WASHINGTON (AP) — A former U.S. Army reservist described by prosecutors as a Nazi sympathizer was convicted on Friday of storming the U.S. Capitol to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020.
Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, who was working as a security contractor at a Navy base when he joined the pro-Trump crowd on Jan. 6, was also convicted of disorderly conduct and other misdemeanors.
Hale-Cussanelli spoke in his defense and claimed he was unaware that Congress had met at the Capitol.
“I know it sounds silly, but I’m from New Jersey,” Hale-Cusanelli said, according to WUSA-TV. “In all of my studies, I didn’t know there was an actual building called the ‘Capitol.’ It’s embarrassing and silly.
Hale-Cusanelli’s trial was the fifth by jury and seventh overall for a Capitol riot case. The first four juries unanimously convicted the riot defendants of all charges. About 300 other people have pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from the riot, including seditious conspiracy and assault.
Prosecutors said Hale-Cusanelli openly espoused white supremacist 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 top hairstyle associated with the Nazi leader.
Hale-Cusanelli had a “secret” security clearance for his work as a security contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, New Jersey. He also lived on base with a roommate who reported him to the Navy Criminal Investigative Service and secretly recorded a conversion about the Capitol Riot.
During opening statements for the trial on Tuesday, 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” caused Hale-Cusanelli to follow a crowd into the Capitol. Crisp described Hale-Cusanelli as a pompous agitator prone to making “extreme statements to gain attention”.
In pretrial court documents, prosecutors cited Hale-Cusanelli’s bigoted and anti-Semitic views as motivating factors for his participation in the Jan. 6 riot and his desire for civil war.
A 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 need to season them because the salt of their tears would make it quite tasty,” according to prosecutors. Other colleagues recalled that Hale-Cusanelli made disparaging remarks about women, blacks and other minorities, prosecutors said.
Prior to trial, Crisp argued that any testimony about Hale-Cusanelli’s alleged statements about the Jewish people and their role in the US government would be “highly prejudicial in nature without substantial value.”
Crisp acknowledged that Hale-Cusanelli should not have entered the Capitol building.
“But the question of why he was there is what is important,” he told jurors on Tuesday.
Hale-Cusanelli has not been charged with engaging in violence or the destruction of property. He was charged with five counts: obstructing official process, entering or staying in a restricted building or property, disorderly or destructive conduct in a restricted building or property, disorderly conduct in a Capitol and parade, demonstration or picketing in a Capitol. building.
The obstruction charge is a felony. 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 traveled to Washington to protest peacefully, wearing a suit while many others wore tactical gear.
Video captured Hale-Cusanelli shouting profanity at police officers and shouting, “The revolution will be televised!
“It was not a peaceful protest,” Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Fifield said.
More than 800 people have been charged with Capitol crimes resulting from the riot. Many of them are then military veterans. Hale-Cusanelli is among the few defendants who were on active duty on January 6.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, who presided over Hale-Cusanelli’s trial, ruled on two other Capitol riot cases after hearing evidence without a jury. McFadden acquitted one of the defendants of all charges and partially acquitted the other after bench trials.
Hale-Cusanelli was arrested less than two weeks after the attack and has remained in jail since February 2021. He was discharged from the U.S. Army Reserves and banned from the naval base following his arrest.
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