A California man charged with participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is seeking asylum in Belarus, according to a state TV report from that autocratic former Soviet nation.
Evan Neumann was charged in March with six federal offenses, including assaulting law enforcement officials, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. The FBI said in court documents filed in July that Neumann spent four hours at the riot, punched police officers and used a metal barricade as a "battering ram" against cops who were trying to hold off the mob.
An anonymous family friend identified Neumann to the FBI and agents questioned him at the San Francisco airport in February. Neumann, who owns a handbag business in Northern California, admitted that he flew to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 but declined to answer questions about the riot, according to the FBI. Prosecutors initially asked a judge to seal the case in March to avoid tipping off Neumann to their investigation, but in June prosecutors expressed concern that he was "actively attempting to evade arrest."
Neumann, who was then added to the FBI's Most Wanted list, sold his Bay Area home in April for $1.3 million and fled to Ukraine, KGO-TV reported in July. This week, he resurfaced in a report on Belarus state TV after apparently seeking asylum in that country, which is led by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been widely criticized for human rights abuses and is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. A TV presenter described Neumann as a business owner whose shops were burned by Black Lives Matter activists and "who sought justice, asked uncomfortable questions, but lost almost everything and is being persecuted by the U.S. government." Neumann, the presenter said, "illegally crossed the Belarus border and is seeking protection."
"A U.S. citizen is seeking asylum in Belarus. It sounds incredible but it is a fact," the presenter said.
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Neumann claimed in an interview with the outlet that he has many friends in the U.S. government who tipped him off after the FBI published his photo and asked the public to help identify him.
"I knew that they would immediately identify me and left first thing," he said. "I started hiding, traveling across America from one point to another. I hired a lawyer. And the lawyer said that I could go to Europe on a business trip. … The lawyer said it was good because it would buy time. And then it will become clear what is happening with my affairs. After all, no court proceedings were carried out. So, in order to understand what was happening, I left."
Neumann said he traveled through multiple countries in March before reaching Ukraine, where he rented an apartment. Neumann claimed that after four months there, he came under scrutiny by Ukrainian authorities. He said he hiked through the Ukrainian wilderness, encountering swamps, wild boars and aggressive snakes, to the Belarus border, where he was detained by authorities on Aug. 15.
Neumann is seeking protection from the Belarus government, according to the report. He said he was hurt by the allegation that he hit a police officer, claiming it was a baseless charge. In fact, he disputed that any of the Jan. 6 protesters were responsible for breaking into the Capitol, suggesting that it might have been a government setup.
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The state TV outlet claimed that at least three U.S. citizens have applied for asylum in Belarus this year. Lukashenko, who has been labeled "Europe's last dictator," was accused of stealing an election last year before staged a wide crackdown on opposition protests and journalists, even faking a terrorist threat to ground a Ryanair flight carrying a blogger who was then detained for "inciting unrest."
Despite Neumann's denial, the FBI said in court documents that police body-cam videos show Neumann at the Capitol riot, wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat and a gas mask as he confronted officers trying to block a mob of protesters with a metal barricade. He accused the officers of supporting "antifa" and warned that they would be "overrun" by the crowd.
"I'm willing to die, are you?" he told an officer, according to the court documents, before grabbing the metal barricade.
"As (the officer) attempts to pull the metal barricade out of Neumann's hands," the court filing said, "Neumann, now using the barricade as a battering ram, lifts the barricade off the ground and rushes toward (the officer) and the other officers, crossing into the now-broken police line and striking them with the barricade."
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