Jose Luis Magana/AP
Editor’s Note: This story contains descriptions of offensive language, including the use of racial slurs.
A former Army reservist stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, intending to incite a second “civil war,” federal prosecutors said in court on Tuesday. The defendant, Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, is the latest alleged Capitol rioter to stand trial and brings a history of what the prosecution and defense call “extreme” statements. The jury saw a series of such statements in the form of text messages sent by Hale-Cusanelli before the riot, in which he used anti-black, anti-gay and anti-Semitic slurs.
Hale-Cusanelli’s lawyer, meanwhile, insisted that his client’s statements should not be taken at face value, that he was “desperate to be heard” when he spoke. joined in the riot and did not intentionally interfere with the counting of electoral votes that day.
During a scheduled week-long trial, jurors will have to decide which case is the most compelling. On Wednesday, prosecutors plan to call Hale-Cusanelli’s former roommate, who acted as a confidential human source for the government and secretly taped Hale-Cusanelli talking about his actions on Jan. 6.
Hale-Cusanelli of New Jersey, was not charged with assaulting police or inflicting property damage in the attack. Unlike other defendants facing similar charges, however, Hale-Cusanelli has been held in pretrial detention for more than a year. A federal judge – appointed by former President Trump – has ruled that Hale-Cusanelli poses too much of a danger to the public, in part because of his alleged “white supremacy” ideology. As described in court documents, Hale-Cusanelli once walked to his job as a security guard at a naval weapons station while sporting a “Hitler mustache” and told a colleague that “Hitler should have finish the job”.
Several Jan. 6 defendants who were being held in the Washington DC jail with Hale-Cusanelli also described him to NPR as a “white supremacist.” These inmates said he was known for his racist comments and claimed he carved anti-Semitic designs on prison tables. Hale-Cusanelli has denied being a white supremacist and his attorney has denied making anti-Semitic cartoons while in prison.
In court on Tuesday, Hale-Cusanelli wore a light purple button-up shirt with a striped tie. He was clean-shaven with cropped black hair. He listened quietly and sometimes took notes throughout the day’s proceedings.
Jurors won’t see some of the evidence prosecutors wanted to include about Hale-Cusanelli’s alleged “Nazi sympathizer” ideology, such as photos of Hale-Cusanelli with a “Hitler mustache.” The judge, Trevor McFadden, ruled that such evidence would unfairly prejudice the jury without providing sufficient insight into the specific crimes with which Hale-Cusanelli is charged.
Still, the prosecution and defense said Hale-Cusanelli expressed “extreme” views. Text messages presented by prosecutors in court showed Hale-Cusanelli using openly racist language, including multiple uses of the n-word and a racist reference to Vice President Kamala Harris. At one point, he expressed a belief that Democrats could steal the presidential election through “n****r rigging.”
Prosecutor Kathryn Fifield said in her opening statement that Hale-Cusanelli joined the first wave of rioters to breach the US Capitol and used military-style hand signals to entice other rioters to join the crowd inside. . He reportedly spent 40 minutes inside the building before exiting. Hale-Cusanelli lived and worked at Naval Weapons Station Earle, where he had a “secret” level security clearance and access to military munitions. Given his alleged actions on January 6, prosecutors described Hale-Cusanelli as a security threat.
After Hale-Cusanelli returned to New Jersey, agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the FBI began investigating. Investigators spoke to Hale-Cusanelli’s roommate at the base, and he agreed to secretly wear a recording device on behalf of the government and record Hale-Cusanelli. Fifield said the recording showed Hale-Cusanelli discussing how he believed ‘Jewish interests’ were controlling the Biden administration, and described the Capitol riot as ‘just a taste of what’s to come’ .
Hale-Cusanelli’s defense attorney, Jonathan W. Crisp, acknowledged in his opening statement that his client can be abrasive, describing him as “bombastic.”
Hale-Cusanelli is “that guy you’ve met who just wants to fuss and say things,” Crisp told the jury. “Tim is talkative. He likes to get attention,” Crisp said, and “he offends people along the way.”
On Jan. 6, Hale-Cusanelli traveled to Washington, DC to see former President Trump’s speech because he wanted to be “a part of something,” Crisp said. Unlike other rioters who wore military-style combat gear, Hale-Cusanelli wore a suit and tie with a red MAGA hat.
Much of the government’s case relies on video evidence, and Crisp said the defense will not dispute that Hale-Cusanelli breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
“He was unequivocally at the Capitol,” Crisp said, and “he shouldn’t have been there.”
Instead, Crisp made an argument that Hale-Cusanelli had no specific intention of disrupting the congressional voter count process that day, and got caught up in “groupthink.” . One of the main charges in the trial, obstruction of official process, requires prosecutors to prove Hale-Cusanelli’s intent to obstruct Congress.
After opening statements, jurors heard testimony from United States Capitol Police Inspector Monique Moore, who described security preparations that day, as well as the chaos that unfolded as rioters overwhelmed the Capitol. The jury also viewed footage from surveillance cameras around the building. At one point, a few jurors gasped when they saw video of an unidentified rioter hitting a police officer with a trash can.