Nicole Xu for NPR
Earlier than Jan. 6, the run-ins Bruno Cua, 18, had had with police in his small city of Milton, Ga., had been principally of the scofflaw selection.
He blew an air horn within the faculty parking zone — that ended with a quotation for disturbing the peace. He had been on the receiving finish of a number of warnings for trespassing — he insisted on reducing by way of another person’s land to go fishing. And, in line with courtroom paperwork, his all-terrain car was additionally a supply of consternation: Police saved telling him to cease driving it on roads the place it did not belong.
“Cua has…exhibited a reluctance to abide by the foundations and to observe the instructions of legislation enforcement and different authorities,” wrote U.S. District Courtroom Decide Randolph D. Moss, in a court order final week. “Cua’s legal historical past just isn’t spotless, however neither is it substantial.”
Within the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, in line with courtroom paperwork filed by each the prosecution and the protection, Bruno Cua’s teenage antics had been changed by one thing extra consequential: far-right conspiracies. They are saying his world started revolving across the misinformation he picked up on web sites and Fb pages. And the falsehoods he found profoundly affected him. Anybody who was looking forward to it might discover it in his social media posts.
“I am looking for an AR to purchase below the desk,” he allegedly wrote in an Instagram direct message proper after the election, in line with authorities attorneys. “Know anyone?”
Then, a month later, “I do not need to sit right here in GA and watch,” he allegedly wrote, “I need to battle.”
And that, prosecutors contend, is precisely what Bruno Cua did on Jan. 6. Amongst different issues, the federal government says he breached the U.S. Capitol, scuffled with police outdoors the Senate chamber and plopped himself in Vice President Mike Pence’s chair as soon as he bought in.
The Cua household
The story of Bruno Cua could find yourself as a testomony to the risks of misinformation. And he is not alone. The Justice Division has charged some 300 people to this point with storming the Capitol that day, and most of them, to various levels, had been motivated to take action by the falsehoods that they had ingested for months on-line and on social media.
“One of many fascinating issues in regards to the present misinformation panorama is that it is not essentially uninformed individuals,” mentioned Sam Jackson, an assistant professor at College at Albany who research extremist teams. “It is misinformed individuals. It is individuals who say, ‘I do my very own analysis; I do not belief the elites.’ And their analysis is nonsense, it’s subtle nonsense.”
And in Cua’s case, this was the delicate nonsense of an 18-year-old.
Certainly one of Cua’s attorneys, William Zapf, instructed NPR that his shopper had been led astray by a gentle weight-reduction plan of far-right content material and conspiracy theories on-line which will have duped him into believing issues that merely weren’t true. And individuals who have studied radicalization say that ought to sound acquainted. Virtually 10 years in the past, one other group of younger individuals had been radicalized by what they noticed and heard on-line. However in that case, the thing of their consideration was a international terrorist group: ISIS.
“I assumed we had been those doing one thing noble”
Again in 2013, a 17-year-old Somali American named Abdullahi Yusuf was given a highschool class task to check Syria.
“It was completely random; we did not get to decide on,” he instructed me. “You needed to analysis it, make a poster, a presentation. And the very first thing I noticed had been the embargoes the U.S. was inserting on Syria,”
Yusuf recounted his story for a podcast on adolescent decision-making I hosted in 2018. “Then I went on YouTube and typed in ‘Syria,’ and immediately, I noticed civil struggle and stuff like that.”
Yusuf began his analysis at a selected second of inflection in Syria’s civil struggle: The United Nations had simply accused President Bashar Assad’s authorities of attacking civilians with chemical weapons, and movies chronicling the occasion had been everywhere in the Web. The information accounts confirmed lifeless girls and youngsters all specified by neat rows.
“I knew there was one thing that wanted to be accomplished, however I did not know what I might do,” Yusuf instructed me. “So I began following every thing that was happening there.”
This occurred to be a time when Yusuf discovered himself steeped within the teachings of a brand new group that had lately emerged in Syria — the Islamic State, what the world finally knew as ISIS. Whereas it had its origins in Iraq, Yusuf noticed the group solely within the context of Syria.
Movies on YouTube confirmed younger Muslim fighters going toe-to-toe with Assad’s forces. “I assumed they had been brave,” Yusuf mentioned. “I assumed they had been standing up for what they believed in.” (That, the fullness of time made clear, was solely partially true. ISIS later turned famend for its brutality towards harmless civilians.)
Some older buddies of Yusuf’s began exhibiting him movies from the entrance strains, and he discovered himself awash in one other actuality, one wherein he might envision himself as a noble warrior as an alternative of a helpless bystander. By spring 2014, he had purchased a plane ticket. All this occurred with out his dad and mom even realizing it. And Abdullahi Yusuf in all probability would have made it to Syria, if the FBI hadn’t stopped him on the airport.
