The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Capitol rioter claimed he was elsewhere on Jan. 6, handing out Bibles

Described by the FBI as a white supremacist, Bryan Betancur pleaded guilty in May to one count of disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds

A man who told his parole officer he was handing out Bibles went to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, instead. (John Minchillo/AP)

As authorities tell it, convicted burglar Bryan Betancur made what seemed to be a reasonable request to Maryland probation officials a few days before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Prohibited from leaving the state without permission, he asked to travel to the District on Jan. 6, 2021, so that he could hand out Bibles on behalf of the Christian group The Gideons International.

Maryland’s division of parole and probation said okay.

“Betancur provided [his] probation officer with updates throughout the day and communicated that he would not be home by the normal curfew time,” a federal prosecutor said in a court filing.

In a recent plea deal, Betancur acknowledged that his story about distributing the Good Book was a ruse. Instead, clad in a shirt bearing a logo of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, he attended Donald Trump’s incendiary rally on the Ellipse, after which Betancur stormed the Capitol with an angry mob of fellow Trump supporters trying to prevent Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s electoral victory, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.

Betancur, described by the FBI as a white supremacist who lived with his mother in Silver Spring, Md., was sentenced Wednesday to four months behind bars for participating in the riot. Although his age isn’t clear (prosecutors say he is 24; his attorney says 22), there was no dispute in U.S. District Court in D.C. regarding his Jan. 6 whereabouts.

What helped give him away: On the day of the insurrection, he was wearing a GPS tracking device that had been affixed to one of his ankles by probation officials after his release from incarceration in a Maryland burglary case.

Defense lawyer Ubong E. Akpan, in asking for a one-month federal sentence, told Judge Timothy J. Kelly in writing that his client, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, believed “a falsehood advertised to millions — that former Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the ‘fraudulent election’ ” during the Jan. 6 congressional proceedings. Akpan added that Betancur “struggles with mental health issues, which he does not and cannot bring himself to discuss. Instead, he puts on a brave face.”

Efforts to reach Akpan for comment after Wednesday’s sentencing hearing were unsuccessful.

Prosecutor Maria Y. Fedor asked for a six-month term in her sentencing memo, saying Betancur’s Jan. 6 visit to Washington wasn’t the first time he lied to probation officials to get approval to leave Maryland. After gaining permission to hand out Bibles for the Gideons in D.C. a month earlier, on Dec. 12, he took part in the Proud Boys’ violent pro-Trump rally in the District that day, Fedor said.

At the Capitol, she wrote, Betancur “climbed scaffolding and later entered a sensitive area,” meaning Senate conference room ST-2M, and helped rioters “in removing furniture from ST-2M, which was likely used as weapons in the nearby Lower West Terrace tunnel” in a confrontation with police. In addition to tracing his movements with videos, photographs and other evidence from social media, Fedor wrote, investigators used the GPS data to show that Betancur entered restricted areas of the Capitol.

He pleaded guilty in May to one count of disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds. He is among 800-plus defendants who have been charged in the Capitol insurrection, more than 200 of whom have been sentenced.

“Betancur has made statements to law enforcement officers that he is a member of several white supremacy organizations,” an FBI agent wrote in a court affidavit. “Betancur has voiced homicidal ideations, made comments about conducting a school shooting, and has researched mass shootings. … Betancur has stated he wanted to run people over with a vehicle and kill people in a church.”

Akpan, the defense lawyer, described him as a lonely person — a product of an abusive childhood who gravitated to right-wing extremist groups out of a yearning for community, for a place where he felt wanted.

Fedor described a conversation Betancur had with authorities during plea negotiations.

“When asked if he regretted the decisions he made on January 6, 2021, Betancur stated he did not live a life of regrets,” she wrote. “However, he added that he only regrets that the actions he took now prevent him from joining the U.S. military. Betancur wanted to join the U.S. military because of the sense of brotherhood. If he is unable to join the U.S. military, Betancur said that he may attempt to join a different country’s military or become a mercenary.”

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