Bruno Joseph Cua lives on a three-acre farm in central Georgia with his parents and two younger siblings. The 18-year-old likes to fish and build tree houses; neighbors, family friends, and classmates describe him as hard-working, kind, respectful, and patriotic. He’s not into drugs or alcohol—his biggest high last year was organizing Trump truck rallies in his community.
Before he traveled to Washington, D.C. on January 5 with his mom and dad to hear President Trump’s speech the next day, Bruno was finishing online classes to earn his high school diploma. (His mother, a veterinarian, stopped working years ago to homeschool her children.) Like many teenagers interested in politics, Bruno is a bit of a rabble-rouser and social media loudmouth.
The Cuas, after hearing the president’s speech on January 6, walked to Capitol Hill. Bruno made his way into the building; the teen later posted on Parler that he “stormed the capital (sic) with hundreds of thousands of patriots. Yes we physically fought our way in.”
Now, Bruno Cua sits in jail in Washington, D.C. awaiting trial for his involvement in the January 6 Capitol breach, the youngest of the nearly 300 people so far arrested under the U.S. Justice Department’s “unprecedented” investigation into the events of that day. Unlike tens of thousands of protestors who occupied the nation’s capital for months—including young people who bragged about it in a Washington Post magazine—Cua will be given no mercy.
Neither will his parents, Joseph and Alise.
A Social Media Menace?
Bruno was arrested on February 5 by FBI agents in Atlanta—a grand jury indicted the high schooler on 12 counts, including assaulting a police officer and possessing a “dangerous or deadly” weapon. For the first three weeks following his arrest, Cua languished in solitary confinement before being transported to a jail in Oklahoma City where he shared a cell with 30 other inmates. His family, like the families of dozens of January 6 defendants, has been denied the opportunity to post bail.
And there’s a chance the teen will remain behind bars until at least May when his trial is scheduled to begin. U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss is weighing whether to finally release Bruno back to his parents or keep him detained for at least another two months. Moss seems inclined to side with government lawyers who insist Bruno is a danger to the community based on social media posts expressing outrage at the election, mocking Democrats including Joe Biden, and encouraging protestors to bring “pepper spray, tasers, baseball bats” to the capital—big talk for a kid traveling with his mom and dad. Some of the posts being used as evidence against him, in fact, are dated after January 6.
But, according to federal prosecutors, his rants on Parler make Bruno a national menace. “This small sample of public social media posts on the platform Parler by the defendant in this case evinces a full picture of who this defendant really is: a radicalized man with violent tendencies and no remorse for his participation in the violent insurrection that occurred at the U.S. Capitol,” assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall wrote in objection to Bruno’s pretrial release.
Further, Bruno’s refusal to accept that Joe Biden fairly won the presidency is more proof he should stay in jail, prosecutors say. “The offenses committed by the defendant illuminate characteristics inconsistent with a person who could follow orders given by this Court, or indeed, any branch of the federal government. The defendant has espoused disbelief in the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, and violently acted on that world view.” (The government, both judges and lawyers, routinely cite a defendant’s doubt about last year’s election as evidence of wrongdoing.)
The criminal case against Bruno, however, is weak. Did he act badly? Yes. He climbed on scaffolding outside the Capitol building and went into areas he should not have entered; some of his social media posts are alarming but not against the law.
Does his conduct merit the necessity of a first-time offender spending months in jail even before he has a chance to defend himself? Absolutely not.
Thin Evidence, Government Intimidation
Bruno faces three weapons charges—he carried a small baton into the building but did not use it either to attack anyone or vandalize the building—and various trespassing misdemeanors. The evidence presented in charging documents is shockingly thin, considering he’s been incarcerated for one month as of Friday, and it leans heavily on video taken by a New Yorker reporter and Bruno’s own Instagram account.
Investigators accuse Bruno of shoving a police officer in a hallway; the officer involved cannot recall what the perpetrators looked like but the FBI claims to have video evidence. “He is not alleged to have participated in the violent breach of police lines, breaking windows, or otherwise forcefully entering the Capitol,” Bruno’s lawyers argued in a petition for pretrial release. “He is not accused of using the baton or engaging in any other physical violence, property damage, or theft.”
The government doesn’t just view young Bruno as a threat but also characterizes his parents as threats. Bruno’s father was interrogated by federal prosecutors about his private conversations with his son after the riot, demanding to know why he and his wife didn’t stop him from entering the Capitol, what punishment he faced once they returned home, and why they didn’t do a better job monitoring his social media accounts. Joseph Cua described their frantic attempts to contact their son while he was inside the Capitol, to no avail as cell service was shut down.
Here was one exchange from a February 12 detention hearing between Joseph Cua and an assistant U.S. attorney about a post-election rally he and his son attended.
Cua: It was a rally around . . . the election results, we should see the real results and that type of thing.
U.S. government: Do you recognize that that is not true?
Cua: Yes, I do.
U.S. government: But you recognize also that you participated in that activity with your son? Do you share in the responsibility in your son’s belief and his actions?
In other words, attending a rally is a crime and taking your son is akin to mental child abuse not to mention the audacity to question election results.
“We Are Completely Broken”
Astoundingly, one prosecutor suggested Bruno had been politically brainwashed by his parents because he doesn’t attend school outside the home. “I don’t believe that home incarceration will work because he is an 18-year-old who’s homeschooled,” assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan told a magistrate judge last month. “And so this case did not arise out of him traveling or going different places. It’s simply these things that he has ingested, not just from the Internet.”
Therefore, Buchanan argued, “they are not suitable custodians in part because they may have participated in some of this activity as well.”
At one point, the government warned that Joseph and Alise could be in trouble, too. “It would not be a stretch to say these parents could be charged with crimes of their own, not merely for aiding and abetting the activities of their son, but for unlawful entry on the Capitol grounds if in fact, as the defendant’s father testified under oath, they were present in the restricted area of the Capitol grounds on January 6, 2021.”
Perhaps the government can throw Bruno’s parents in jail, too, leaving their two younger children to the tender mercies of the foster care system?
The Cua case has nothing to do with seeking justice for the melee on January 6 or appropriately prosecuting one of the participants. It has nothing to do with making sure the nation’s capital or Cua’s hometown remains safe.
It has everything to do with punishing a family who dared to show up in support of Donald Trump and dared to question the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
The Justice Department, which acts more like a consigliere for the Democratic Party than an impartial enforcer of the rule of law, wants to ruin the Cua family and send a message to others.
Despite no criminal record and nearly 50 letters testifying to his good character, Bruno Cua continues to suffer in prison while his family awaits word as to whether he can come home. (The Cuas have offered to put up their home as bond.)
“Since he has been arrested, everything has changed for us,” a tearful Alise Cua told Judge Moss this week. “We just want our family together. I don’t even want to even hear the word politics. Bruno feels the same way.”
“We are completely broken.”
And that’s exactly what the U.S. Justice Department wants.