In an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times, Cynthia Hughes, founder of the Jan. 6 defendant advocacy group “Patriot Freedom Project” (PFP) and top Jan. 6 attorney Joe McBride discussed their experiences, describing “despicable” conditions and a pressing desire to ensure that the rights of these defendants are respected.
Following the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Merrick Garland undertook one of the largest manhunts in DOJ history to round up anyone implicated in the Capitol breach.
The resource-intensive hunt, which is still ongoing after 17 months, has stirred a great deal of controversy in the wake of disturbing reports about the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants.
Many Republican lawmakers have refused to touch the issue, while no Democrat has made any comment on the allegations.
A few lawmakers, prominently Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), have spoken out against the treatment of these detainees, but they have been unable to make serious progress in bettering the situation.
Many remaining in captivity have continued to report mistreatment and abuse by facility staff and guards.
They’re ‘Denied Every Basic Human Right’
Frustrated by the mistreatment and lack of information about one of her family members that had been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 rally, Cynthia Hughes founded PFP. In an interview, Hughes described the treatment of her nephew, Tim Hale-Cusanelli, in detainment, saying that Hale-Cusanelli and other Jan. 6 detainees have been mistreated by the justice system and have faced deprivation of “every basic human right you can think of.”
“I started the Patriot Freedom Project after my nephew was arrested in January of 2021 on nonviolent charges,” Hughes said.
After being “bounced around” several jails in New Jersey, Hughes said, Hale-Cusanelli ended up being placed in the D.C. Metropolitan Jail, where detainees have described “horrendous” conditions. The deputy warden of the jail, Kathleen Landerkin, has also been under scrutiny by conservatives for her past online comments decrying President Donald Trump and his supporters, which they say shows that she is prejudiced against the Jan. 6 defendants.
In the D.C. jail, Hughes said, Hale-Cusanelli got COVID.
Since then, he has remained there. About three weeks ago, Hughes’s nephew was convicted by a D.C. jury on all counts he had been charged with. He is currently awaiting sentencing. He has been held in detention since January 2021 when he was arrested.
In past press conferences, Hughes has called for the trials of Jan. 6 defendants to be taken out of D.C., where she says juries are too biased to judge the facts of a case fairly.
In the case of her nephew, Hughes said, they made an effort to have the trial moved, citing these biases, but the request was turned down.
“It’s very biased in D.C.,” Hughes said. “Nobody’s gonna get a fair trial, nobody’s gonna be granted a change of venue motion.”
Denied Access to the Outdoors
After entering the D.C. jail in January 2021, Hughes said, her nephew and other Jan. 6 defendants were held in solitary confinement and only allowed outside of their cells one hour per day.
Defendants still “don’t get to go outside, they don’t get to see the sun,” Hughes added. “I anticipate many will have serious health issues.”
“If you have a medical problem, you’re not seeing a doctor,” she continued. “Tim has had two very significant ear infections, so bad that it caused bleeding from the ear, and he never got to see a doctor. He got to see a nurse practitioner, and they flushed his ear out with peroxide and gave him some penicillin.
“He’s got significant hearing loss in both of his ears right now,” Hughes added.
Hughes described other conditions faced by detainees as well.
Until “very recently,” Hughes said, detainees who met with their lawyers were confined to solitary confinement for two weeks, purportedly on grounds of COVID. However, Hughes judged that the measure was more intended to be punitive than anything.
Detainees have faced other indignities as well: “Lots of strip search, their cells get raided, they’re mocked, they’re spoken down to, you can’t mail packages [to detainees].”
She added, “I think the biggest thing of all that people should know: they’re denied religious services.”
Spiritual Needs Ignored
Hughes said that she and her nephew are Catholic, a denomination of Christianity that places a great deal of emphasis on priests and rituals conducted by clergy, which has made the absence of any priest particularly difficult. But protestants, Muslims, and adherents of the Jewish faith have also been denied services, Hughes noted.
“Tim’s been in jail for 18 months and he hasn’t had any religious services,” Hughes said, noting that defendants had banded together to form their own religious services in the absence of any clergy.
“That’s very disturbing,” Hughes added.
Though many defendants have been held at D.C. Metropolitan Jail and Northern Neck Regional Jail, Hughes noted that others have been held in jails all over the country, though these have gotten less attention.
Joe McBride, a top Jan. 6 attorney, said that the treatment of defendants in other jails has varied, but that the worst excesses have taken place in Washington and at Northern Neck.
“The treatment in both of those facilities is despicable,” McBride said. “They’re going out of their way to make the ‘January Sixthers’ experience much more painful, much more difficult than anybody else.”
Prosecutors and jail officials, McBride added, “are abusing [Jan. 6 defendants] because they know they’re not going to be called out about it.”
‘We Have to Do Something’
During the interview, Hughes described her motivation in founding PFP.
The early days of Tim’s detention were a whirlwind of confusion and misdirection by authorities, Hughes said. At the time, Tim was relying on a public defender, and it was difficult for either Hughes or her nephew to learn details about the case.
“You couldn’t get information. You had to rely on—at that time we had a public defender—you had to rely on your lawyer,” Hughes said.
Then, Hughes said, she saw a report by Julie Kelly on the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants.
Amid all the “frustration” that the system had dished out to them, “[we] see this incredible woman come out and she’s reporting on all this,” Hughes said. “It just really motivated me.”
“I said to Tim, ‘We have to do something, we can’t sit like this anymore,’” Hughes recollected.
Initially, the organization was begun as a support group for families of Jan. 6 defendants, who have also suffered from the loss of spouses, siblings, parents, and others in the wake of the Jan. 6 rally.
