May 27, 2022

Jan. 6 rioter convicted after telling jurors he’s an ‘idiot’ who didn’t know Congress met at Capitol

WASHINGTON — A New Jersey man with alleged Nazi sympathies who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, tried and failed to convince a jury this week that he didn’t know the Capitol building is where Congress meets.

Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, who was in the U.S. Army Reserves when he stormed the Capitol, was convicted Friday on all five counts he faced, including a felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding.

Hale-Cusanelli, who has been in jail since Feb. 2021, did not dispute that he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, and his defense lawyer explicitly admitted that Hale-Cusanelli engaged in criminal activity that day. Video shows Hale-Cusanelli yelling at cops outside the Capitol, entering the Capitol moments after it was breached, waving other members of the mob into the building, and attempting to grab another rioter away from police.

But Hale-Cusanelli attempted to defend himself against charges by saying he didn’t know that the Capitol was where the House and Senate sit — despite having described himself during the trial as a history buff who closely followed the electoral college certification process. He claimed in testimony on Thursday that he didn’t realize that senators and House members were in the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

“I know this sounds idiotic, but I’m from New Jersey,” Hale-Cusanelli told jurors on Thursday. “I feel like an idiot, it sounds idiotic, and it is.”

The first count of Hale-Cusanelli’s indictment charges that he “attempted to, and did, corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, a proceeding before Congress, specifically, Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.” Prosecutors had to convince a jury that Hale-Cusanelli acted “knowingly” and not “through ignorance, mistake, or accident.”

Hale-Cusanelli leaned heavily on the “ignorance” component, telling jurors that — despite his knowledge of the 17th Amendment that provided for direct election of U.S. senators — he had no clue that members of Congress met at the Capitol.

“I didn’t know the Capitol building was the same as the congressional building,” Hale-Cusanelli told a federal prosecutor.

Hale-Cusanelli was the fifth Jan. 6 defendant to face a jury trial. The first four defendants to face a jury — Guy ReffittThomas RobertsonDustin Thompson, and Thomas Webster — were convicted on every count they faced. Hale-Cusanelli’s trial unfolded before Judge Trevor N. McFadden, a Trump-appointed judge who acquitted another Jan. 6 defendant during a non-jury trial.

McFadden said Friday after the jury’s verdict that he was open to giving Hale-Cusanelli a sentencing enhancement because he found the defendant’s testimony “highly dubious.” Sentencing is set for Sept. 16.

McFadden was the judge who ordered Hale-Cusanelli held until trial, in part based on evidence the prosecution provided illustrating racist comments he made. According to prosecutors, at least 34 of Hale-Cusanelli’s colleagues told them that he held “extremist or radical views pertaining to the Jewish people, minorities, and women.” A Navy petty officer claimed Hale-Cusanelli once said that “Hitler should have finished the job,” prosecutors said. Prosecutors also discovered evidence on Hale-Cusanelli’s phone they said shows he has Nazi sympathies and white supremacist views.

And back in 2010, prosecutors said, Hale-Cusanelli was one of four people arrested for using a “potato gun” made out of PVC pipe and “emblazoned with the words ‘WHITE IS RIGHT’ and a drawing of a confederate flag” to shoot frozen corn at houses in Howell, New Jersey.

Image: Timothy Hale Cusanelli
Timothy Hale Cusanelli.U.S. District Court

Prosecutors also provided photographs where Hale-Cusanelli appeared to be dressed like Hitler.But jurors heard only some evidence of Hale-Cusanelli’s racist comments, including one text that proclaimed that Democrats would steal the election through “n****r rigging.”

They were not shown all of his texts because McFadden had ruled that including such comments would be prejudicial.

Hale-Cusanelli’s defense had downplayed the extent of the racist content on his phone, which included evidence that he attended a Black Lives Matter protest “holding what he describes as a ‘clipboard full of statistics’ that he took with him to the protest hoping someone would ‘debate him’ about the differences between the races.” The government said that Hale-Cusanelli also hosted a “Based Hermes Show” in which he talked about how the U.S. needed “more minority control” instead of gun control.

On the stand, Hale-Cusanelli portrayed his offensive remarks as “repugnant” and “disgusting” jokes he exchanged with friends, not the basis of his online identity.

“I really like attention and I like talking a lot,” he testified. He called some of his remarks “ironic humor,” and claimed, in the final moments of his testimony, that he was half Puerto Rican and half Jewish, and that his comments were “self-deprecating humor” that helped him “cope with how I was raised.”

In closing arguments, the prosecution described Hale-Cusanelli as “joyful” and “giddy” on Jan. 6, and referred jurors back to comments Hale-Cusanelli had made about hoping for a civil war.

“It’ll just be one side with guns against another side with dildos and bongs I wonder who will win,” Hale-Cusanelli wrote in one message cited by prosecutors.

The prosecution also pointed to evidence of how closely Hale-Cusanelli followed politics, calling him an “ardent Trump supporter” who subscribed to the former president’s lies about the 2020 election.

“The defendant knew exactly what he was doing that day,” a federal prosecutor said. “He knew that was the last stand for Trump.”

Hale-Cusanelli’s lawyer, Jonathan Crisp, said his client was “offensive” and was the kind of person who should “just shut up,” but that he only had “superficial knowledge about politics.”

Hale-Cusanelli, Crisp said, “couldn’t shut up to save his life, and this is where he is now because of that.”

Jurors began deliberating Hale-Cusanelli’s fate on Friday morning.

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