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By Mel Hawley
Every misfortune opens the gate for opportunists seeking power, glory, and cold hard cash. The arrests and ongoing incarcerations resulting from the events of January 6, 2021 are no exception.

Whether you believe there was an outright insurrection and coup at the Capitol, or you believe that Americans exercised their First Amendment right to redress what they believe was a stolen election, you are likely aware that U.S. citizens were arrested for their actions that fateful day.  

What you may not know is that the arrests continue at an average of one per day, nearing 950 now. But that is a story for another day.

The indicted individuals, who have come to be known as “J6ers,” and their families face immense, unanticipated burdens. Some of these burdens have been relieved by several fund-raising organizations quickly established to provide legal aid, family assistance, and commissary funding for the incarcerated. Critically, these organizations also work to counter the ubiquitous narrative and drive public awareness of J6ers’ plight to counter our national sound-bite attention span problem. 

According to several of the incarcerated and their families, as well as people working for some of these organizations, millions of dollars have been raised on behalf of these men and women and their families to date. 

So why are so many J6ers still without private legal defense almost two years after the event?  Why are so many families still in such dire financial need?  

Where is the money?

One of the first of these organizations to appear was called the Patriot Freedom Project (PFP), founded by a woman named Cynthia Hughes after her self-described “adopted nephew,” Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, was arrested, early in 2021, for his involvement in January 6.

PFP operates as the DBA (doing business as) of Hughes' older, existing 501(c)(3), The Hughes Foundation. Originally set up to address the needs of the J6 families, PFP soon evolved into a legal defense fund. Hughes and her collaborators worked to position PFP as the face of the J6 legal defense movement, and Hughes reached out to families of those incarcerated in DC with her “nephew,” promising to pay for their legal representation by private attorneys and helping their families pay bills and put food on their tables.

According to her LinkedIn profile, New Jersey-based Hughes has worked for an auto-distribution call center in Germantown, Tennessee for the last 16 years and claims she is “committed to customer satisfaction” and is “detail-oriented.” 

There are J6 families who vehemently disagree. 

Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, Hughes’ “nephew,” is currently incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center Philadelphia. He was convicted in May 2022 of, among other charges, storming the Capitol Building to obstruct Congress from certifying the election. The conviction came despite Hale-Cusanelli’s claims of ignorance; for example, Hale-Cusanelli claims that, although he can quote Thomas Jefferson from memory and explain the merits of the 17th Amendment, he just didn’t know the building in the nation’s capital called “The Capitol” was where Congress met.  

Hughes leveraged Hale-Cusanelli’s incarceration and conviction, underpinned by her PFP fund, to co-opt the J6 story. She was one of the first J6 family members to appear on Steve Bannon’s popular War Room Pandemic podcast. With millions of daily viewers, Warroom gave Hughes and PFP a veneer of credibility and notoriety – and a lot of donations.  

According to PFP, by December 2021 they had already raised close to $900,000. It kicked off with an initial donation of $150,000 from Deborah and Dinesh D’Souza and, on New Year’s Eve, Steve Bannon pledged 1,000 coins from his then-new crypto venture Let’s Go Brandon as well as a promise that a portion of the venture’s transaction fees would be donated to PFP. 
With that endorsement, Hughes appeared on many podcasts and was mentioned by various news commentators. Her momentum was building. 

Cynthia Hughes speaking during a Trump Rally

Initially, Hughes hired only family members to sit on the board of her nonprofit, including her 24-year-old, unemployed son and a sister-in-law. These board members were clearly unpopular and, once this became public, attorneys urged her to replace them. Still, Hughes continues to operate the PFP as the DBA of the Hughes Foundation, and not a 501(c)(3) in its own right. The website currently does not list sitting board members. 

Where’s the money?

According to sources inside the Washington D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility (DC-CTF) who have chosen to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, factions quickly formed in the C2B pod, which is the unit where the J6 detainees are held together.

