IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Driver of U-Haul that rammed White House gate is not a U.S. citizen, prosecutors say

Sai Varshith Kandula, 19, from suburban St. Louis, made his first court appearance after allegedly crashing into the barrier, then telling officials he admires Nazis and wanted to "seize power."
Image: A U.S. Park Police officer inspects a security barrier for damage in Lafayette Square park near the White House on May 23, 2023.
A U.S. Park Police officer inspects a security barrier for damage in Lafayette Square park near the White House on Tuesday.Alex Brandon / AP

WASHINGTON — The man accused of ramming a U-Haul truck into barriers near the White House earlier this week isn't a U.S. citizen, authorities said Wednesday.

Sai Varshith Kandula, a 19-year-old from suburban St. Louis, wore an orange jail-issued jumpsuit in his brief courtroom appearance — his first since the Monday incident — when prosecutors requested pre-trial detention.

A government prosecutor told the court that Kandula is not a citizen or lawful permanent resident.

But later on Wednesday, a Department of Justice official clarified the open-court remarks and said Kandula does hold a green card for lawful, permanent U.S. residency.

The suspect's national origin wasn't mentioned in court.

A college student who was on the same high school track team with Kandula told NBC News on Tuesday that they're both members of the sizable Indian American community in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Kandula answered routine questions from Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather confirming his name and that he understood the proceedings.

Kandula's defense lawyer Diane Shrewsbury, requested a new pair of glasses for Kandula, telling Judge Meriweather that her client's spectacles had been taken upon his arrest and he was having trouble seeing.

Judge Meriweather said she'd take care of that issue. 

Kandula was ordered held without bail until at least his next court date, on Tuesday afternoon.

Shrewsbury told reporters she wasn’t in position to comment on the case, having met Kandula for the first time only minutes earlier.

The defendant potentially faces multiple charges — including threatening to inflict harm on a president, vice president or family member — as the case moves forward.

In courtrooms across America, prosecutors and defense lawyers every day hash out charges against green card holders with deportation as a key bargaining chip.

But under the circumstances of Monday night, immigration attorney Cori Alonso-Yoder said she can't foresee a scenario where Kandula would be offered any deal to remain in the U.S.

"Most likely, yes," he'll be deported if convicted, said Alonso-Yoder, who teaches law at George Washington University. "If he's convicted of those facts, then it's most likely a removable charge."

The suspect's loved ones will likely not face any repercussions from Monday night, no matter their immigration status.

"It shouldn't have any impact on his family," said Alonso-Yoder. "He stands and falls on this own on this kind of charge. It doesn't open a door to any inquiry for all of his connection and their immigration status."

The young man from suburban St. Louis has allegedly told authorities he admires Nazis and had hoped to "seize power" following his U-Haul crash, officials said.

Kandula is accused of renting a U-Haul truck at Dulles International Airport before he crashed into a barrier on the north side of the White House at about 9:35 p.m. ET on Monday.

A bystander took video that appeared to show the U-Haul's driver putting the 26-foot-long vehicle into reverse before jumping the curb and crashing again into barriers on the sidewalk.

In law enforcement interviews after the incident, Kandula allegedly spoke fondly of the Nazis, who “have a great history,” according to a criminal complaint filed against the young man.

Kandula allegedly said he admires the Nazis' "authoritarian nature, Eugenics, and their one world order," the court document revealed.

Although President Joe Biden was in the White House during Monday's alleged attack, the administration has declined to say whether he was told about the crash as it was unfolding.

He was fully briefed on the matter Tuesday morning by the Secret Service and Park Police, the White House said.

Daniel Barnes reported from Washington D.C. and David K. Li from New York City.