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Extremism in the ranks: some at the January 6 Capitol riot were police, active military

Right-wing extremists have infiltrated the ranks of the military and law enforcement, as watchdogs and counterterrorism experts have been warning for years — and some were present at, and later arrested for participating in, the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. NewsHour Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky reports on the ongoing effort to root extremists out, as part of our ongoing initiative, “Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and Extremism.”

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Last month, the newly appointed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressed extremism in the military in the wake of the January 6th assault on the Capitol. The acknowledgment that right-wing extremists exist in the ranks of the military and law enforcement came as little surprise to watchdog groups and counterterrorism experts who have been warning of their existence for years. Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky has the report. This segment is part of our on-going initiative Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and Extremism.

  • Timothy Hale-Cusanelli:

    You know, New Jersey will recover from the coronavirus, but it will not recover from the Hasidic Jewish invasion.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Meet Timothy Hale-Cusanelli of Colts Neck, New Jersey.

  • Timothy Hale-Cusanelli:

    The normal people of New Jersey, if things aren't corrected soon, we'll have no choice but to keep jumping ship to other states or sadly open revolt against overlords with no connection to our state or our people.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    According to the filings with the D.C. District Court, an NCIS agent's source said he's an avowed White Supremacist and Nazi sympathizer.

    This video and others like it were taken down when Hale-Cusanelli was arrested for participating in the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

    At the time of arrest, he was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve and a contractor at a Naval depot, where an affidavit says he had access to a variety of munitions and a security clearance at level "secret."

    But according to Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, he was far from the only alleged attacker to have a background in the uniformed services.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California:

    What we found in the January 6th insurrection was that we had active duty service members who were part of that mob. We had persons that had top-secret clearances that were part of that mob. We had police officers who were active duty, who were part of that mob, and we had veterans who were part of that mob.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    This reality has forced the government to acknowledge that right-wing extremists have infiltrated the ranks of the military and law enforcement, as watchdogs and counterterrorism experts have been warning for years. Here's President Joe Biden's new defense secretary admitting to the problem last month.

    Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense: When I think about the issue of extremism in the ranks. I'd expect the numbers to be small, but quite frankly, they're probably a little bit larger than most of us would guess. But I would just say small numbers in this case could have an outsized impact

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    These comments to journalists were made shortly after Lloyd Austin ordered a department-wide stand-down to discuss ways to expose and expel extremists.

    Hale-Cusanelli has a history of alleged criminal activity that's easily searchable online and regularly posted his Antisemitic Youtube videos. Yet somehow, he managed to keep his security clearance which allowed him to retain his job at a Naval weapons depot and a job with the U.S. Army Reserve.

    Federal investigators allege Hale-Cusanelli encouraged the mob at the Capitol to advance past police lines. When questioned, he told an NCIS agent he was able to continue moving forward even after having been exposed to pepper spray because of his military training in overcoming various chemical irritants.

    He worked here as a security guard through a private military contractor called HBC Management. A representative of the company said he was "terminated immediately" upon his arrest but wouldn't answer questions about why he had been employed in the first place, given his history of Antisemitic posts on the open internet and alleged criminal activity that's been reported in the local media.

    Both the Navy and the Army turned down interview requests from NewsHour weekend but the Army said in an email that "Hale-Cusanelli's leadership was not aware" of his YouTube videos or run-ins with law enforcement prior to the current federal charges.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    He's an Army reservist, active Army reservist. He's a government contractor at a Naval weapons depot and he's got a top-secret security clearance. So it's something I've been concerned about as a member of the House Intelligence Committee for years, that social media is not a component of the in-depth investigation that goes on before someone gets a top-secret clearance.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Yes, you heard that right. Despite asking highly intrusive questions about personal finances, behavioral health and even neighbors, the military does not routinely check the social media accounts of people it puts in sensitive security positions.

  • Rep. Jackie Speier:

    What we're asking the President to do is use his authority under his executive order privileges to require all top-secret clearance reviews to include a review of the social media presence of individuals who are seeking these clearances and for the military under Secretary Austin to begin immediately under the authority they have to review social media of potential recruits.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    The local authorities in New Jersey also seem to have ignored several red flags in dealing with Hale-Cusanelli, against whom Jewish residents had made numerous complaints in the year leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

  • Avi Schnall:

    His comments were reported to different law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor's office. He was reported to the attorney general's office. I think I think they dropped the ball on it.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Avi Schnall is an advocate for the Orthodox Jewish community of New Jersey, members of which Hale-Cusanelli targeted in his YouTube videos and on a now-defunct Facebook group in which he posted thinly veiled threats against Jewish members.

    Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel of America: Here's a person that has a social media account that is posting things for the world to see. His boss sees it, his supervisors see it or they could see it. When you have people working, whether it's the military, security, there needs to be a system in place, that they are monitored in their personal lives as well. When you work for the government, your personal life has a different meaning to it. Now of course, everyone's entitled to their own view and there's freedom of expression, there's freedom of religion, there's freedom of speech. However, if you're espousing a certain viewpoint and you make certain threats, you're allowed to do it. You just can't work and be someone protecting our community.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Security expert Elizabeth Nuemann served in the Trump Administration as Assistant Secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security.

    Elizabeth Neumann, Former Assistant Secretary, Dept. of Homeland Security: I think there's a conversation to be had around when you choose to get a clearance to be a contractor to the federal government, whether you give up certain rights. When you join the federal government, you have to abide by the Hatch Act, which inhibits the types of political activity you can do. One can make the case that if you are participating in racist rhetoric online, that's unbecoming of somebody that's being given access to federal government resources and secrets, particularly since there is a strong connection between Antisemitic rhetoric and violence.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

  • Jonathan Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League:

    In the 80s and the 90s and in the late aughts, as we saw surges in white supremacist recruiting and activity, so we saw surges in their efforts to penetrate in the military and law enforcement. It's been a long-standing tactic. They've believed for years that there was value to joining the ranks of law enforcement in order to get training because many of them have held out this idea for some time, that there was a civil war coming, some would call it a racial holy war, a "RaHoWa".

    The alarm bells should have been ringing a long time ago. I mean, Timothy McVeigh, you know, in the mid 90s exemplified what a military veteran could do with tremendous lethality. So I think as we look ahead to today, yeah, the alarm bells should be ringing right now. But I think you've heard this. I think Defense Secretary Austin has publicly committed to tackle this issue.

  • Simon Ostrovsky:

    While Austin has indeed called attention to the issue of extremists in the ranks, the military has yet to signal if it plans to change its vetting procedures for recruits and the contractors it increasingly relies on.

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