The Hitler-mustached Army reservist who worked security for a Navy contractor at a Jersey Shore weapons base—where many coworkers knew he espoused white supremacist beliefs—will remain jailed pending trial following his arrest for actions at the Capitol riot, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Trevor N. McFadden based his decision in part on a history of complaints against Hale-Cusanelli for anti-Semitic social media threats targeted at Orthodox Jews in Lakewood, New Jersey. Hale-Cusanelli was well known to local authorities, with a criminal history dating back more than a decade that included a 2010 arrest for shooting frozen corn at houses in Howell, NJ, using a make-shift gun bearing the words “WHITE IS RIGHT.”
On January 6th, Hale-Cusanelli, 31, traveled to Washington DC in a suit and tie from his home in Colts Neck, NJ, according to court papers. He recorded videos of himself screaming at a female Capitol Police officer (“The revolution will be televised, cunt!” and “Trump won!”), and then climbing scaffolding to enter the Capitol building. The complaint states he later admitted to encouraging rioters to “advance” into the building, directing them with hand signals to breach security.
Hale-Cusanelli held a “secret” security clearance at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Colts Neck, which holds munitions for the Navy’s fleet around the world. He was arrested on January 15th in New Jersey and charged with five offenses related to entering a restricted building and obstructing law enforcement. A judge initially ordered him released pending appeal, but prosecutors appealed.
Hale-Cusanelli admitted to federal agents that he was trying to interfere with the certification of the electoral college vote that affirmed President Biden’s victory, but he denies that he is a Nazi sympathizer or white supremacist.
In arguing for his release, his attorney, Jonathan Zucker, defended anti-Semitic comments that Hale-Cusanelli made on his Based Hermes YouTube channel, arguing that Hale-Cusanelli considered the videos “a platform to talk about local New Jersey politics.” Zucker argued for Hale-Cusanelli’s release in part because he was not charged with a violent offense at the riot, and was not part of any organized group.
And although Mein Kampf and The Turner Diaries—two of the most notorious anti-Semitic screeds ever published—were found in his home, Zucker said that’s merely a reflection of Hale-Cusanelli’s interest in history. He has an associate’s degree in history from Brookdale Community College near his home. “Assuming the prosecution’s allegations are correct that he entered the Capitol area, it appears Mr. Hale-Cusanelli got swept up in the moment,” Zucker wrote.
But Hale-Cusanelli’s apparently extremist views were long known in his Ocean County community. An Orthodox Jew named Ben, who asked that his last name not be used due to continued concern for his family’s safety, filed two complaints with Toms River, NJ, police and municipal court last year after Hale-Cusanelli revealed Ben’s personal information on Twitter, threatened to visit him at his home on the Sabbath, and posted a screenshot of directions to his house.
Hale-Cusanelli targeted Ben because he mistakenly believed him to be another Jewish commenter on a popular Facebook page, Rise Up Ocean County, that watchdogged development in the Orthodox communities of Lakewood and surrounding towns. The demographics of Ocean County, near where Hale-Cusanelli lived, have changed dramatically in the last decade. There are now about 100,000 Orthodox Jews living there—one-sixth of the county’s population, according to the sheriff—and on Rise Up Ocean County’s social media page, Jews were blamed for overdevelopment, traffic, the reliance of publicly funded school buses for private yeshivas, and the proliferation of synagogues in residential neighborhoods.
Some of the commentary on Rise Up Ocean County was overtly anti-Semitic, and it was ultimately removed by Facebook after the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said it failed to properly police anti-Semitic comments on its page. Orthodox Jews had also complained that page administrator Richard Ciuollo employed anti-Semitic tropes, which Ciuollo denied. Ciullo said he kicked off about 100 commenters for anti-Semitic remarks—including Hale-Cusanelli.
“When a person shows you who they are, believe them. And he showed us who he was, and off he went,” Ciullo said, adding that he alerted Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy about Hale-Cusanelli.