One group, allegedly led by Hale-Cusanelli, who is widely reported to be a Nazi sympathizer, continually bullied those who refused to acquiesce to his leadership.  Several J6ers in C2B confirm they have been threatened, falsely accused of working for the feds, and refused much needed financial aid for their legal defense or for their families. 

Two of the incarcerated men, Brandon Fellows and Jake Lang, were reportedly singled out by Hale-Cusanelli and his associates. According to several sources, Fellows and Lang were excluded from receiving PFP support because they are Jewish. 
PFP was also a paid advertiser on an anti-semitic, white nationalist website, CounterCurrents, and Hughes even conducted a lengthy interview with host Cyan Quinn. CounterCurrents attempted to sanitize the website after NPR’s investigative journalist Tom Dreisbach threatened to expose it.

Ronnie Sandlin is a J6er who was formerly held in the DC-CTF, also referred to as the DC Gulag by J6 families. He recently spoke out about PFP in a phone call to the DC Gulag Vigil. As a self-described Mexican-American, Sandlin is deeply opposed to racism in this movement.

Political Prisoners of the PFP 

All villains have sidekicks, and Hale-Cusanelli’s “muscle” inside the pod was a man named Peter Schwartz. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article published after Schwartz’s arrest, “[t]he DOC said he is currently on probation for possession of a gun by a convicted felon and terroristic threats out of Daviess County, KY.” 

At Hale-Cusanelli’s behest, according to a witness in the C2B pod, “Schwartz physically attacked Lang, because Lang was working on securing funding other than PFP.”  The dispute also involved Lang’s documentary because of Hughes’ and Hale-Cusanelli’s concerns that it would divert attention and donations away from PFP. Remember that Lang wasn’t receiving support from PFP. 

Because of this conflict, over the past year, Lang endured continual threats, bullying, and intimidation from Hale-Cusanelli and his gang. Despite Hale-Cusanelli’s transfer to  FDC Philadelphia to serve his sentence, threats against Lang, and others who opposed Hale-Cusanelli’s reign, have continued, suggesting that Hughes is still pulling the strings, using different inside puppets.
Corroborating sources said Hughes was not happy that Lang had the support of his father, Ned Lang, a successful businessman. Hale and his associates reportedly drew up a petition against Jake Lang, falsely claiming that he planned to incite a riot inside the pod. Shortly thereafter, Lang was sent to the hole, or solitary confinement, for about three months. 

Witnesses said they knew that, if they asked too many questions, the same could happen to them. In a way, the vulnerable J6ers say they feel that they are now the political prisoners of PFP. They report that they “had to raise hell with the DC jail administration” to finally get Lang out of isolation.  

Schwartz has also been accused of physically attacking multiple other J6 inmates who had openly called for transparency from Hughes and PFP. An anonymous inside source revealed that, “Schwartz suggested his reach went so far he could get to anyone, in or out of prison, and he had no problem ‘shanking’ anyone.”

Schwartz was eventually held in solitary for three months because of his physically violent attacks. He could only come back to the C2B pod if he and his adversaries agreed to sign a non-animosity agreement. Several sources shared that Hale-Cusanelli and his gang attempted to pressure, threaten, intimidate, and even bribe one of Schwartz’s victims on a daily basis. His victim refused and was eventually granted bond. Only after all of Schwartz’s victims were either released on bond or transferred to another facility, was he allowed out of solitary and returned to the C2B pod with the remaining J6ers.

But upon Schwartz’s return, he assaulted another J6 inmate. This inmate is on record with NPR’s Tom Dreisbach, whose article specifically addressed calling for PFP’s financial transparency and blowing the whistle on Hale-Cusanelli and his associates’ racket.
Sources claim that Hughes enabled Hale-Cusanelli’s efforts to increase his power within the pod by withholding PFP funds.

Allegedly, according to multiple J6 detainees, if you played ball with Hale – if he could use you as muscle to intimidate others or gain support of those who had influence within the pod – then Hughes made certain your family was taken care of and your legal fees were paid. If you didn’t, Hughes didn’t. 

