Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a member of the House committee investigating the uprising on Capitol Hill in January 2021, called out former President Donald Trump on Sunday for featuring a speaker during his Saturday rally who highlighted the plight of a January 6 rioter and suspected Nazi sympathizer who was convicted of all five charges he faced in May.
“When President Biden warned that there are some elements in this extreme group that are semi-fascists, maybe he didn’t need to use ‘semi,'” the California Democrat told CNN’s Jim Acosta on “Newsroom,” referring to recent comments by the current president on the “MAGA Republicans”.
Biden in late August rebuked Republicans who have adhered to his predecessor’s creed, calling it “semi-fascism”.
The speaker at Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania was Cynthia Hughes, leader of a support group for Jan. 6 defendants like Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, whose case went viral after the Justice Department released photos of him wearing a distinctive “Hitler mustache”.
Trump’s decision to feature a speaker highlighting such a case, when there are hundreds of other Capitol riot defendants to cite as an example, prompted a stinging response from Lofgren, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee: ” Being a supporter of Adolf Hitler puts you in the category of a fascist, there’s no question about it. I think this is worrying.”
The support for the rioters on Capitol Hill was just one example of how Trump used his first rally since the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago to pander to his base, ranting against Biden, whom he called an “enemy of the state,” the FBI and the Justice Department, and only briefly promoting the Pennsylvania Senate and gubernatorial candidates he was in Wilkes-Barre to campaign for.
The rally came just days after the former president said he would consider “very, very seriously” a full pardon for the Capitol rioters if he runs in 2024 and wins.
During Saturday’s rally, Hughes pointed to the fact that Hale-Cusanelli, whom he called his nephew, had been in jail since his arrest nearly two years ago as an example of what he called the broader injustice facing defendants in cases related to January 6. While it is true that Hale-Cusanelli was not charged with any violent crime, the judge in his case decided that he should remain in jail while awaiting trial because he posed a threat to the public and because there was a possibility of a ” escalation of violence” for his alleged longstanding neo-Nazi beliefs.
“I am very concerned about statements after January 6 that suggest the defendant is wishing for civil war,” federal judge Trevor McFadden said at a court hearing held about two months after Hale-Cusanelli’s arrest in January 2021.
“All judges are afraid to release someone who then goes crazy,” McFadden, a Trump appointee, said during the March 2021 hearing. “There are a lot of things here that make me worry about that.”
Prosecutors had unearthed police reports from 2020 in which Hale-Cusanelli was accused of stalking by Jewish people. They said they were concerned that she might go after an informant who gave the FBI information that helped her case. And they mentioned that some colleagues at the Navy base where he worked in New Jersey were afraid to confront him because of his racist and sexist comments.
What challenges does Trump face after the Mar-a-Lago raid?During the trial in May, prosecutors played a video showing Hale-Cusanelli yelling a sexist slur at a female police officer during the riot and played audio and showed text messages from the defendant expressing anti-Semitic views, accusing the Jews of controlling Biden. He also said that he wanted a civil war.
Hale-Cusanelli, who claimed he was unaware that Congress was meeting in the US Capitol, denied being a member of any white supremacist group. He stated that he is half Jewish and half Puerto Rican, and that his racist insults were always intended to be “ironic” and “self-deprecating humor”.
A jury found him guilty on all counts earlier this year and he will be sentenced later this month.
He was the fifth rioter on January 6 to be convicted by a jury in Washington and faces up to 20 years behind bars for the crime of obstructing an official proceeding. However, the final sentence is likely to be much lower.