, he said, and they asked him many of the same questions as everyone else. From his look at the stories following Hughes' arrest, Shanahan said, it's still unclear whether or not his friend's message will stick.

Early reaction was divided into three parts, Shanahan said. The first crowd just thinks Hughes is a "complete nutcase."

"That's the one thing that I want to squash. You know, he didn't do this for nothing," Shanahan said.

The second group Shanahan identified supports the message but thinks the delivery might have been a little extreme.

And the third faction, he said, is focused primarily on national security, wondering how, precisely, authorities let a strange man fly straight into the heart of the nation's capital city.

"The only thing we can do is see what happens," Shanahan said. "It's kind of like we're going to have to let history determine whether this was a good or a bad thing."