Q&A: Who is this flying mailman with a message for Congress?

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RUSKIN, Fla. (AP) -- Many questions surround the political stunt of a postal worker charged Thursday with violating national airspace and operating an unregistered aircraft by landing his gyrocopter on Capitol Hill.

Q: Who is he?

A: Doug Hughes, 61, delivers the U.S. mail in a quiet suburb of Tampa, Florida, where he lives with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. He's also an amateur pilot and occasional blogger, expressing his frustration over the influence of money in politics.

Q: What was he flying?

A: Hughes described his 250-pound gyrocopter, which looks and sounds something like a lawnmower, as nothing more than "a flying bicycle" that could be shot down by a Boy Scout with a BB gun. He said he assembled it from a kit and put the U.S. Postal Service logo on its tail to help make a point about delivering a message to Capitol Hill.

Q: What was his message?

A: Hughes expressed hopes that his flight, which ended with his immediate arrest by Capitol Police, would persuade people to press for stronger campaign finance restrictions. He said he was carrying 535 letters on the subject, one for each member of "a sold-out Congress."

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Q&A: Who is this flying mailman with a message for Congress?
UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Doug Hughes conducts a news conference outside of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, May 21, 2015, after pleading not guilty to six counts regarding his landing of a gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the Capitol in April. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Carrying an umbrella that says "shame" on it, Douglas Hughes of Florida leaves federal court in Washington, Thursday, May 21, 2015. Hughes, who flew a gyrocopter through some of America's most restricted airspace before landing at the Capitol pleaded not guilty on Thursday to the six charges he faces. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter seen after it landed on the West Front of the US Capitol on Capitol Hill causing the building and visitor center to be locked down Wednesday afternoon in Washington DC, United States on April 15, 2015. Reports state that a manned aircraft or gyrocopter landed on a lawn near the US Capitol. Police have arrested the pilot. (Photo by Erkan Avci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Douglas Hughes of Florida holds up a design for a stamp that was given to him by an artist as a gift, while meeting with reporters outside federal court in Washington, Thursday, May 21, 2015, . Hughes, who flew a gyrocopter through some of America's most restricted airspace before landing at the Capitol pleaded not guilty on Thursday to the six charges he faces. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Various officials take a close up look at the scene where a small helo or gyrocopter landed on the US Capitol South Lawn area April 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. A man identified as Doug Hughes, 61, flying a gyrocopter illegally landed his aircraft on the west lawn of the US Capitol Wednesday, triggering street closures around the building and prompting a police investigation.'The US Capitol Police continues to investigate, with one person detained,' USCP officer Shennell Antrobus told AFP. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Capitol Hill police officers and other officials lift a gyrocopter that landed on the US Capitol South Lawn, on to a trailer, April 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. A man identified as Doug Hughes, 61, flying a gyrocopter, illegally landed his aircraft on the west lawn of the US Capitol Wednesday, triggering street closures around the building and prompting a police investigation. Hughes is described as a mailman, and a logo appearing to be that of the US Postal Service was visible on the tail fin of the aircraft. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Capitol Hill police officers lift a gyrocopter that landed on the US Capitol South Lawn, on to a trailer, April 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. A man identified as Doug Hughes, 61, flying a gyrocopter, illegally landed his aircraft on the west lawn of the US Capitol Wednesday, triggering street closures around the building and prompting a police investigation. Hughes is described as a mailman, and a logo appearing to be that of the US Postal Service was visible on the tail fin of the aircraft. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A member of the U.S. Capitol Police Bomb Squad works to check and secure a gyrocopter that landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postal worker from Ruskin, Florida, landed the lightweight helicopter on the Capitol lawn to protest against government corruption and to promote campaign finance reform. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter sits on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol with members of the U.S. Capitol Police nearby April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, 61, from Ruskin, FL., landed the gyrocopter on the West Lawn and was arrested immediately. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A police device rolls toward a copter device, right, that landed on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. A small one-person helicopter has landed on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, prompting a temporary lockdown of the Capitol Visitor's Center. Capitol Police approached the aircraft shortly after it touched down and took its pilot into custody. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter that illegally landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol is loaded onto a U.S. Capitol Police trailer April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postal worker from Ruskin, Florida, was quickly arrested after he landed the lightweight helicopter on the Capitol lawn to protest against government corruption and to promote campaign finance reform. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A small helicopter sits on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. ?The U.S. Capitol Police is investigating a gyro copter with a single occupant that has landed on the grassy area of the West Lawn of t?he U.S. Capitol. The U.S. Capitol Police continues to investigate with one person detained and temporary street closures in the immediate area. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A small helicopter sits on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. ?The U.S. Capitol Police is investigating a gyro copter with a single occupant that has landed on the grassy area of the West Lawn of t?he U.S. Capitol. The U.S. Capitol Police continues to investigate with one person detained and temporary street closures in the immediate area. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A small helicopter lands on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, after landing. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A small helicopter sits on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015, after landing. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Q: What inspired him to take such risks?

A: A mix of family tragedy and public policy, it seems. Hughes wrote that he committed himself to lead a more meaningful life while grieving his son's suicide. He also expressed dismay that Americans don't pay more attention to people like Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard University professor whose online Rootstrikers campaign is struggling to inspire a mass movement to reform Washington.

Q: Police don't even let kids fly kites near the White House or Capitol. What Hughes did has prompted investigations by the U.S. Secret Service, the Homeland Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI and other agencies. What was he thinking?

A: "No sane person would do what I'm doing," Hughes told The Tampa Bay Times before his flight. "I have carefully planned it so that nobody will get hurt, including me, especially me."

Q: But isn't it irresponsible to provoke a response by federal agencies focused on preventing terror attacks?

A: "I'm not suicidal," Hughes wrote. "Terrorists don't announce their flights before they take off. Terrorists don't broadcast their flight path," he told the Times, describing himself as a kind of showman-patriot, a mix of revolutionary hero Paul Revere and legendary circus owner P.T. Barnum.

Q: So the government knew he was coming?

A: Just who knew what when was under investigation Thursday, but Hughes had been discussing his plan in the broad strokes for years. Tipped to the scheme, the Secret Service said it interviewed Hughes as part of a "complete and thorough investigation" two years ago. Hughes laid out his plans on his website, and wrote that he even tried to warn the president. "My flight is not a secret. Before I took off, I sent an Email to info(at)barackobama.com. The letter is intended to persuade the guardians of the Capitol that I am not a threat and that shooting me down will be a bigger headache than letting me deliver these letters to Congress," he wrote.

Q: Still, government snipers were ready to shoot Hughes down if he came much closer to the House and Senate. Now he could face years in prison and the loss of his postal worker's job. He wrote that he didn't even tell his wife about his plans, even though all this must affect her as well. Was he prepared to pay these and other consequences?

A: Hughes answered this one on his website before taking off: "Civil Disobedience is not without risk, consequence and cost. Thoreau made that clear in his essay, and I accept the price, whatever it may be."

Q: So has he made a difference?

A: Too early to say. Campaign finance reform is a dead letter in the current Congress. But Lessig, for one, seemed pleased; he tweeted Thursday that Martin Luther King, Jr., "would have called this (hash)ACreativeProtest"

Q: What's next for Hughes?

A: Hughes was released on his own recognizance from federal court on Thursday and cleared to return to home in Florida, where he must check in weekly with authorities pending his prosecution.

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