Capitol Insurrection Charges Highlight White Supremacists in US Military
Adam Gabbatt / Guardian UK
(March 27, 2021) — If the moustache, trimmed narrowly in the style of Adolf Hitler, don’t give it away, then the antisemitic YouTube rants, the testimony of 34 colleagues and the neo-Nazi reading material certainly do.
Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a US army reservist, is — according to court documents — an “avowed white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer”.
The 30-year-old was charged in January with five counts in relation to the Capitol riots, and denied bail this week after a judge expressed concern over Hale-Cusanelli’s alleged enthusiasm for a “civil war”.
A navy contractor who prosecutors say “has access to a variety of munitions”, Hale-Cusanelli might seem like an outlier among the masses who attacked the Capitol on 6 January. But the darker truth is that Hale-Cusanelli was one of dozens of former or current members of the military who have been investigated or charged in connection with the Capitol riot — at a time when the Pentagon warns white supremacy and white nationalism within the military pose a serious threat for the US armed forces.
Hale-Cusanelli was charged with seven crimes, including obstructing congressional proceedings, in connection with the 6 January attack. The criminal complaint said Hale-Cusanelli, who worked at Naval Weapons Station Earle, a support base for military ships, “has access to a variety of munitions”.
Prosecutors said that on 14 January a confidential source used a listening device to record a conversation with Hale-Cusanelli.
“During this conversation, Hale-Cusanelli admitted to entering the Capitol and encouraging other members of the mob to ‘advance’ — giving directions via both voice and hand signals,” charging documents said. “Hale-Cusanelli told the [source] that if they’d had more men they could have taken over the entire building.” In the recording Hale-Cusanelli also admitted taking a flag and flagpole which he later observed another rioter throw “like a javelin” at a Capitol police officer, the criminal complaint said.
During the investigation it emerged that Hale-Cusanelli was able to hold on to his security clearance at Station Earle, despite dozens of his co-workers stating he was open about his white supremacist beliefs, and despite being rebuked for turning up to work with a Hitler-esque moustache.
In a 23 March motion opposing Hale-Cusanelli’s bail — he has been held in jail since his arrest in mid-January — prosecutors said at least 34 of Hale-Cusanelli’s co-workers said he had made no secret of his antisemitism and racism.
One navy seaman remembered Hale-Cusanelli saying that if he was a Nazi “he would kill all the Jews and eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner”. A navy petty officer said Hale-Cusanelli had stated that “Jews, women and Blacks were on the bottom of the totem pole”.
Of the more than 160 people arrested by the end of January, almost one in five were current or former members of the military, NPR reported, and there is evidence that an extremist infiltration of the armed forces is under way.
A Pentagon report released in March found that domestic extremist groups pose a serious threat to the military, both by seeking to recruit members and, more troublingly, have existing extremists join the military to gain training and combat experience.
According to the Military Times, authorities estimate one in five of the people charged by late February were either current or ex-military, with Jacob Fracker and Thomas Robertson among the first to be arrested in connection for their alleged roles in the riot.
Fracker, 29, is a corporal in the national guard, Robertson, 47, a former military policeman in the army reserve, and the pair, who photographed themselves inside the Capitol during the siege, were Virginia police officers until they were fired for their part in the riot. Fracker and Robertson pleaded not guilty to charges including disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building, entering and remaining in a restricted building.
Navy veteran Thomas Caldwell is another veteran allegedly involved. He was arrested on 19 January and charged with conspiracy, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, and violent entry or disorderly conduct.
Prosecutors allege Caldwell, who served as a naval intelligence officer for 19 years, according to the Washington Post, led a band of Oathkeepers — a domestic extremist group — in storming the Capitol, charges Caldwell denies.
Charged along with Caldwell was Donovan Crawl, a veteran of the marine corps, who prosecutors allege conspired with Caldwell and others to obstruct the Senate’s confirmation of the electoral college vote.
It isn’t just the arrests at the Capitol that have people worried. In 2020 a coast guard lieutenant was sentenced to 13 years in prison after stockpiling weapons with the intention to kill a number of Democratic politicians, journalists and socialists.
Federal prosecutors said Christopher Hasson intended “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country” and described him as “a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life”.
While the Capitol riot may have shone a light on the issues with extremism that the military faces, there is evidence the problem has been growing for some time.
A 2019 survey by Military Times found that 36% of active duty troops “have seen evidence of white supremacist and racist ideologies in the military” — up from 22% the year before. Among ethnic minorities, 53% reported witnessing racist behavior.
After years of racist pandering and inflammatory rhetoric from Trump, under the Biden administration there is at least an acceptance that there’s a problem. In February Lloyd Austin, the first Black defense secretary in US history, ordered the military to intensify their efforts to combat white supremacy in its ranks, initially by reinforcing existing regulations on extremism in the armed forces.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies,” Austin had told the US Senate armed services committee in January.
“But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
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