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

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.

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“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 Reffitt, Thomas Robertson, Dustin 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.

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.”

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