WASHINGTON (AP) — A former US Army reservist who prosecutors have labeled a Nazi sympathizer was convicted on Friday of storming the US Capitol to prevent Congress from trying to win President Joe Biden’s election to be certified in 2020.
Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, who was working as a security contractor at a naval base when he joined the pro-Trump mob on January 6, was also convicted of disorderly conduct and other offences.
Hale-Cussanelli took a stand in his defense, claiming he was unaware that Congress was in session in the Capitol.
“I know this sounds silly, but I’m from New Jersey,” Hale-Cusanelli said, according to WUSA-TV. “Throughout my college days, I didn’t know there was a real building called the ‘Capitol.’ It’s embarrassing and idiotic.”
The trial of Hale-Cusanelli was the fifth before a jury and the seventh overall for a Capitol riot case. The first four grand juries unanimously convicted the rioters’ defendants on all counts. About 300 others have pleaded guilty to crimes traceable to the insurgency, including seditious conspiracy and assault.
Prosecutors said Hale-Cusanelli openly espoused white racist and anti-Semitic ideology and wore an Adolf Hitler-style mustache to work. On his cell phone, investigators found photos of him with the distinctive mustache and combed hair associated with the Nazi leader.
Hale-Cusanelli had a “secret” security clearance for his job as a security contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, New Jersey. He also lived on the base with a roommate who reported him to the Naval Criminal Investigation Service and secretly recorded a conversion about the Capitol riot.
During Tuesday’s opening speech at the trial, a Justice Department prosecutor said Hale-Cusanelli stormed the Capitol because he wanted to start a civil war and create “a clean slate.”
Defense attorney Jonathan Crisp told jurors that “groupthink” and a desperate desire “to be heard” drove Hale-Cusanelli to follow a mob into the Capitol. Crisp described Hale-Cusanelli as a bombastic agitator who tends to “make extreme statements in order to garner attention”.
In pretrial filings, prosecutors singled out Hale-Cusanelli’s bigoted, anti-Semitic views as motivating factors for his participation in the January 6 riots and his desire for a civil war.
One Navy sailor said Hale-Cusanelli told him “he would kill all the Jews and eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and he wouldn’t have to season them because the salt from their tears would make it flavorful enough.” . to prosecutors. Other employees recalled Hale-Cusanelli making disparaging remarks about women, blacks and other minorities, prosecutors said.
Before the trial, Crisp argued that any testimony about Hale-Cusanelli’s alleged statements about Jews and their role in the US government would be “highly prejudicial in nature of no substantive merit.”
Crisp acknowledged that Hale-Cusanelli should not have entered the Capitol.
“But the question of why he was there is important,” he told the jury on Tuesday.
Hale-Cusanelli has not been charged with involvement in any acts of violence or property destruction. He was charged with five counts: obstructing an official process, entering or remaining in a restricted building or compound, disorderly or destructive conduct inside a restricted building or compound, disorderly conduct inside a Capitol building and parades, demonstrations or picketing inside a Capitol building .
The allegation of disability is a criminal offence. The rest are misdemeanors.
Crisp said Hale-Cusanelli believed then-President Donald Trump’s false claims about a stolen election. But the defense attorney said Hale-Cusanelli went to Washington to protest peacefully and wore a suit while many others wore tactical gear.
A video showed Hale-Cusanelli yelling obscenities at police officers, yelling, “The revolution will be televised!”
“This was not a peaceful protest,” Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Fifield said.
More than 800 people have been charged with Capitol crimes stemming from the riots. Many of them are military veterans. Hale-Cusanelli is among the few defendants who were on active duty as of Jan. 6.
US District Judge Trevor McFadden, who presided over Hale-Cusanelli’s trial, ruled two more counts of rioting at the Capitol after hearing testimony without a jury. McFadden acquitted one of the defendants of all charges and partially acquitted the other after bank court proceedings.
Hale-Cusanelli was arrested less than two weeks after the attack and has been in custody since February 2021. He was discharged from the US Army Reserve and expelled from the naval base after his arrest.