Was British Army General Robert Ross the last man to attack the US Capitol?

CLAIM: The last man to attack the US Capitol, prior to the events on 6 January 2021, was a British Army Major General from Northern Ireland, in 1814.

CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. Since the burning of the US Capitol in August 1814, during the War of 1812, there have been four notable further attacks before this year’s incident: Erich Muenter exploded three sticks of dynamite in the US Senate reception room (1915); Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire from the US House of Representatives visitors’ gallery (1954); the Weather Underground group exploded a bomb (1971); and seven people were arrested for causing an explosion in the US Senate (1983).

The Belfast Telegraph published an article that claimed the last time the US Capitol was attacked was during the War of 1812: “Robert Ross … from Rostrevor in Co Down, will always be remembered as the man who burned down the White House in 1814.” 

The US Capitol comprises the buildings that house both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. But was Robert Ross really the “last man to attack the US Capitol?” We reviewed incidents of the US Capitol buildings being attacked.

Watercolour by George Munger showing the ruins of the US Capitol following British attempts to burn the building in 1814; includes fire damage to the Senate and House wings and the shell of the rotunda with the facade and roof missing. Source: US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004662324/#copies

Setting fire to the Capitol (1814)

The Belfast Telegraph article describes how Major General Ross “led his troops to Washington and set fire to the Capitol, Washington Navy Yard and the President’s Mansion.” These actions are described in detail in the book, The Man Who Captured Washington (see especially Chapter 10, “Courteous Conflagrator”, pages 150–165). The orders were given by Royal Navy Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cockburn.

Dynamite sticks (1915)

On 4 July 1915, US Independence Day, Erich Muenter exploded three sticks of dynamite in the Senate reception room (reported in New York Times). The former professor of German defended his actions as an “exclamation point” in response to American financiers aiding the UK against Germany in World War I. No one died in the attack, while Muenter later shot and injured financier JP Morgan Jr.

Shooting from the visitors’ gallery (1954)

On 1 March 1954, Lolita Lebron led a group of four Puerto Ricans who shot from the visitors’ gallery in the House of Representatives. Five congressmen were injured. 

Capitol bomb explosion (1971)

On 1 March 1971, a group calling itself the Weather Underground claimed responsibility for a bomb that exploded in the US Capitol building. No one was injured in the blast. This group carried out several bombings in its campaign, including the Long Island Court House, the New York Police Department headquarters, the Pentagon, and the State Department. No one is known to have been arrested for the US Capitol incident. 

Senate bomb explosion (1983)

On 7 November 1983, someone claiming to be from a group called the Armed Resistance Unit rang the US Capitol, informing them of a pending attack; there was an explosion that caused considerable damage to the second floor of the Senate. No one was killed in the attack, partly because proceedings for the day finished early. The action was carried out by M19, described as America’s first female terrorist group, which said that the action was in response to US military actions in Grenada and Lebanon. 

Summary

There have been four notable attacks on the US Capitol in-between Robert Ross and the incident on 6 January 2021. While Major General Robert Ross in 1814 was the last foreign attacker, Linda Evans and Laura Whitehorn were among the most recent attackers in 1983.


FactCheckNI is Northern Ireland’s first and only dedicated independent fact-checking service and a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can learn more about about FactCheckNI, our personnel, what our article verdicts mean, and how to submit a claim.