More than 800 people have been arrested and charged with crimes related to the protest at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. As the numbers continue to climb and the expenses for those arrested continue to mount, the founder of the Patriot Freedom Project is sending out a plea for help to support the prisoners, the defendants, and their families.
Cynthia Hughes founded the Patriot Freedom Project (PFP) in spring 2021 after her nephew, Timothy Louis Hale-Cusanelli, was arrested and held in solitary confinement on nonviolent charges for his participation in the Jan. 6 protest.
“I decided there needed to be a support system,” Hughes told The Epoch Times.
Hughes said she started a support group for the families of defendants being held in jail in Washington, and they began to meet once a week over Zoom. Soon they’d created a private chat group to stay in touch.
“Then word started getting out and other families were joining who had loved ones in other jails across the country,” Hughes said. “Before I knew it, I was contacted by Dinesh D’Souza. He wanted to donate to me. He had heard about the project.”
According to a report by American Greatness, Julie and Dinesh D’Souza donated $100,000 to PFP.
Hughes said she used that check to formalize the Patriot Freedom Project as a registered nonprofit organization. Between August 2021 and January 2022, Hughes said PFP raised over $1 million.
“I realized very quickly that what I was doing for my nephew and my family I could be doing for other people,” Hughes said. “So, through Patriot Freedom Project we have replaced the public defenders and supplemented retainers for people who hired their own attorneys.”
Hughes estimates that PFP has covered about $700,000 in attorney’s fees for 30 cases. In addition, they have helped a lot of the wives and children of the jailed defendants by contributing toward bill payments and keeping them in their homes, although some families have had to relocate. Others had to switch to COBRA insurance because the spouse with the employer-provided insurance is in jail.
“A lot of these women may not have been working or were working part time,” Hughes explained. “Or they were working full time along with their husband. But now everything is upside down for them and everything went out the window in terms of a budget. The combined incomes were paying the bills and supporting the children. We made sure the kids got Halloween costumes and that the family had a Thanksgiving meal and that the kids received Christmas gifts and school supplies. In addition to that we put together an online mental health community.”
Once a week they host a group call, Hughes said, during which a couple of mental health professionals come on and offer a listening ear and share tips on how to manage stress, anxiety, or grief from the separation.
“Some are suffering from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder],” Hughes explained. “Many of these women and even the kids are seeing their homes raided in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours by a large number of armed FBI agents, and seeing their father handcuffed was pretty traumatizing. I have heard really heartbreaking stories. They’re still doing it. There have been many new arrests. We’re hearing from a lot of families.”
Hughes said there is a great need for more lawyers and mental health professionals to “get on board.” The group is also looking for faith leaders to get involved to help teach Bible study classes. They need donors, and for people to help spread the word for donations.
PFP is also looking for employers throughout the country who are willing to hire the Jan. 6 defendants who are out on bond and able to work, or those who have adjudicated their charges.
Hughes said her biggest prayer is that someone like former President Donald Trump or Elon Musk would step up and demand that the persecution ends.
“Nobody seems to want to say that out loud,” Hughes lamented. “Nobody wants to step up to help. That’s important to these kids who haven’t seen their fathers for over a year now.”
“I was contacted by an attorney out of Virginia named Sara Sass,” Hughes said. “She’s a really lovely young lady. She’s not a criminal defense attorney but she’s so bright and so smart and she’s very passionate about being a lawyer and about the Constitution and the amendments, so she came up with this really great idea.”
The idea involves two $5,000 legal fellowships, named in honor of Matthew Perna and Ashli Babbit, and Sass has committed to funding the prizes with her own money.
Perna, of Pennsylvania, was indicted by a grand jury in February 2021 on four counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding and trespassing misdemeanors. On Feb. 25, 2022, he took his own life over his fear of an extended prison sentence, family members said. He was 37.
Babbit, of California, was outside the Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, when she was shot in the neck by Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd. Babbit, who was unarmed, died almost instantly. She was 35. Byrd, who defended the shooting, was never questioned by the Metropolitan Police Department before being exonerated, according to a Real Clear Investigations report.
According to the flyers posted on the PFP website, submissions for the contest opened April 1, 2022.
“Prospective and currently enrolled U.S. laws school students in ABA [American Bar Association] approved law schools are invited to submit the most thorough essay on any and all instances of Sixth Amendment violations on the January 6 defendants,” the flyer for the Matthew Perna contest states. “Political affiliation and political emphasis in submissions will be disregarded in favor of legal strength of argument and thorough research.”
The Sixth Amendment states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
The Ashli Babbit contest requires an essay on instances of excessive force and police brutality against Jan. 6 defendants.
Applicants are requested to submit their research essays—10 pages with a 2,500 word minimum—by July 21, 2022.
“Legal research has been a huge part of my life and career,” Sass told The Epoch Times. “I am an attorney but I’m also an author. Being able to research different databases online is important for different careers, like mine and journalism, and we’re very lucky to live in a country with very accessible archives and FOIA [Freedom Of Information Act].”
Sass said she wanted to create a legal fellowship and promote the importance of research, and that it was an obvious choice to partner with the Patriot Freedom Project for the fellowship program.
Topics for the submissions, Sass explained, could involve delving into police brutality on federal grounds. What are the limits of public protests, if there are any, in the United States? Why have the Jan. 6 protesters been treated differently in the Washington jails compared to other public protesters?
“All of these things are incredibly important not only to the Jan. 6 prisoners, but also to all Americans,” Sass said. “The Sixth Amendment, which covers jail time, is something there doesn’t seem to be a lot of legal scholarships on and that really bothers me.
“When I was trying to find information about how these men and women of different races were being treated, I couldn’t find law review articles or hardcore legal analysis, and we live in a time when there is so much legal analysis about complicated legal topics, like international treaties when it comes to the Russia–Ukraine conflict. You would think there would be some legal research about the violation of the Sixth Amendment rights of Jan. 6 prisoners, which is happening in our own backyard, and there isn’t,” she said. “It’s something I’m hoping American law students sink their teeth into and write about.”
Hughes said that many people involved in the Jan. 6 cases are in serious despair and peril, adding that she tries to stay in personal touch with as many Jan. 6 prisoners, defendants, and family members as possible. She said the Patriot Freedom Project is doing amazing things.
“It’s a real travesty what’s happening to all of these people,” Hughes said. “Due process totally thrown out the window. These people deserve a right to a fair and speedy trial regardless of what the charges are. Everybody deserves due process. But because they are Trump supporters, they’re never going to get it. They are already guilty, and when they all go to trial, or they negotiate a plea deal, they’re trying to prove their innocence, rather than being innocent until proven guilty.”
Hughes said the situation is akin to a humanitarian crisis.
“There is so much collateral damage, so many wives and so many children. It’s heartbreaking. It’s not easy when you have young children and you count on someone to be there and they can’t. Someone had to rise to the occasion. Somebody had to step forward and say, ‘Who is helping the families out here? Who is going to step up for these wives and these kids?'” Hughes said. “So I chose to.”