By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
A Maryland man described by the FBI as a “self-professed” white supremacist was sentenced on Wednesday to four months of incarceration for storming the U.S. Capitol while wearing a court-mandated device that tracked his movements, court records show.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly also sentenced Bryan Betancur to one year of supervised release after his term of imprisonment and ordered him to pay $500 in restitution.
Betancur, 22, was on probation for a 2019 burglary conviction when he traveled from the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, and joined the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A GPS-enabled monitoring device that he was wearing under the terms of his probation showed that he spent roughly three hours in or around the Capitol that afternoon.
Betancur climbed scaffolding outside the Capitol before helping other rioters remove furniture from a conference room, prosecutors said. They added the rioters likely used pieces of the furniture as weapons and projectiles during a clash with police officers in a tunnel on the Lower West Terrace.
Betancur pleaded guilty in May to one count of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year behind bars. Prosecutors recommended sentencing Betancur to six months of incarceration, 12 months of supervised release, 60 hours of community service and $500 in restitution.
Approximately 850 people have been charged with federal crimes for their conduct on Jan. 6. Over 350 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors, and over 230 have been sentenced. Dozens of Capitol riot defendants who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from seven days to five months.
Betancur lied to the FBI during an interview after his guilty plea, falsely stating that he only entered the Capitol for his safety, according to prosecutors. He told the FBI agent who interviewed him that he heard law enforcement planned the Capitol riot and that it was an “inside job,” a prosecutor said.
Then-President Donald Trump spoke to a crowd of his supporters at the “Stop the Steal” rally before many of them walked over to the Capitol, where Congress was preparing to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
“Betancur also emphatically claimed that the 2020 election was stolen,” Justice Department prosecutor Maria Fedor wrote in a court filing.
Betancur flashed an “OK” hand sign — a gesture that many far-right extremists have adopted as a trolling tactic or a genuine hate symbol — as he left his interview with an FBI agent in July 2022.
The FBI believes Betancur aspired to join the far-right Proud Boys extremist group but wasn’t an official member. He wore a Proud Boys shirt under his jacket on Jan. 6 and met with members of the group before he walked over to the Capitol.
Images recovered from his cellphone showed him in Washington with Proud Boys members on Dec. 12, 2020. Probation officers gave Betancur permission to visit the city that day and on Jan. 6, both times under the pretense that he was traveling with Gideon International to distribute Bibles.
Betancur told law enforcement officers that he was a member of several white supremacy groups and said he wanted to run people over with a vehicle and kill people in a church, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
“Betancur has voiced homicidal ideations, made comments about conducting a school shooting, and has researched mass shootings,” the affidavit said.
During the riot, he posed for a photograph with a Confederate battle flag while standing on the scaffolding outside the Capitol.
In June 2022, a rider on a Metro train in the Washington area reported that Betancur harassed other passengers, yelling racial slurs and making racist statements about Black people, according to prosecutors. They said the rider also reported that Betancur held a folding knife as he left a Metro station. Police officers stopped Betancur but didn’t arrest him, prosecutors said.
“Betancur has clearly demonstrated his inability to refrain from harassing, hostile, threatening, and uncooperative behavior both with law enforcement and the public at large,” Fedor wrote.
Defense attorney Ubong Akpan said Betancur no longer belongs to any extremist group and shouldn’t be punished for his political beliefs.
“He should only be judged for his conduct in this case. He accepted responsibility and is remorseful for his conduct,” Akpan wrote, requesting a sentence of one month in jail for Betancur.
Earlier Wednesday, a man who pleaded guilty to the same riot-related offense as Betancur was sentenced to two months of imprisonment. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan also sentenced Benjamin Larocca, 28, of Seabrook, Texas, to one year of supervised release and ordered him to perform 60 hours of community service and to pay a $2,000 fine.
Prosecutors recommended three months of imprisonment for Larocca. They said he took videos and photographs that showed his “extreme indifference to the chaos and violence around him” on Jan. 6.
“It has to be made clear that there are consequences for taking part in that violent riot on Jan. 6,” Chutkan said.
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