Meanwhile, several of the pod inmates began messaging Dreisbach. Half of the pod wanted transparency from Hughes and PFP. Money was promised for attorney fees, but only those who shut their mouths and curried favor with Hale-Cusanelli and Hughes received support of any kind. 

Certainly these conditions for support were not shared with the thousands of PFP donors.

Where is the money?

In October, rumors began circulating that PFP funds were being used for remodeling homes, all-expenses-paid girls’ weekends, and a car purchase for one of the wives of Hale-Cusanelli’s gang. The J6ers hoped an article would alert the public to the grift they believed was happening.  

According to the statements of several men inside, news of the impending article brought physical threats, specifically against Brandon Fellows. Hale-Cusanelli and friends feared the article would expose their prison gang racketeering. When Dreisbach’s follow-up article was published, it mainly focused on the growing rift inside the C2B pod – not on the criminal behavior on which that rift was founded. 

Fellows states that, during a phone call between Hale-Cusanelli and Cynthia Hughes, Hale-Cusanelli “handed me the phone, and Cynthia offered $20,000 to recant what I told Tom Dreisbach.” Fellows refused. Several J6 defendants shared that Hughes approached their attorneys, offering money upwards of $10K to $20K “to keep their mouths shut,” and that these offers continued as recently as two months ago. 

The accused, who are being represented by public defenders or less-than-honorable private counsel, expressed deep concerns that their attorneys would even consider accepting those funds.  

Racketeer. Influenced. Corrupt. Organization.

After Hughes' $20K enticement failed, another member of Hale-Cusanelli’s gang physically threatened Fellows, and threatened to sue him for libel. According to Fellows. while in his cell one day, he overheard plans discussed at a nearby table to get him alone and beat him.  Instead, they forged Fellow’s signature on an internal request to be moved out of the C2B pod, using the excuse that he feared for his life. Fellows was thrown in the hole as a result. It took another month of pleas from the others to get him out and back into the C2B pod.

Washington D.C. only requires one-party consent for recording, and several J6ers  report that Hughes recorded their phone conversations to try to use against them later. Worse, they report that Hale-Cusanelli and his collaborators  accessed the prison system laptops to secretly record both private and “town hall” type meetings inside the jail pod to use as blackmail. See letter below. These laptops are provided for defendants to review their legal discovery.

Outside the DC-CTF, a community of J6 families formed to offer each other support for their fractured families, extended pretrial incarcerations, the lack of speedy trials, and general fear of the unknown. J6 inmates and family members said Hughes, however, dictated that all J6 families support only PFP and hand all media contacts to her – period. 

Hughes positioned herself as the authority of the J6 saga. If family members didn’t obey her demands, they faced ad hominem attacks, smears, bullying, and even blackmailing to expose the defendants’ recordings and text messages that she had been collecting. 

If you played ball… sound familiar?

It didn’t take long for these J6ers and their families to figure out that Hughes carefully crafted and edited screenshots of text messages taken out of context. They were solely designed to cultivate emotional reactions, and pit parties against each other. Eighth grade shenanigans of that sort make any of the Real Housewives look like nuns. 

A new group chat quickly formed apart from Hughes and PFP. Called “Truth and Light,” the group chat became a place for J6ers and their circles to share how frustrated they were feeling. The group chat exploded overnight, with scores of families coming together to support each other. These families previously trusted Hughes, but came to realize her true, selfish intentions. Based on her words and actions, Hughes’ true intentions appear to be to make a lot of money, in her name only, with zero transparency or accountability. And to maintain control and the limelight. Anything, and anyone, that exposes those intentions or blocks that mission is at risk of becoming Hughes’ next target.

For the Fourth of July, Truth and Light organized a private, weekend festival in Missouri called The Truth and Light Festival. Almost 100 family members attended the overnight gathering. Some attendees reported that Hughes had “spies” at the event, which made it difficult for attendees to relax and talk openly about legal strategies or fundraising, much less anything personal.

Hughes, of course, disparaged the event to anyone who would listen, calling others in the J6 community to warn against attending, just as she has done regarding the vigil held outside DC-CTF. Why? Because anyone who understands Hughes’ true intentions is her enemy. 