The sheriff confirmed that account, and said he likely then passed along the information to federal law enforcement.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed in a statement that “Hale-Cusanelli was someone we were aware of and he was on our radar.”
“Are they just too lenient about people who make threats against Jews?” Ben asked, wondering why local authorities found no cause to charge Hale-Cusanelli. “People get away with too much, from either side, and it’s a huge issue. Yeah, you can’t criminally charge someone for wearing a Hitler mustache, but if you’re working for the military, there are some rules in place. Yes, you have a First Amendment right—to a certain extent.”
In addition to the 2010 gun possession incident, in 2011 Hale-Cusanelli was arrested for stabbing his mother’s boyfriend in a domestic incident. He was charged with aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon, but the case was dismissed, his attorney said. And in 2013, he was charged with stealing scrap metal from a business.
Hale-Cusanelli’s alleged bigotry was also familiar on the military base, but he faced no discipline. Most of his co-workers—both Navy service members and contractors employed by Hale-Cusanelli’s company, HBC Management Services—said that they knew Hale-Cusanelli held white supremacist views. Nearly three dozen told investigators that he had “extremist or radical views pertaining to Jewish people, minorities and women.”
A Navy seaman told investigators that Hale-Cusanelli called for the murder of babies with disabilities, and that if he was a Nazi “he would kill all the Jews and eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and he wouldn’t need to season them because the salt from their tears would make it flavorful enough.”
Another co-worker alleged that Hale-Cusanelli referred to Black people as “shit-skinned minorities.” He even wore his Hitler mustache to work at Navy contractor HBC, which could not be reached for comment.
His phone, searched by investigators, was allegedly loaded with anti-Semitic and anti-Black memes, and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Zucker, Hale-Cusanelli’s attorney, argued that Nelson came to Washington D.C. not as an insurrectionist but as an ardent President Trump supporter who didn’t wear armor like other alleged rioters. Nelson also said Hale-Cusanelli had never been convicted of committing a violent crime, and although he carried a gun five days a week as a military contractor on a base, he was never accused of violent behavior at work.
“We don’t detain people because they have beliefs we disagree with, we don’t detain people because they have beliefs we think are repugnant. We detain people for dangerousness and he simply doesn’t present a danger to the community,” Zucker said.
But days after Hale-Cusanelli returned from Washington, a confidential informant recorded a conversation in which he described the excitement of the riot, and how he hoped for a civil war, in which New York and California would be defeated.
Although Hale-Cusanelli is held at a jail in Washington, he remains a sergeant in the Army Reserves. Hale-Cusanelli told the judge on Tuesday that he contracted COVID-19 during his past two months in jail but has since recovered.
An Army spokesman said that the Army Reserve leadership is reviewing the allegations.
“Extremist ideologies and activities directly oppose our values and beliefs and those who subscribe to extremism have no place in our ranks,” Lt. Col. Simon B. Flake said. He had never been deployed overseas, and he had earned four awards since joining the service in 2009. Leadership was unaware of Hale-Cusanelli’s prior contact with law enforcement, nor his social media videos, Flake said.
But at his day job with the Navy contractor, Hale-Cusanelli’s extremist ideology was not a surprise. Hale-Cusanelli’s supervisor, Army Sgt. John Getz, told investigators that Hale-Cusanelli made “racial jokes,” and approached new people at work and asked: “You’re not Jewish, are you?”
Even though Getz knew Hale-Cusanelli was a “Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier,” Getz told prosecutors that he was not personally offended by Hale-Cusanelli’s conduct. Getz wrote a letter to the court in supporting of Hale-Cusanelli, arguing that Hale-Cusanelli is not a white supremacist, and he even regularly bought breakfast for a Black co-worker.
The prosecutor said Getz is now on administrative leave after making conflicting statements to the court and Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
This story has been updated to clarify that Hale-Cusanelli is 31, not 30; and that Sgt. John Getz is in the Army, not Navy.