WASHINGTON — A Jan. 6 rioter who has dressed up as Adolf Hitler and held a security clearance was sentenced to four years in federal prison Thursday.
Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, 32, of New Jersey, who was an Army reservist when he stormed the U.S. Capitol in January 2021, was convicted in May after he failed to convince jurors that he didn’t know that Congress met at the Capitol, a claim he made on the stand to avoid a conviction for obstruction of Congress.
“I know this sounds idiotic, but I’m from New Jersey,” Hale-Cusanelli told jurors when he said he didn't know Congress met at the Capitol. “I feel like an idiot, it sounds idiotic, and it is.”
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump-appointed judge who oversaw Hale-Cusanelli’s trial, had said his testimony was "highly dubious" and indicated that he was open to a sentencing enhancement. McFadden said Thursday that the claim that Hale-Cusanelli didn't know Congress met at the Capitol was a "risible lie" and an "obvious attempt" to avoid accountability.
McFadden said Hale-Cusanelli "absolutely knew" that Congress met at the Capitol, noting that he had even told his roommate that he was outside the House of Representatives on Jan. 6. McFadden also said he was "appalled" by the language Hale-Cusanelli used to a female officer on Jan. 6, in which he called her an unprintable word.
Hale-Cusanelli told the judge ahead of his sentencing that he owed members of Congress and law enforcement an apology.
"I disgraced my uniform and I disgraced the country," he said. "I do say ugly things" that are "repugnant" in the eyes of many, he said. He assured the judge that he would "never see my face in court after this" and that the time he spent in solitary confinement had changed who he was.
Federal prosecutors had sought 6½ years in prison. Hale-Cusanelli was convicted on all five counts he faced, including a felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding. McFadden found, however, that a lower sentencing range should apply because interfering with the certification of the Electoral College vote didn’t qualify as interfering with the "administration of justice."
In a government sentencing memo, federal prosecutors referred to Hale-Cusanelli’s “enthusiasm for civil war and his well-documented history of violent rhetoric” and argued that significant prison time is warranted because of his background and his false statements on the stand.
"A student of history and government who had previously explained the intricacies of Presidential election procedure to his friends, Hale-Cusanelli falsely testified at trial that he did not know that: (a) 'Congress' sat in the Capitol building; (b) the Electoral College Certification Proceeding was taking place in the building; and (c) when he entered the Capitol, members of Congress were still there, having fled and hidden from the mob," they wrote. "Hale-Cusanelli lied on the stand."
Prosecutors also said Hale-Cusanelli “subscribes to White Supremacist and Nazi-Sympathizer ideologies that drive his enthusiasm for another civil war.” The jury saw only a fraction of the government's evidence of extremist views held by Hale-Cusanelli, a former security contractor who previously had a "secret" security clearance.
“Hale-Cusanelli is, at best, extremely tolerant of violence and death,” prosecutors said. “What Hale-Cusanelli was doing on January 6 was not activism, it was the preamble to his civil war.”
Hale-Cusanelli's lawyer said in a defense sentencing memo that the court will hear from Hale-Cusanelli "that he regrets his actions, deplores the violence and property destruction at the Capitol, and apologizes to members of Congress, congressional staff, and law enforcement for his part in the events."
The government sentencing memo refers to Hale-Cusanelli’s adoptive aunt, Cynthia Hughes, who spoke at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania this month. The memo mentions her role with the Patriot Freedom Project, a group that has supported Jan. 6 defendants, and points to publicly reported information that prosecutors say “fairly supports an inference that Hale-Cusanelli and Hughes have used the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the notoriety of Hale-Cusanelli’s case — which Hughes herself has exacerbated via her public and media appearances — to enrich themselves.” A footnote in the government's memo mentions former President Donald Trump’s rally on Sept. 3.
Hughes wrote a letter in support of Hale-Cusanelli, saying he “is not a violent person; he doesn’t walk around the streets of NJ looking like Hitler.”
Hughes was in court Thursday for Hale-Cusanelli’s sentencing but did not respond to questions from reporters when she left with a man who appeared to be her bodyguard.
Even though government court filings noted that 34 of Hale-Cusanelli’s co-workers told investigators that he held “extremist or radical views pertaining to the Jewish people, minorities, and women”; that he attended a Black Lives Matter protest carrying a “clipboard full of statistics” in hopes someone would “debate him” about differences between races; and that he was arrested with two others 12 years ago and accused of using a “potato gun” bearing the words “WHITE IS RIGHT,” his aunt said in a letter to the court that there “is not a racist bone in his body.”
Prosecutors said it was clear Hale-Cusanelli isn’t sorry about his actions on Jan. 6.
“Hale-Cusanelli’s self-serving statements at trial that he was wrong to enter the Capitol and that he was sorry that he did should be given the same weight as his self-serving claims that he did not know Congress was in the Capitol building — which is to say, none," they wrote.
Despite Hale-Cusanelli's attempts to portray his Hitler photo as a joke, McFadden said, "the evidence shows otherwise." McFadden said a supervisor had to counsel Hale-Cusanelli about his Hitler-style mustache, and said it was abundantly clear that he holds animus toward racial and religious groups, and had "sexist, racist, and antisemitic" views.
Hale-Cusanelli is one of more than 250 defendants tied to Jan. 6 who have been sentenced, and among the 130-plus who have received a period of incarceration. The longest prison sentence — 10 years — was handed down to a former NYPD officer who assaulted a D.C. police officer with a flag pole and then tackled him to the ground.