Legal documents for the Hughes Advocacy Foundation, which is the legal name for the Patriot Freedom Project, show that Hughes projected that only 60% of funds were ever intended to reach J6ers and their families. It is still unknown if Hughes has registered with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, which she failed to do once she hit a certain financial threshold. Basically, there is still no transparency regarding PFP. 

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It is not unreasonable to ask why a 501(c)(3) needs such a robust “fundraising expenses” budget, particularly when it receives extensive free advertising from massive media personalities like Steve Bannon, Mark Levin, J.D. Vance, Dinesh D’Sousa, Julie Kelly, Kash Patel, and others. 

Cover of Julie Kelly’s book and acknowledgement of portion of proceeds going to Patriot Freedom Project.

Inexplicably, Hughes spoke on stage at the Trump Rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa September 3, 2022. Sources close to the former president explain that, as soon as they learned that her “nephew” was a known Nazi sympathizer, they informed President Trump. 

Where is the Money?

Meanwhile, many of these incarcerated men and women still cannot afford a  private, quality legal defense. J6ers report that their public defenders often refuse to file motions for them; rather, the government-paid attorneys push them to accept plea deals that they can never appeal. Several also report being pushed to apologize for their actions and admit that, “Trump made them do it.” 
When it comes to J6ers, D.C. public defenders are not working for their clients. Anyone who claims to hold sacred our American Civil Liberties should be outraged. 

I first heard this information about Cynthia Hughes in the spring of 2022, during conversations with a detainee who spent several months in DC-CTF, also referred to as the DC Gulag. Not knowing how the rest of the J6 community felt about Cynthia Hughes and PFP, as well as not wanting to cast a dark shadow on the J6 inmates, I decided to tread carefully as a journalist.   

As months passed, more and more J6ers and their families asked that I expose this information. I spoke with over a dozen individuals inside and outside of DC-CTF about their personal, first hand experiences. I also spoke privately with several J6 organization founders who brought up to me their distaste for her shenanigans. They believe she is not in the fight for the reasons they are - to protect due process and human rights for the J6ers.

In September 2022, I launched Justice In Jeopardy, my weekday podcast focused on J6 news and telling their stories. Almost immediately, Hughes’ victims flocked to me asking to use my platform to tell their stories. Since my podcast is a platform for their voices, I brought them on, one-by-one, to share their experiences. Additional corroborating evidence can be found in recordings of calls from J6 defendants Ryan Samsel and Bart Shively to the livestreamed DC Gulag Vigil, held nightly since August 1, 2022 outside the DC-CTF. 

Some approached me privately because they claim they are facing blackmail and extortion at the hands of Cynthia Hughes, and worry she could compromise their cases. One such letter, for which the author requested anonymity due to the threats, follows:

Anon Letter from Inside the DC Gulag

I am a Jan 6er inside the DC Gulag. Last week was a very difficult week for Patriot Freedom Project and for Cynthia Hughes. Several Jan 6ers stood up from different jails to speak out publicly to the DC jail vigil about the evil ways of Cynthia Hughes. She routinely uses threats and blackmail to control Jan 6ers and their families. People are tired of it. At least a dozen Jan 6 prisoners spoke out to NPR in April 2022 addressing Cynthia Hughes' corruption and her adoptive nephew Tim Hale's bigotry and evil ways. Tom Dreisbach from NPR even posted a Tweet on 4/20/22 exposing Cynthia's ties to white nationalists. It is also confirmed that she takes 40% of the American people's donations to PFP, using the other 60% mostly for only a select handful of Jan 6ers. If evil Tim does not approve the money does not move. On top of these issues Cynthia likes to record every conversation with people so she can use it against them or to deceive others. Tim likes to do the same thing. There are a few state-issued laptops in the DC jail that the Jan 6 prisoners use to look at their evidence from flash drives provided by their lawyers. These laptops have the ability to record videos. Tim Hale and Pete Schwartz have gathered several blackmail videos to send to Cynthia. This fact was put on full display in front of the entire pod the other day.        

