MILL VALLEY (KPIX) -- Thursday marks the first anniversary of the Capitol riot but the story is far from over for a Mill Valley man wanted by the FBI who turned up late last year in Belarus.
There is police body-cam footage of Evan Neumann pushing against a barricade during the January 6th Capitol takeover. The former Mill Valley resident and owner of a women's handbag company is now listed at the top of the FBI's Most Wanted list, charged with assaulting a federal officer as well as other crimes.
But before agents could arrest him, Neumann left the country and has now turned up in a most unexpected place -- the city of Minsk in Belarus. Once there, he gave an extended interview on a state-run television special entitled "Goodbye America."
Neumann reportedly hiked from Ukraine to the Belarus border and is now asking for political asylum. In the special, he criticized the American electoral system and said he cannot return for fear of being tortured.
"I'm not strong enough to withstand torture," Neumann said with a smile,
Neumann's attempted defection has drawn national attention here at home, including a bit of ridicule from HBO's "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver.
"Oh, great idea Evan! You're worried about political persecution, so you go to Belarus -- a country run by a man who calls himself 'the last and only dictator in Europe!'" Oliver said, mocking Neumann in a segment on his show.
But Neumann also sat down for a similar interview on Russian state television. Dr. Charles Kupchan, a professor of International Relations at George Washington University and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told KPIX he's not surprised.
"It doesn't make a whole lot of difference whether he is in Minsk, in Belarus, or in Moscow. He's there and is being exploited as a propaganda tool," said Dr. Kupchan.
The professor said relations between Russia and America are at their worst level since the Cold War, noting that Vladimir Putin is happy to use Neumann and the Capitol riot as a way to discredit the U.S.
"The fact that this country is as divided as it is these days does provide openings for the Russians, for the Chinese and others, who attempt to exploit our internal divisions for their own political purposes," Dr. Kupchan explained.
Back in the U.S., Neumann has had other brushes with the law. In 2007, the DEA raided his home because of marijuana cultivation. During the 2017 Tubbs Fire, he and his brother were arrested for crossing National Guard lines to try to get to their mother's house.
Belarus has no extradition treaty with the U.S., and it is unknown if Neumann will be allowed to stay. But there is an irony to his seeking safety there.
Just last year, the country's dictator Alexander Lukashenko jailed and tortured thousands of people for protesting an election they believed to be rigged.
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