WASHINGTON — A D.C. jury will not hear about a New Jersey man’s history of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi comments later this month when he begins trial on felony charges stemming from the Capitol riot.
Prior to his arrest, at least 34 coworkers at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, New Jersey, told federal investigators that Timothy Hale-Cusanelli made no secret of his extreme racist beliefs and was known to wear a Hitler-style mustache. One Navy seaman who spoke with investigators recalled Hale-Cusanelli telling him that if he was a Nazi “he would kill all the Jews and eat them for breakfast.” A petty officer said he recalled Hale-Cusanelli telling him, “Hitler should have finished the job.”
When Hale-Cusanelli begins trial May 23, however, jurors won’t hear any of that after a ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden during a pretrial conference. The judge said prosecutors could enter evidence Hale-Cusanelli had wished for a civil war and wanted to “purge Congress,” but that statements about his racial beliefs and alleged fondness for Nazis would be cumulative and unduly prejudicial.
“The visceral reaction to the defendant’s statements is exactly the kind of response that could induce the jury into finding him guilty,” McFadden said.
Late last month, Hale-Cusanelli’s attorney, Jonathan Crisp, asked McFadden to allow him to question potential jurors about their views on Nazis and Hitler, including whether they thought someone who “impersonates Adolf Hitler, satirical or otherwise, is a person who would want to overthrow the government?”
Crisp said many of those questions were moot after McFadden’s ruling, and the judge denied the rest. As in other Jan. 6 cases, potential jurors will be asked about their personal connections to the Capitol riot and what news coverage they’ve seen of it.
Though jurors won’t hear about Hale-Cusanelli’s affection for Hitler, they will hear a recording made by a confidential source of Hale-Cusanelli allegedly bragging about encouraging the crowd and urging them forward with voice and hand signals on Jan. 6. Hale-Cusanelli also allegedly said if they’d had more men they could have taken over the entire building and said he’d taken a flag another rioter had thrown at an officer with the intent to destroy it.
In addition to the issue of jury questions, McFadden denied a motion from Hale-Cusanelli to dismiss the most serious counts against him. McFadden joined U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich this week in rejecting a narrow reading from their fellow Trump-appointee, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, of the federal statute about obstructing an official proceeding. Earlier this year, Nichols dismissed the counts against two defendants after finding the law required a person to take an action with respect to a document, record or other object. This week, Friedrich described that reading as “unnatural” and on Friday, McFadden called it “strained.” Nichols said during a hearing Monday he was “very seriously contemplating” a request from the government to reconsider his stance.
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