Inaugural Intruder Credits God
Minister Offered President Medallion, Spiritual Boost
By David Montgomery and Arthur Santana
Richard C. Weaver, shown shaking President Bush's hand on Inauguration Day, credited "God" with helping him slip past security. (MSNBC)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 26, 2001; Page B01
The Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police were no match for God, said the Rev. Richard C. "Rich" Weaver, the mysterious handshake man who stepped forward yesterday and credited the Lord with getting him into a restricted area so he could accost President Bush and give him a spiritual pep talk on Inauguration Day.
It was the same stunt he pulled four years ago at President Bill Clinton's second inauguration, only this time the U.S. Capitol Police and the Secret Service were on the lookout for him. In preparation for Saturday's festivities -- where law enforcement agencies said security was the tightest ever for an inauguration -- the Capitol Police had shown officers a video of Weaver's handshake with Clinton so he could be easily recognized.
"The guards let me in like nobody's business," said Weaver, 55, a nondenominational Christian minister. "It happens all the time. It's so funny, it's almost eerie. But this stuff is no big deal to God. God can close people's eyes so they don't see you."
The president of the Spiritual Revolution Through Christ Inc. outside Sacramento said he has been able to meet presidents and other politicians, celebrities and athletes over the last 25 years. He said he does it to provide spiritual guidance, so that they might be role models for young people.
Weaver, who is jovial and energetic in person, was already pursuing his Christian mission in the early 1970s when, as a campus evangelist, he was active in the "Jesus Revolution" in California, according to contemporary news accounts. A knowledgeable source said the Secret Service has had dealings with him on three occasions, including one prior to Clinton's second inauguration that the source declined to specify.
Spokesmen for the Capitol Police and Secret Service remained tight-lipped about the embarrassing "unscheduled handshake," saying the release of details would compromise security. Because the intruder committed no crime, the agencies also withheld his identity. A source familiar with the incident confirmed that Weaver was the intruder.
Former Secret Service director Eljay Bowron said Weaver's casual demeanor when he walked up to Bush may have prevented alarms from going off among agents. "Obviously, in an ideal world for the Secret Service, this wouldn't have happened," said Bowron, who saw a video clip of the incident. "I'm sure that they feel embarrassed."
Bowron, who was director from 1993 to 1997 and oversaw Clinton's second inauguration, said he vaguely remembers Weaver approaching Clinton. He described him as a familiar type known to agents as a "nuisance approacher" rather than a physical threat.
"If they were going to worry about each one of those individually, they'd have to put a fence around the whole city," said Bowron, executive vice president of the Vance International security firm in Oakton.
The Washington Post interviewed Weaver yesterday by telephone and in person in a suburb of Sacramento, where he was also photographed.
Weaver said he had a blue ticket for standing room at the swearing-in, which would have required him to pass through a checkpoint but not a metal detector.
Later, Weaver and law enforcement sources said, he passed through a checkpoint with a metal detector leading into a restricted section of the Capitol grounds.
Weaver said he wandered into the Capitol and mixed with members of Congress and other VIPs before going outside and meeting Bush.
The 15-second encounter was captured on videotape shown on television programs Wednesday. The scene is striking. Weaver strides up to Bush, shakes his hand and gives him something (identified by the White House as a medallion). Bush tries to move away, and Weaver touches the president's right elbow. Weaver reaches into his pocket and pulls out something that resembles a camera.
Afterward, Weaver said, Secret Service agents took him into the Capitol and asked how he got so close. The agents "are the most awesome people I've seen anyplace in the country, and I've dealt with them several times," Weaver said yesterday.
While under questioning, he feared that the agents might feel they had failed in their jobs. He tried to buck them up: " 'It had nothing to do with you. God's bigger than all you guys,' " he recalled saying. "It really encourages them when I tell them that."
Weaver offered this account of how he got so close to Bush. Capitol Police and Secret Service officials declined to confirm any detail except the handshake.
It started three weeks before the inauguration when Weaver felt a strong inner sense that God wanted him to deliver a message to George W. Bush. He typed it on a blue card, which he then laminated: "Your miracle election is to remind you to stand for Christ daily without political compromise. Keep Christ first and God will give you another miracle election in four years."
He brought the card and a medallion with an image of former president George Bush on it. Weaver said the elder Bush had given two such medallions to him at a reception at Ronald Reagan's first inauguration, when he said he also met the younger Bush.
On the morning of Inauguration Day, Weaver said, he got a blue standing-room ticket from a woman who had an extra one. He saw a group of men who looked important, and he overheard one saying he knew a special entrance. Weaver fell in with the group as it entered the Capitol grounds.
He asked a guard where a bathroom was and was directed through a metal detector. He now found himself in a VIP area. He took a seat 20 rows away from Bush to hear the inaugural address. Afterward, he walked into the Capitol, then upstairs. An officer challenged him. He said he only wanted to find an exit. The guard escorted him down in an elevator and directed him to a door.
Weaver stepped outside to find himself near the president.
After handing over the medal and card and telling Bush that Jesus loves him, Weaver reached into his pocket for something else. "That was my camera," he said. "I was going to take a picture of him. I decided that wasn't too appropriate."
Jim Mackin, a spokesman for the Secret Service, emphasized that Weaver passed through a metal detector.
Pressed about the harm Weaver still could have inflicted, Mackin said: "There are other measures I can't elaborate on, but I certainly understand the questions being raised. . . . In answering some of these questions, we would lend assistance to this happening again."
A retired Secret Service agent who once protected President Ronald Reagan said agents are trained not only to protect the president's life but also to protect his dignity.
"You don't want to embarrass the protectee. That's a big issue in your training," said the former agent, who asked not to be identified. "You could lose your job if you just dove in front of someone who looked like they shouldn't be there but turned out to be the president's old friend who forgot his pass. That man with President Bush looked like he belonged there."
The former agent said it was not a surprise that the interloper did not get into legal trouble. The same thing has happened before. "If we charge him with something, it would only blow it up," the former agent said. "We just want to get it over with and get him out of there."
Staff writer Petula Dvorak and research editor Margot Williams in Washington and special correspondent Liz Garone in Sacramento contributed to this report.