Alleged Jan. 6 rioter from California seeks asylum in Belarus, state TV reports
A California man who faces criminal charges on suspicion of participating in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is seeking asylum in Belarus, the country’s state TV reported Monday, a move that may further heighten the tensions between the turbulent ex-Soviet nation and the United States.
The man, Evan Neumann, 48, of Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, acknowledged in an interview with state TV channel Belarus 1 that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but rejected the charges, which include assaulting police, obstruction and other offenses.
The channel aired excerpts of the interview Sunday and promised to release the full version Wednesday.
“I don’t think I have committed some kind of a crime,” Neumann said, according to a Belarus 1 voiceover of his interview remarks. “One of the charges was very offensive; it alleges that I hit a police officer. It doesn’t have any grounds to it.”
Neumann spoke in English but was barely audible under the dubbed Russian.
According to U.S. court documents, Neumann stood at the front of a police barricade wearing a red Make America Great Again hat as a mob of rioters loyal to then-President Trump tried to force past officers.
Prosecutors allege that Neumann taunted and screamed at the police before putting a gas mask over his face and threatening one officer, saying police would be “overrun” by the crowd.
“I’m willing to die, are you?” prosecutors quoted Neumann as saying to the officer.
A committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection has issued subpoenas to six more associates of former President Trump.
Police body camera video appears to show Neumann and others shoving a metal barricade into a line of officers who were trying to push the crowd back before he punches two officers with his fist and then hits them with the barricade, according to court papers.
Neumann was identified by investigators after someone called an FBI tip line with Neumann’s name and hometown.
He was charged in a U.S. federal criminal complaint, meaning a judge agreed that investigators presented sufficient probable cause that Neumann had committed the crimes.
More than 650 people have been charged for their actions on Jan. 6, when the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol and delayed Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
Neumann told Belarus 1 that his photo had been added to the FBI’s most wanted list, after which he left the country on what he claimed was a business trip. Neumann, who owns a handbag manufacturing company, traveled to Italy in March, and then through Switzerland, Germany and Poland before he got to Ukraine, where he spent several months.
He said he decided to illegally cross into neighboring Belarus after he noticed surveillance by Ukraine’s security forces.
“It is awful. It is political persecution,” Neumann told the TV channel.
A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection has subpoenaed 11 officials who were involved in planning rallies in support of former President Trump ahead of the violent attack.
Belarusian border guards detained Neumann when he tried to cross into the country in mid-August, and he requested asylum. Belarus doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy in Belarus declined to comment. The U.S. Department of Justice said it doesn’t comment “on the existence or nonexistence of requests for apprehension to foreign governments.”
The Belarus 1 anchors described Neumann as a “simple American, whose stores were burned down by members of the Black Lives Matter movement, who was seeking justice, asking inconvenient questions, but lost almost everything and is being persecuted by the U.S. government.”
In a short preface to the interview, the Belarus 1 reporter also said that “something” made Neumann “flee from the country of fairytale freedoms and opportunities” — an apparently sarcastic reference to the U.S., which has levied multiple sanctions against Belarus over human rights abuses and violent crackdowns on dissent.
Belarus was rocked by huge, months-long protests after election officials gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in the August 2020 election that the opposition and the West have denounced as a sham.
Lukashenko’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on the protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and badly beating thousands of them. The crackdown elicited widespread international outrage.
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