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Before January 6, 18-year-old Bruno Cua was best known in his small town of Milton, Georgia, as a great tree-house builder. They were large and elaborate creations with stairs, hatches and framed windows. They were so impressive that the neighbors paid Cua to build them for their children.
The world outside Milton, Georgia, met Cua in a somewhat more dramatic way. He was allegedly seen in several videos in the US Capitol Senate Chamber with a handful of other protesters. The videos went viral: there is a man in combat equipment, now identified as Air Force veteran Larry Brock Jr., scolding hooligans, including Cua, about why they shouldn’t sit in Vice President Mike Pence’s chair . Cua looked confused. “They can steal an election, but can’t we sit in their seats?” he asked.
In a defense motion filed on Friday, Bruno Cua’s lawyers said his client “is an impressionable 18-year-old boy who was finishing his online course to graduate from high school when he was arrested”.
They paint a portrait of a young man taken by events. “In many ways, he is less ‘adult’ than many teenagers,” said the motion. “He never lived away from his parents. He lived his entire life in the area immediately around Atlanta.”
Prosecutors, in turn, see Cua through very different lenses. In a criminal complaint, they point to Cua’s social media postings on the run and after Jan. 6 to suggest that he was someone genuinely inspired by former President Donald Trump and intent on violence.
Cua’s case is a clear example of how powerful disinformation can be. Both the prosecution and the defense agree that he was radicalized by what he read online, and the decision to embrace the falsehoods he discovered in chat rooms and social media changed the course of his life. And he was not alone. More than 250 people so far they have been accused of violating the Capitol and most of them, to varying degrees, have been motivated to break into the building for falsehoods that they read online and on social media for months.
The Cua family
“President Trump is calling us to FIGHT!” Cua reportedly wrote in Parler days before the siege. “It’s time to resume our freedom the old-fashioned way.”
Cua’s lawyers say the messages that prosecutors see as threatening were “the small talk of an extremely passionate but very naive teenager who repeated what he heard and saw on social media.” They made it clear that these ideas were not things that Cua invented alone; instead, they were sent to him online. He was radicalized, they said, through social media.
According to the defense motion, Cua traveled to Washington, D.C. on January 6 with his parents to attend a Trump rally. His parents were longtime supporters of Trump and Cua also became one. They had walked to the Capitol together, as a family, when confusion broke out on the Capitol steps. Bruno Cua asked his parents if he could go and take a closer look. They agreed and Cua quickly disappeared into the crowd. His parents only found out later, his lawyers said, that he had entered the Capitol and entered the Senate Chamber.
The surveillance video inside Capitol reportedly showed him wearing a dark sweatshirt, a denim jacket, a red “Make America Great Again” hat and gray gloves wielding a staff and trying to open several office doors.
In a criminal complaint, federal prosecutors cite a January 6 Instagram post in which Cua allegedly wrote: “Yes, we physically struggled to get in.” Another post said: “Yes, for everyone who asked, I invaded the [Capitol] with hundreds of thousands of patriots. I will make a whole video explaining what happened, this is history. What happened was unbelievable. ”
The FBI reportedly received two tips identifying Cua as the young man who was in the Senate House on January 6. His clothes helped officials identify his movements and actions across the Capitol that day, they said.
Another informant, according to court documents, told authorities that Cua had been talking about going to Washington on his account at Parler for days and “actively encouraged events on the 6th for 11 days leading up to the domestic terrorist attack”, said the complaint.
Cua, who is believed to be the youngest person so far to be accused of breaking into the Capitol, allegedly assaulted a federal official. His lawyers say that as part of his release conditions, he would be willing to stay away from social media and be monitored at his parents’ home.
Since the January events, Cua has completed three online courses: University Algebra, Introduction to Government and Introduction to Marketing, his lawyers said. He is three classes away from completing high school, they added.