The federal government has endangered Samuel Lazar, the Ephrata man federal authorities charged in July for his actions during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, by making an unsubstantiated claim that he is a danger to Black people, his attorney argued in court on Tuesday.
Lazar, 36, has been in federal custody since he was arrested at his Ephrata apartment on July 26. In the months since, attorneys for the government and Lazar have been battling back-and-forth in court filings and hearings over whether he should remain locked up while awaiting trial.
In arguing that Lazar is a threat to the public, federal prosecutors have pointed not only to his actions outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, but also his criminal history and to posts on Facebook, one of which Lazar made while the other included photos of him at a 2020 rally in Lebanon County.
Lazar’s post, prosecutors noted, called for a revolution and “euthanizing every Antifa, BLM (Black Lives Matter) member” and to “drag every last one of the Democrats and DNC members out of their offices and homes, and publicly execute them for their crimes against this Country and its citizens.”
Even though the post was shared from another Facebook user’s account, prosecutors said Lazar “loved” the post and circled it in red, meaning he agreed with its sentiments.
Lazar’s attorney, David Benowitz, in a filing submitted on Friday, rejected the government’s argument and said anyone could have circled the post. He noted that his client has been held in isolation, presumably for his own safety, ever since the government made the racism allegation.
“The government, in its zeal to deny Mr. Lazar his liberty, has in fact jeopardized his physical safety. To be clear, Mr. Lazar has no specific animosity towards Black people and is not a threat to their safety – and there is no evidence to support such a claim,” Benowitz wrote.
As for the government’s argument that Lazar has demonstrated a pattern of increasing criminal activity, Benowitz wrote that the government was relying on an unspecified criminal mischief conviction that occurred when Lazar was 18.
Benowitz also argued that the court should discount the government’s reliance on photos posted to Facebook more than a year ago showing Lazar at a Lebanon County rally holding a rifle.
A group called Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County made the post.
“The government provides no information about the individual or entity behind this account. Rather, the government seems to accept the anonymous, unverified account information at face-value and asks the court to do the same. Needless to say, Facebook is not a reliable source of information, and this court should exercise greater scrutiny than the government in assessing the community’s concern over Mr. Lazar’s conduct,” Benowitz wrote.
“These isolated pieces of evidence, dating from ten months ago to nearly twenty years, fail to coalesce into a picture of someone who is a danger to the community,” Benowitz argued.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who presided over Tuesday’s hearing, said she had hoped to rule from the bench on whether Lazar should be released pending trial. But she said she wanted to watch videos — presumably showing Lazar apparently spraying police outside the Capitol with a chemical irritant and later bragging about it — submitted as evidence by the government before making her decision.
She said she would schedule a hearing as soon as possible, but noted that Lazar’s defense was responsible for some delays by missing filing deadlines.
Lazar is charged with assault and obstruction-related crimes. His arrest came months after the FBI posted a photo of Lazar taken on Jan. 6 outside the Capitol and asked for the public's help in identifying him. LNP | LancasterOnline first identified Lazar as the man in the FBI photo in April.
Lazar was dubbed #facepaintblowhard, a hashtag reference to the camouflage paint he wore on Jan. 6, by online vigilantes who have been trying to identify the hundreds of people in photos posted to the FBI’s website.