So last week was a terrible week because many Jan 6ers started speaking out after Ryan Samsel spoke to the nightly vigil and the live streamers in front of the DC jail. Ryan Samsel is a Jan 6er who is being held in a jail in PA. He spoke about reaching out to Patriot Freedom Project  founder Cynthia Hughes for help and being threatened with FBI and charges if he tried to contact her ever again. This is only one of many many instances of Cynthia doing similar things to others. Usually its much worse. Other Jan 6ers started speaking publicly to the DC jail vigil last week. Bart Shively had a very touching and desperate plea for everyone to stand with the majority of us against Patriot Freedom Project and Cynthia Hughes. He made it clear that this is a fight for the soul of our movement. The handful of Jan 6ers in the DC Gulag who are on Cynthia's side turned their attacks on Jon Mellis because everyone knows he has been fighting against PFP all year. Cynthia has targeted Jon because he and his girlfriend have raised $2 million for Jan 6ers directly into their GiveSendGo accounts and they have also helped get Jan 6ers personal stories out. Jon is the target of their blackmail campaign. They are blackmailing him already.       

So a few days ago the PFP crew convinced a few neutral Jan 6ers to call a "Town Hall" with the whole pod to address the recent public attacks on PFP. It was basically targeted at Jon Mellis. The handful of PFP crew one by one addressed Jon in angry fashion and a few neutral guys addressed Jon in a "let's come together/unity" fashion. A few men addressed the blackmail campaign PFP has. At the very end when everything seemed to be well, Tim had his turn to speak. Tim spoke vicious hatred, saying things like, "I will bury you!" This tarnished any helpful part of the Town Hall meeting. Right after Tim was done speaking, to the surprise of everyone, Pete Schwartz fetched a laptop from the top tier above the meeting and brought it downstairs. He put it in Jon's face as it had been recording the entire time. This was when EVERYONE witnessed their evil blackmail ways firsthand. Luckily, someone snatched the computer and deleted the video. But now we all know the truth. We were all set up as props in their personal blackmail campaign against Jon Mellis. I must say that Jon and his girlfriend Kelly have helped Jan 6ers raise almost $2 million directly into their own bank accounts. They do this for free. They make no money from this. This is one reason Cynthia had been attacking them since last year. It started when Jon organized a fundraiser for the children of the general population inmates in the DC jail for Christmas last year. This story needs to get out. God bless our movement. 

Do you believe in Justice?

The time to separate the patriots from the grifting traitors is long past, and the J6 defendants’ freedom – and their very lives – may depend on it. These defendants face the full weight of the federal government, and “pretrial” detainment has been going on for close to two years. So much for the Sixth Amendment. 

That is egregious on the part of the government, but this wolf in sheep’s clothing, Cynthia Hughes, applies Marxist tactics reminiscent of cartels and organized crime and communist and fascist regimes. 
In my journey as a journalist, I have witnessed many grifters and opportunists, but the racketeering and influence operations that appear to be the core function of Cynthia Hughes and PFP are truly despicable.  

These men and women need support. They are political prisoners being held to prop up a crumbling narrative. All of them have lost much. Many of them have lost everything. 

If you donated to the Patriot Freedom Project, you should ask Cynthia Hughes for an accounting of how your donation was used. You can contact her via email. If you want to support the J6ers:

Cynthia Hughes does not deserve a stage at Trump rallies, or on national conservative podcasts. She deserves attention from non-profit regulators and independent auditors. She deserves attention from the politically weaponized Department of Justice. She likely deserves a jail cell after due process.

So why is a woman like this allowed to scavenge off well-meaning patriots throwing money at what they wrongly assume to be a fair and ethically functioning nonprofit? Finally, how hard is it to conduct a background check? Who is enabling or protecting Hughes and to what real end? 

That, too, is a story for another day. 

Cynthia Hughes was contacted for comment, but as of press time, no response was received.

Mel Hawley is an independent journalist and host of the Sovereign Souls and Justice In Jeopardy podcasts. She is a wife and mother of 8 who lives in Northern Virginia.