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The Less Well-Known Attack on the US Capitol 67 Years Ago

By David E. Hubler
Staff Contributor EDGE

The horrific storming of the Capitol building on January 6 by ultra-rightwing supporters of President Trump left five people dead, including one Capitol Police officer, and many more injured. A second Capitol Hill officer later committed suicide.

[Podcast: Police Response to the Capitol Riots]

Numerous arrests have already been made. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are carefully examining video tapes and other recordings to identify, locate and arrest other perpetrators. 

Also probes are underway to examine how such an unruly mob could have successfully overwhelmed the largely unarmed — and therefore vulnerable — Capitol Hill police and breached the security perimeter, especially after the extraordinary security measures taken after 9/11 to create a virtual wall around the Capitol grounds.

The Worst Such Incident since the British Ransacked the Capitol in 1814

The breaking into and desecration of legislators’ offices, hallways, doors and windows has been called the worst such incident since the British ransacked the Capitol in 1814, during the War of 1812. But between 1814 and 2021, there was another security breach of the Capitol that has largely been overlooked or mostly forgotten.

On March 1, 1954, four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, three men and a woman, entered the building sometime after 2 p.m. and took seats in the House visitors gallery above the legislative floor. In an era when anyone could enter the Capitol and walk about unchallenged, they came armed with handguns that went undetected.

Around 2:30 they rose, shouting slogans calling for the island’s independence. Then Lolita Lebrón opened fire on the legislators below.

Lebrón Emptied the Chambers of a Big Luger Pistol, Holding it in Her Two Hands

“She emptied the chambers of a big Luger pistol, holding it in her two hands, and waving it wildly,” The New York Times reported. “Then she threw down the pistol and whipped out a Puerto Rican flag, which she waved but never did manage to unfurl fully.” Lebrón was quickly joined in the momentary insurrection by her three male accomplices.

Miraculously none of the 243 Congressmen in attendance was killed but five were wounded: Representatives Kenneth Roberts of Alabama, George Fallon of Maryland, Ben Jensen of Iowa, Clifford Davis of Tennessee, and Alvin Bentley of Michigan. Bentley, who was shot in the chest, was the most seriously injured. He and his four colleagues all survived and Bentley continued serving in the House until 1961.

Paul Kanjorski, a 16-year-old House page at the time who later became a congressman from Pennsylvania, helped carry three wounded lawmakers off the floor. He then rode in the ambulance with Bentley.

“A lot of the Congressmen didn’t realize they were real guns,” House Page Bill Goodwin recalled. “A lot of the Congressmen just heard pop-pop-pop-pop going on, and they thought it was firecrackers. Everybody had different ideas. And I saw the gun. I knew they were shooting. They weren’t firecrackers.” 

Within Minutes of the Shooting, the Police Sealed off the Capitol

Within minutes of the shooting, the police sealed off the Capitol and surrounding grounds. Guards were stationed at every exit of the Capitol, while police searched the building. Lebrón, Miranda, Cordero were quickly rounded up at the Capitol. The Metropolitan Police established blockades throughout the city until Rodriguez was captured. All four were soon indicted, tried, and convicted in federal court. They received sentences ranging from 16 to 75 years in federal prison.

Cordero, who was battling cancer at the time, was released in 1978. The other three were released and granted clemency by President Jimmy Carter the following year in a successful effort to secure the release of several American hostages being held in Cuba.

Lebrón was imprisoned for 25 years and was widely condemned as a terrorist, “although proponents of Puerto Rican independence hailed her and her associates as revolutionary heroes,” The New York Times reported. She died on August 1, 2010, in San Juan, P.R. at age 90. The cause was heart and lung failure.

In a somewhat ironic moment in history, metal detectors at the Capitol were not installed until 1976, the year America celebrated the 200th anniversary of the insurrectionist war against Britain that led to the birth of the United States.

David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies.

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