“They’ll steal an election, however we won’t sit of their chairs?”
In line with courtroom paperwork, the Cua household drove as much as Washington from Georgia on Jan. 5 to protest the following day’s congressional certification of the 2020 presidential end result. Cua’s father, Joe; his mom, Alise; and Bruno “walked over to the Capitol” collectively after the Trump rally, and the youthful Cua requested his dad if he might get a better look. His father mentioned OK, and Cua disappeared into the gang.
What allegedly occurred subsequent is the idea of the federal government’s case towards Bruno Cua. Federal prosecutors say, Cua breached the Capitol constructing, marched by way of brandishing a black baton and finally made his method to the lobby of the Senate chamber the place he and others shoved an officer guarding the doorway out of the way in which and went inside.
Win McNamee/Getty Pictures
In line with courtroom paperwork, Cua sat “atop the Senate dais, within the chair beforehand occupied by former Vice President Mike Pence, along with his toes up on  the desk.”
The federal government additionally alleges that Cua started taking footage of papers on the senators’ desks. His dad and mom solely came upon the place their son had been on the automobile trip dwelling, the paperwork say, when he instructed them he had entered the Capitol.
Video footage locations Cua within the Senate chamber. It reveals one of many rioters telling a handful of others they should not be sitting within the vice chairman’s chair. Cua is heard responding like a typical 18-year-old. “They’ll steal an election,” he says, “however we won’t sit of their chairs?”
Dwelling in a post-truth world
Whereas the radicalization of Abdullahi Yusuf and Bruno Cua may need been pushed by very completely different ideologies, the method by which they turned extremists was remarkably related. What they noticed and consumed and internalized on-line gave them a false imaginative and prescient of the world. There was a stolen election to overturn in a single case, and harmless Syrians to avoid wasting within the different.
What makes this completely different is that in Cua’s case, one of many individuals who impressed him most was President Donald Trump. “The tree of liberty usually needs to be watered from the blood of tyrants. And the tree is thirsty,” Cua allegedly wrote on the social media website Parler a day after the rebellion. “The occasions on the capital [sic] had been a reminder that WE THE PEOPLE are in command of this nation and that you just work for us. There shall be no ‘warning shot’ subsequent time.”
For many individuals, not simply Bruno Cua, the choice to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 was about standing up for one thing: Many couched it when it comes to their love for America — chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” resounded within the Capitol because the mob poured in.
“This rhetoric about patriotism is inflicting me to comprehend extra parallels with these people and a number of the jihadis who perceive the world on this very strict good versus evil type of manner,” College at Albany’s Jackson mentioned. “They see themselves on the staff of fine preventing towards the staff of evil.”
And it has by no means been simpler to search out help to suit a specific narrative. “We, in some ways, reside on this post-truth period the place whether or not it is a lie or reality does not matter to many individuals,” mentioned Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor of American tradition and politics at College of Michigan. “What issues is that regardless of the various information are, so known as, they really resonate and make sense to them.”
That might clarify why lots of the individuals who descended on the Capitol that day in January are selecting to see the violence by way of a very rosy lens. Learn by way of a number of tweets, Fb messages and Parler posts left by the insurrectionists, and it is clear that for a lot of of them, at the very least for now, Jan. 6 was a triumph. A number of boasted if they may storm the Capitol as soon as, they may do it once more.
The final time I spoke to him, in 2018, Abdullahi Yusuf mentioned that it took awhile to know simply how a lot he had been seduced by ISIS. He was relieved the FBI stopped him from boarding that flight. “So many unhappy tales,” he instructed me. “I assure you, everybody who went there regrets it.”
Bruno Cua’s mom, Alise, seems to have had second ideas about Trump and the false narrative he had been peddling. She testified throughout a listening to earlier than a federal decide in D.C. final week that she felt “simply silly for believing what I believed” and that her son felt “ridiculous” for embracing the previous president’s baseless allegations of mass voter fraud.
Bruno Cua has spent greater than a month in jail. His attorneys, throughout a latest bail listening to, instructed the decide that their shopper had been assaulted whereas in custody and had lately examined constructive for COVID-19.
“What Cua was really pondering — and what he was really ready to do — eludes any sure reply,” Moss wrote as he weighed whether or not to launch Cua on bail. “The reality doubtless lies someplace [in] between.”
The decide mentioned the choice was a detailed one, however he believed Cua might safely be launched on bail pending trial. That is presupposed to occur on March 16, the day his quarantine is over.