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Army reservist 'genuinely believes in civil war,' prosecutors tell jury in first day of trial

Timothy Hale-Cusanelli said he entered the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, but not intent on overthrowing the government.

WASHINGTON — Army reservist and alleged Nazi sympathizer Timothy Hale-Cusanelli entered the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6 because he “genuinely believes in civil war,” prosecutors told jurors Tuesday on the first day of testimony in his trial.

In opening arguments, assistant U.S. attorney Kathryn Fifield described Hale-Cusanelli as a man who promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and who thought an armed political conflict was “inevitable.” Fifield said they would hear evidence that Hale-Cusanelli believed Jews were “controlling President Biden” when he and thousands of others stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.

Jurors got a taste of that Tuesday afternoon, when FBI Special Agent Chris Deibert entered dozens of text messages he extracted from Hale-Cusanelli’s phone. The texts, which began as the November 2020 election was unfolding, capture Hale-Cusanelli’s belief in unfounded claims of fraud promoted by former President Donald Trump’s campaign. They also showed his regular use of racial slurs to describe election workers and then-Senator Kamala Harris.

“Minus [n-word] rigging, which they’ll try, [Trump] wins,” Hale-Cusanelli wrote in one text to a friend.

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Hale-Cusanelli also repeated claims about several states won by Biden sending so-called faithless electors to vote instead for Trump.

“Then Mike Pence decides who wins,” he said, echoing a theory Trump himself has continued to repeat.

All of that, though, was typical of the sort of “antagonistic” language Hale-Cusanelli typically uses, defense attorney Jonathan Crisp told jurors.

“You will hear how bombastic he can be. How antagonistic he can be,” Crisp said. “He is the kind of guy you have met who just wants to say things to agitate things. But when you scrape beneath the surface, that’s typically all it is.”

Hale-Cusanelli, Crisp said, was the only member of the mob who entered the U.S. Capitol Building in a suit on Jan. 6. He said they would have to decide if that was the attire of a man intent on overthrowing the government.

Crisp’s description of his client as prone to hyperbole was akin to the defense offered in the first Capitol riot trial for Texan Guy Reffit, whose attorney, William Welch, described him as a blowhard who was prone to saying things he wouldn’t back up. And, like Welch, Crisp didn’t deny his client was at the Capitol – although unlike Reffitt, Hale-Cusanelli made it inside the building.

“He was unequivocally in the Capitol,” Crisp said. “He said a lot of offensive words to anyone’s definition. And he shouldn’t have been there at the end of the day. But why he was there, as you’ll hear, was important.”

Crisp said his client was there because he felt voiceless.

“This was Mr. Cusanelli’s time to be heard in his mind,” Crisp said. “You will hear how desperately he wanted to be heard. To be part of something.”

Ultimately, both prosecutors and Crisp agreed, the case will come down to Hale-Cusanelli’s mindset when he entered the building. To show that, Fifield told jurors they would hear a recording made by his roommate – who agreed to act as a confidential human source for the FBI and NCIS.

In a ruling after jurors were excused for the day, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said jurors could also hear statements from that recording the Justice Department opposed. While the specific statements have not yet been entered into the record, Crisp said in court they dealt with Hale-Cusanelli’s answer to a question from his roommate about what “the plan was” when he and others took over the Capitol.

Testimony was set to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Witnesses for the day were expected to include Hale-Cusanelli’s roommate and multiple law enforcement officers involved in the case.

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