Accused Capitol rioter seeks political asylum in Belarus
A California man wanted by the FBI for taking part in the January 6 Capitol riot is seeking asylum in Belarus, a former Soviet country ruled by an authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, according to a state TV report.
In court files, the FBI said that Neumann spent around four hours at the Capitol and verbally and physically abused police officers, including “forcefully shoving [a] metal barricade” into a line of officers before breaking into the building.
In a one-on-one with a Belarusian reporter, Neumann maintained his innocence and said he was being politically persecuted. A Belarus 1 TV channel presenter introduced him as an American who “sought justice and asked uncomfortable questions” after former U.S. President Donald Trump challenged the results of the 2020 election, adding that Neumann “lost almost everything and is being persecuted by the U.S. government.”
“California native, high school educated, married, two children, a business owner. One among millions of Americans just like him,” a Belarusian reporter said in the segment called “Goodbye, America.” “Of course, he is politically active — not like Edward Snowden, he didn’t have access to state secrets — but something forced him to flee the land of fabulous freedoms and opportunities, as we used to think of it.”
Neumann said he left the U.S. in March following the advice of his lawyer. His escape from the U.S. authorities amounted to an elaborate scheme: Neumann said he first flew to Italy, then took a train to Switzerland, rented a car to travel via Germany to Poland before finally arriving in Ukraine, where he settled in a rented apartment. After four months of living in central Zhytomyr, Neumann claimed he noticed surveillance by SBU, Ukraine’s security service, and fled the country, crossing the border with Belarus on foot through swamps near the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
“It was very difficult to cross it, I started around noon and was only able to get out by half-past two in the morning,” Neumann said in the TV report. I’ve seen wild boars, bumped into snakes, vipers there just go crazy in August, they are very aggressive.”
He was arrested by Belarusian border guards on August 15, according to the report. Belarusian migration authorities declined to comment on the matter, citing confidentiality of personal information, the Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported earlier this week.
At least three U.S. citizens have applied for asylum in Belarus in 2021, the agency said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly used the January 6 event as a talking point for his domestic audience, casting the West as plunging into chaos and the U.S. as “undemocratic” in the way it treated the rioters.
Last August, Lukashenko launched a brutal monthslong crackdown on mass protests that erupted since he claimed victory in a presidential election many in Belarus and abroad saw as blatantly rigged. Lukashenko has ruled the country since 1994 with an iron fist and has been repeatedly accused of killing and jailing his political opponents.
His treatment of Belarusian demonstrators, many of whom have been beaten and tortured in detention centers, provoked a wave of sanctions and condemnation, including from the Biden administration.
Lukashenko’s closest ally, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, accused the U.S. of “double standards” for its treatment of the Capitol rioters, saying that it is wrong for the U.S. to criticize crackdowns on anti-government protests overseas while prosecuting Americans who took part in the insurrection.
“They weren’t just a crowd of robbers and rioters,” Putin said in June of the Trump supporters who stormed Congress. “Those people had come with political demands.”