North Ga. man who urged crowds to storm Capitol sentenced

“I feel like everybody lost that day,” defendant says; Judge unconvinced of remorse.

A Rabun County man will spend 45 days in jail and three years on probation after a federal judge on Friday told him she was unconvinced that he was remorseful for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot.

Blas Santillan, a 27-year-old amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, was caught on video during the riot emerging from the Capitol Rotunda and exhorting the crowd to action.

“I’m the only one that was willing to kick that door. Who else is willing to storm in there?” he shouted. “You are used to sitting on your couch and watching your Netflix and listening to your shows and watching YouTube. You do not know what freedom is. ... Freedom is doing what you want!”

Appearing via videoconference before Judge Florence Pan of the Washington, D.C., District Court, Santillan was more reserved.

“I am very sorry for how I reacted to the situation and the involvement that I had in the Capitol,” he said. “I feel like everybody lost that day.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Amore said his interview with the FBI prior to sentencing on Friday showed “he doesn’t have a full comprehension” of his role in the riot.

“He claimed that the police officers didn’t have an issue with the rioters,” Amore said. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 140 police officers were assaulted during the riot, which caused more than $2.7 million in damages to the Capitol.

Although video evidence showed that Santillan did not assault police or cause damage, Amore noted that he remained in the Rotunda for 45 minutes until a squad of police in riot gear arrived and cleared the area. “He was not a passive bystander, but an eager participant,” Amore said.

Santillan was arrested at his home in Clayton seven months after the riot. He accepted a deal to plead guilty to one of the four misdemeanors with which he was charged in May.

He will not have to start serving his sentence for a while. Judge Pan allowed him to report to jail following a planned MMA bout in Tupelo, Miss., Nov. 5. In comments to the judge, Santillan said becoming a professional MMA fighter was his career goal.

“I want to fight and share that with my community,” he said. “I want to open up some schools and give kids an opportunity that I didn’t have growing up in a small town.”

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

Thirteen of the 22 accused rioters with Georgia ties have pleaded guilty. Most have received at least some jail time, although some who pleaded to violent behavior or had roles in planning the riot face years in prison.

Santillan had asked to be sentenced to community service and no time in jail or probation, but his past worked against him. Unlike many of the other misdemeanor offenders, Amore said Santillan had prior convictions for statutory rape, DUI and obstruction of police, as well as multiple probation violations that landed him in jail for months, and in one case, 550 days.

Kira Anne West, Santillan’s attorney, said her client had made an “incredible turnaround” since his arrest and his life was on track. She blamed his behavior on the political rhetoric that stoked the attack.

“Like hundreds of thousands of people, he was duped by President Trump into thinking the election was stolen,” she said. “Every single time I talked to him he said he was sorry that he engaged in this conduct.”

Santillan did not say much at his sentencing, but in a letter to the judge filed with the case, he acknowledged the five people who died in the Jan. 6 riot. He wrote the deaths left “five empty spaces at the dinner table” for those families. However, he also wrote that he had “lost very much” and should not be punished further.

“I cannot find it in me to make my problems worse,” he wrote.

Pan said she was confused by the letter.

“I don’t think he regrets what he or the mob did. I think he said what he said today because he wants to avoid incarceration,” she said. ““Remorse is not saying he has already experienced loss for what he did that day.”