Home on the Hill

For several people on Capitol Hill, a highlight of their day is walking home and seeing Peter Bis on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Second Street NE, seated by his two giant mounds of tarp-covered belongings.

“He’s a fixture on the Hill and everyone in the neighborhood knows him because he talks to everyone,” said Jim Weidman, a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation, whose building is less than 20 feet from Bis’s belongings.

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Bis is so familiar to the Capitol Hill community that when city officials notified him that they were going to remove his belongings from the area, where they’ve been for over five years, more than two dozen people, including several congressional staffers and Capitol Hill lobbyists, signed a petition to keep them from doing so.

“I have known him for the five and a half years that I’ve lived there,” said Robert Raben, a former aide to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who is now the head of a lobbying firm, The Raben Group. Raben lives next to the Exxon gas station on the corner where Bis’s belongings are piled about 16 feet in length, four feet tall and four feet wide.

“He is a neighbor, like any other — he just doesn’t happen to have a physical structure around him,” Raben said. “We have adjoining land. He lives essentially at the end of my driveway. He was there when I moved in, he welcomed me and we chat whenever he catches me coming in or out of my driveway. He is ruthlessly pleasant.”

Since the petition was sent to Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office on May 20 — two days before Bis’s belongings were ordered to be removed — Pathways to Housing, a nonprofit agency that works to move homeless people into housing, tried to move his belongings to a storage facility while a place to live was found for Bis.

But Bis said he objected to having his belongings moved because he felt the organizations involved, including the city, did not have the right intentions. So a friend of Bis’s called the Pathways organization, and two hours after taking his belongings, they brought them back to the corner of Massachusetts and Second where they remain.

“My stuff was stolen by Pathway, illegally,” Bis said while sitting next to his returned belongings. Then his conversation detoured along one of its customary tangents. “[It was] illegal search and seizure for obstruction of justice and international terrorism. They also know I carry Interpol phone numbers with me, and British intelligence.

“I am not homeless. I am a political refugee. Some people want me run out of here because my website’s stepping on a lot of toes. The Defense Department’s using it; they’ve been tipped by people overseas, by CIA, Justice Department people. Basically what I am saying is that under international law, I am refugee status, with no question about it.”

Bis chronicles his life on his blog at http://peterbis.blogspot.com , which makes similar statements, with many focusing on political corruption, the Mafia and U.S. space programs. People who know Bis say these are common topics of conversation with him.

Yet he is widely popular at the Capitol. “He is a savant of all kinds of political issues,” Raben said. “And on the basics of life, he’s the same as everybody else. But if you get him going on a conversation that he enjoys, then you’ll quickly spin off into a view of the world which the overwhelming majority of people don’t share.”

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Michael Schwartz, the chief of staff for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), said he has talked with Bis for considerable periods of time as well. Though he doesn’t agree with many of Bis’s assessments, there’s more to him than meets the eye, he said.

“Some of what he’s saying is probably not fantasy,” said Schwartz, who signed the petition to halt the removal of Bis’s belongings. “When you engage in a conversation with Peter, he clearly is an intelligent man with some considerable amount of education behind him.”

Bis said he is originally from Kalamazoo, Mich., and attended both Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He said he obtained an undergraduate degree in history, but that he left law school one year before graduating because he upset the school when he told the dean he wanted to “pull the people from their white-collar mansions and drag them into courts.”

 In plain view of the Hart and Dirksen Senate office buildings, Bis sits many of his days and evenings in front of the Exxon station on the corner, smoking a steady stream of Maverick cigarettes.

“We don’t bother him, he doesn’t bother us,” said an employee at the gas station who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. “He doesn’t have any problems. He doesn’t do like homeless interfering and begging for money, no, he doesn’t do that. He’s a quiet guy. He’s a politician.”

In the middle of telling The Hill about how the CIA participated in the murder of his former girlfriend — Princess Diana — Bis broke off to greet passers-by.

“Only four more days until the weekend,” he said to a woman who, recognizing Bis, smiled in response. “Fourth of July’s on the way, but no skinny-dipping,” he joked.

Bis talks to nearly every person who walks past, often with a precise recollection of their lives, whether it’s a significant other they just broke up with or a child of theirs who was sick. But Bis prefers to talk about government agencies and international intelligence organizations.

Many people in the community who were interviewed for this article said they don’t know why the city wants to remove his belongings. Calls for comment to the mayor’s office were not returned by press time.

People who know Bis say they’re glad to have him as a neighbor, that he adds a sense of encouragement to their day and keeps the neighborhood in order.

“If you’ve been beat down all day at work, it’s always good to have an encourager,” Weidman said. “This is his corner, his neighborhood. He’s kind of like an unofficial neighborhood watch.”

At the end of the day, Bis usually helps empty the trashcans at the gas station. He then pulls some bedding out from one of his tarps and makes his way to an open-air chain-link enclosure some three feet wide in the back of the Exxon parking lot.

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