However, the organization began to grow, Hughes said, “And before I knew it I was getting a phone call from Dinesh D’Souza,” a major conservative figure and commentator.
D’Souza donated $100,000 to PFP, greatly increasing the group’s scope and reach.
“That really was the moment Patriot Freedom Project was born,” Hughes said, describing the lengths she had to go to to ensure that the organization made no mistakes that could place it in the sights of the federal government.
Still, the organization has also stuck to its roots as a family support group even as it has expanded.
“It was good to have a place where people could go and connect with each other,” she said. “It’s nice to talk to people that know what you’re going through, they understand what you’re dealing with, and it’s comforting.”
The organization has connected family members with support groups and mental health professionals, among other things.
Hughes emphasized that the cost has not just been emotional: several mothers with children have found that their household’s main source of income was suddenly cut away, forcing many who did not work before to scramble to make up for the lost income.
“People in this country need to know the collateral damage in this and the serious fallout,” Hughes said.
“Innocent women and children are going to suffer” for the federal government’s “politically-motivated” war against Jan. 6 defendants, Hughes reemphasized.
The situation, and the deprivation of rights that the group of Jan. 6 defendants have faced, “should terrify anybody in this country,” she added.
Reports of Mistreatment Have Long Circulated
Even as Hughes and a handful of GOP lawmakers have sought to improve conditions for Jan. 6 defendants, the treatment that they have faced has long been public information.
During a recent PFP-hosted press conference, one speaker, who introduced herself only as Angela, described the “horrendous” conditions faced by her son—a U.S. Army combat veteran who served in Afghanistan—at the D.C. jail and Northern Neck Regional Detention Facility, including an alleged sexual assault by guards.
Before his incarceration, she said, her son was on track to become a history teacher, though still suffering from both the physical and mental scars of his combat tours in Afghanistan. He had never been charged with a crime, she noted.
Moving on to a discussion of the conditions he has faced, Angela said, “The conditions at the D.C. jail are horrendous.”
“His rations often smell like cleaning fluid,” she said. “There were pubic hairs included in [some] portions of his food. The drinking water was visibly dirty. Mold was visible in cells. And roaches lived among them.”
Her son was ultimately moved out of the facility in November 2021 after an “unprovoked assault” by facility guards.
“The unprovoked assault, by no less than five guards,” the defendant’s mother said, voice breaking, “included graphic sexual components and resulted in his transfer.”
This, she said, happened despite her son having received no infractions for bad behavior during the entirety of his detention.
“It was believed that this assault was in retaliation for meeting with his representation,” she added.
While incarcerated, she said, her son has organized religious services for defendants, including Bible studies and celebrations on Easter and Christmas.
Various motions to have her son released in advance of his trial have been denied—suggesting, she said, that the pretrial detention of her son has been “completely punitive.”
Sharing the Truth With the World
In December 2021, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and a handful of other Republican lawmakers held a press conference where they unveiled a report on the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants, who have faced “nothing short of human rights violations,” the lawmakers said.
Greene listed a series of examples of mistreatment.
According to Greene, Jan. 6 prisoners held in the D.C. jail have been beaten by guards and prison staff, have been unable to speak with their attorneys, have been denied haircuts or razors to shave, and have not been given proper medical treatment when they needed it, among many other examples.
Greene noted another peculiarity of the Jan. 6 defendants. Usually, Greene said, members of Congress have no problem in gaining access to jails when they make the request. In this case, however, Deputy Warden Kathleen Landerkin denied Greene and her coalition access to the facilities on several occasions before finally allowing access to the representatives.
“In fact, [Landerkin] locked us out before,” said Greene, adding, “It’s clear that there was a lot to hide.”
“What’s happening to these people being held in custody is wrong, it’s unconstitutional, it’s a violation of their rights, and it is an abuse that I call on every member of Congress to pay attention to,” she said later during the press conference.
The D.C. jail, Greene said, has been known as “a despicable place” since the 1970s, and she noted a decision from a U.S. District Judge who ruled that the prevailing conditions in the jail violate the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Treated Worse Than Terrorists
Little has changed since this decision, Greene said, citing a 2015 report that found that the jail was “plagued by mold, vermin, and water leaks.” More recently, Greene added, the U.S. Marshals Service in 2021 found the jail to be “inhospitable.”
Despite the well-documented problems with the building, the Jan. 6 defendants have been forced to reside in the jail for months on end.
“But the Jan. 6 defendants are being treated differently on a whole other level,” Greene said. “They have been beaten by the guards, they are called ‘white supremacists,’ they are denied religious services, haircuts, shaving, the ability to trim their fingernails.”
Greene continued, “They’re denied time with their attorney, they are denied the ability to even see their families and have their families visit there, they’re denied bail and are being held there without bail.”
“Many of these people have never been charged with a crime before,” Greene said. “Some of them are veterans.”
Aside from all these alleged violations of their liberty, Greene reported, the defendants “have been told that they have to denounce President Donald Trump” and “that their views are the views of cult members.”
In sum, Greene ruled, the Jan. 6 defendants have been treated “worse than we treat terrorists in [Guantanamo Bay].”
Just weeks after Greene’s December 2021 press conference, an unannounced inspection by the U.S. Marshals Service seemed to corroborate her claims about the treatment and conditions these defendants have faced.
In the inspection, Marshals identified “deficiencies” in the D.C. jail including evidence that water had been shut off to prisoners as punishment. If true, this would be a major violation of the law on the part of D.C. jail staff.