A U.S. Army reservist who worked on a Navy base stormed the U.S. Capitol because he wanted to start a civil war and create “a clean slate,” a federal prosecutor said Tuesday at the start of the trial. of the New Jersey man.
But an attorney for Timothy Hale-Cusanelli told jurors that “groupthink” and a desperate desire “to be heard” drove him to follow a crowd into the Capitol. Hale-Cusanelli should not have entered the building on Jan. 6, 2021, defense attorney Jonathan Crisp admitted during opening statements at trial.
“But the question of why he was there is what’s important,” Crisp added.
Hale-Cusanelli is accused of obstructing the joint session of Congress called to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory. He is not accused of committing acts of violence or destruction of property that day.
Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn Fifield released a video that captured Hale-Cusanelli shouting profanities at the police officers guarding the Capitol and shouting, “The revolution will be televised!”
“It was not a peaceful protest,” she said.
In pretrial court documents, prosecutors presented evidence that colleagues described Hale-Cusanelli as a white supremacist, Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier who wore a Hitler-style mustache for work. On Hale-Cusanelli’s cellphone, investigators found photos of him with the distinctive mustache as well as pro-Nazi cartoons.
It is unclear from documents filed with the courts online how much of this evidence, if any, will be admissible at trial. In his opening statements, Fifield made only a brief reference to the fact that Hale-Cusanelli held bigoted views about the Jewish people.
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 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, DC, to protest peacefully, wearing a suit while many others wore tactical gear.
Hale-Cusanelli’s trial is the fifth by jury and the seventh overall for a Capitol riot case. The first four juries unanimously convicted the riot defendants of all charges.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, who is presiding over Hale-Cusanelli’s trial, ruled on two other Capitol riot cases after hearing evidence without a jury. After bench trials, McFadden acquitted one of the defendants of all charges and partially acquitted the other.
More than 800 people have been charged with crimes related to the Capitol Riots. Many of them are then military veterans. Hale-Cusanelli is among the few who were on active duty at the time of the riot.
Hale-Cusanelli was arrested less than two weeks after the attack and has been incarcerated since February 2021.
Prior to his arrest, Hale-Cusanelli lived in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and worked there as a security contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle, where he had a “secret” security clearance. He also served as a Sergeant in the US Army Reserves.
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.
Jurors are expected to hear testimony from a roommate who lived with Hale-Cusanelli on base and recorded their conversation about the riot.
Fifield said Hale-Cusanelli told his roommate the riot looked like a civil war and hoped it would “clean the slate”. He also paraphrased a quote from Thomas Jefferson saying that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” according to the prosecutor.
Crisp said Hale-Cusanelli was “full of adrenaline and stupidity” when he returned to New Jersey and told his roommate about his actions in Washington. The defense lawyer described him as a pompous agitator prone to making “extreme statements to attract attention”.
Hale-Cusanelli was discharged from the Army Reserve and banned from the Naval Base after his arrest.
Hale-Cusanelli is charged with five counts: obstruction of official process, entering or staying in a restricted building or land, disorderly or destructive conduct in a restricted building or land, disorderly conduct in a building of the Capitol and parade, demonstration or picketing in a building of the Capitol. The obstruction charge is a felony. The rest are misdemeanors.