Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
On May 6, psychologist Janet Fay-Dumaine interviewed an inmate at D.C. Superior Court to determine his mental ability to stand trial.
The examination had been ordered, according to court records, because the “defendant insists he is running for president and delusional. Insists he saved President Clinton among other things….”
The defendant: 57-year-old Robert E. Haines, who was arrested in Georgetown two days earlier on an unlawful-entry charge.
According to police, around midnight on May 4, a patron of Old Glory All-American Bar-B-Que flagged down an officer on M Street NW and “complained of a [drunk and disorderly] male in military dress harassing bar patrons”—specifically, female patrons. A restaurant manager had asked the man “at least six times” to leave. But he kept refusing.
Police described the man as “belligerent.” Identified by his Library of Congress photo ID, the man would later sign his arrest papers “Robert E. Haines for President—USA.”
The psychologist talked with Haines for about 35 minutes. His version of the incident was “significantly different” from that in the police report, she noted—“in that it involved the Secret Service, and in Mr. Haines’ opinion, ‘14th Amendment rights.’”
But that’s not all they talked about. “It was necessary to re-direct him numerous times to relevant topics,” the psychologist noted in her evaluation, “as he seemed to prefer to discuss his campaign for the U.S. Presidency…”
What Fay-Dumaine didn’t know is that Haines actually is a presidential candidate—the first to snag a spot on the New Hampshire Republican primary ballot this past January, in fact. “Came in fifth,” he proudly declares, tallying 579 votes—just 53,383 less than President George W. Bush.
But unlike other defeated presidential pipe-dreamers, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), both of whom proudly took the podium at the Democratic gathering in Boston last month, Haines (R-N.H.) won’t be speaking at his party’s convention, which takes place next week in New York City.
Maybe that’s because people keep insisting he’s delusional.
Fay-Dumaine, for instance: “Mr. Haines presented with a number of grandiose claims,” she wrote, “including that he is ‘world famous’ for preventing the assassination of former President Clinton. He said he was running for president at the time, and thus for a campaigning candidate to save the life of the incumbent President was ‘one of the most unique pieces of American history.’”
Grandiose-sounding, certainly, but there’s actually some truth to that, too.
Nearly 10 years ago, a gunman on Pennsylvania Avenue NW fired 27 rounds of ammunition at the White House before he was stopped by two bystanders.
A Washington Post article published the next day, Oct. 30, 1994, identifies Haines as one of those bystanders: “Walking a baby in a stroller, Robert Haines, who identified himself as an independent candidate for president, grabbed the weapon as another man, who has not been identified, wrestled the gunman to the ground, witnesses said.”
Strangely, just prior to the shooting, Haines had struck up a conversation with the suspect, unaware that the man was concealing a deadly weapon. According to Haines, who was actively campaigning at the time, the two had talked about immigration policy. “All the time he had this gun under his coat, I was trying to get his vote,” Haines says.
The gunman, Francisco Martin Duran, was ultimately convicted of attempting to assassinate President Clinton and sentenced to 40 years in prison. As for Haines, his heroics landed him a front-page profile in the Washington Times.
Haines’ presidential aspirations date back to 1989, when the energy consultant began asking people in Denver to sign his “petition for public office,” which was basically just business stationery. It didn’t even specify which public office he was seeking.
“After hundreds of signatures,” Haines says, “someone said, ‘Why don’t you put something at the top of your petition so that we know what you’re running for?’ So I put a low-level position—state legislator. And they kept signing up. Then someone said, ‘Why don’t you run for United States senator?’ So I put ‘U.S. Senator’ at the top of my stationery, and people just kept signing up.”
Eventually, someone suggested that Haines run for president. And so he did.
In 1992, Haines moved to the District and settled on Capitol Hill, where he became a self-described “independent scholar,” studying government and writing a political newsletter. “I attended everything I possibly could,” Haines says. “I was at the Capitol almost every free minute. I met over 300 members of Congress. I campaigned all over Washington.”
“I remember meeting him at some type of political function a year or two ago,” says Ron Faucheux, political analyst for Campaigns & Elections. “But I have to say I don’t know a thing about him or a thing about his campaign.”
This election year, Haines, who dubs himself a “fiscal and social conservative,” is campaigning on a platform of stricter enforcement of immigration law and long-range plans to attain energy independence. And while he supports a worldwide withdrawal of U.S. troops from foreign lands, Haines also wants to assemble a multinational force “to get Osama bin Laden,” he says.
He’s been to 26 states, he says, “including four trips to Washington, D.C., for the 9/11 Commission hearings with anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke for two days and praying in front of the Supreme Court for two days to retain the words ‘one nation under God’” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Haines wants to spread his message far and wide. But all along the campaign trail, he’s encountered stiff resistance.
In mid-November, while campaigning in Hanover, N.H., Haines was served a letter indicating he was not welcome on Dartmouth College’s campus. The student newspaper ran a hostile article against him, he got kicked out of a local pub, and then someone stole his American flag.
Later that same week, Haines was arrested on a parole violation, stemming from his 1996 conviction on felony charges of reckless conduct and illegal use of body armor. He remained in prison until two days before Christmas.
Back on the campaign trail in February, Haines was arrested in Pennsylvania for “criminal trespass, defiant trespasser.” A warrant for Haines’ arrest was later issued following his failure to appear in court.
And in April, Haines was arrested twice while campaigning in Fredericksburg, Va.: on a disorderly-conduct charge, after refusing to leave a party at an art gallery, according to police; and over a parking-ticket dispute, during which Haines allegedly told an officer he would “kick his ass and kill his dog.”
“He took his coat and cowboy hat off and put his fists up,” says Fredericksburg police spokesperson Jim Shelhorse. “And the officer gave him one little squirt of pepper spray.”
It’s a story Haines can’t help laughing about, despite the quietness of the D.C. courtroom where he sits on June 25, waiting for his Old Glory case to come up.
“Rob, you’ve gotta keep it down,” advises Eric Green, a 24-year-old Concord, N.H., resident whom Haines calls his “aide-de-camp.”
“Another case of police animosity,” Haines says of his troubles in Fredericksburg. “They just didn’t want me in town.”
For his court date, Haines is sporting a Stetson hat, seersucker suit, a Texas-star belt buckle, and a navy-blue tie emblazoned with an image of the White House. It’s somewhat more presidential than the priest’s robe and lasso he’s sometimes spotted with.
But before the judge even calls his case, Haines and his lawyer agree to settle: Haines pledges to stay out of Old Glory for the next year. It’s something of a compromise; the prosecution originally wanted Haines to stay three blocks away from the restaurant. But he wouldn’t agree. Despite the lighter punishment, the deal still seems bittersweet to Haines. Old Glory, after all, is his kind of place. “I like the name,” he says.
After officially accepting the deal in open court, Haines finishes up by adding: “And I would ask for Your Honor’s vote for Robert Haines as the next president of the United States.” CP