Navy veteran and ‘QAnon Shaman’ sentenced to 41 months for role in Capitol riot
WASHINGTON — Jacob Chansley, whose brightly painted face, tattooed torso and horned cap became a visual icon of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, was sentenced Wednesday to 41 months in prison by a federal judge in Washington. His lawyer had asked the judge to impose a sentence of time already served, basically the entire 10 months since the insurrection, during which Chansley attracted more attention for demanding an organic diet while in jail and giving an interview to "60 Minutes."
The sentence of roughly 3 1/2 years is equal to the longest yet handed down to a Capitol rioter. Of the roughly 130 people who have pleaded guilty so far, only 16 have admitted to felonies, and Chansley is the fourth felon to be sentenced. The other three received terms of eight, 14 and last week a man who punched a Capitol police officer also received 41 months.
Chansley, 34, was photographed parading shirtless through the halls of the Capitol with a six-foot spear, howling through a bullhorn and then sitting in the vice president's chair in the Senate. He became known as the "QAnon Shaman" because of his appearances at gatherings of the "QAnon" conspiracy theorists and his Shamanic religious beliefs.
Prosecutors quoted Chansley offering a prayer while sitting at the dais of the Senate, thanking God for "filling this chamber with patriots that love you. ... Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government."
Chansley's "now-famous criminal acts made him the public face of the Capitol riot," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. With a suggested sentencing range of 41 to 51 months, the government asked for the maximum 51 months.
Chansley's lawyer, Albert Watkins, argued that his client had been sufficiently penalized by his 10 months in jail.
"Mr. Chansley is in dire need of mental health treatment," Watkins wrote in his sentencing memo. He said that a psychological evaluation earlier this year found that Chansley suffered from schizotypal personality disorder, anxiety and depression.
Watkins asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to go below the sentencing guidelines range and release his client, due in part to Chansley's "mental health infirmities of significance."
Chansley spoke to the judge for about 30 minutes, repeatedly invoking his spiritual guides of Jesus Christ and Mohandas Gandhi. "Gandhi would allow his loyalty to God and truth to guide him to accepting responsibility," Chansley said. "I was wrong for entering the Capitol. I have no excuse. No excuse whatsoever. My behavior was indefensible."
Chansley's lengthy comments, in which he praised Lamberth's military service as a lawyer in the judge advocate corps, seemed to convince the judge that he had made significant changes. "I think your remarks are the most remarkable that I've heard in 34 years" as a judge, Lamberth said. "I think you are genuine in your remorse. Parts of those remarks are akin to the kinds of things that Martin Luther King would have said."
But Lamberth said he could not reduce Chansley's sentence below the recommended guidelines because, "What you did here was horrific," the judge said, "as you now concede. And obstructing the government as you did is the type of conduct that is so serious that I cannot justify a downward departure. I do think the minimum end of the guidelines is what you've earned because you've done everything right from the time that you started, and you've certainly done everything good today, convinced the court that you're a new person."
Chansley, who lives in Phoenix, had developed a following on various social media platforms in the months before Jan. 6, and posted messages such as, "We shall have no real hope to survive the enemies arrayed against us until we hang the traitors lurking among us," prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly L. Paschall noted that Chansley and Watkins had frequently claimed that his protests were peaceful. Reading from his social media posts, Paschall said: "That is not peaceful. It's a call to battle."
Chansley drove from Phoenix to Washington and was first spotted outside the Capitol at 1:50 p.m. on Jan. 6, according to court records. There was ample photo and video documentation of Chansley's movements, wearing a fur vest, carrying an American flag tied to a pole with a spear at the tip, and using a bullhorn. Paschall played some of it for Lamberth on Wednesday. Prosecutors said Chansley was among the first rioters inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. He also was the first one indicted.
Chansley used his bullhorn "to rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out," prosecutors said. At 2:52 p.m., he entered the Senate gallery and began screaming obscenities, one of the videos showed.
He then gained access to the Senate floor, took the seat that Vice President Mike Pence had recently vacated, took pictures of himself and declared that Pence was a traitor. "It's only a matter of time. Justice is coming!" Chansley wrote on a paper on the dais, prosecutors said.
"What he wrote there," Lamberth said, "is a big problem."
Chansley was inside the Capitol for more than an hour, prosecutors said. He then drove back to Phoenix and gave an interview to NBC News in which he said, "The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win." When he learned that the FBI was looking for him, he called the bureau and told them he was glad he sat in Pence's chair, and called him "a child-trafficking traitor."
While in jail, Chansley spoke to "60 Minutes+" and told them he was allowed into the Capitol by the police, and that he was merely intending "to bring divinity, to bring God back into the Senate."
Chansley pleaded guilty in September to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, namely the counting of the electoral votes in the presidential election. The charge has a maximum 20-year prison sentence, but Chansley had no prior criminal history and was not accused of committing any violence on Jan. 6.
In arguing for a 51-month sentence, Paschall wrote in her sentencing memo that "the peaceful transition of power in our nation was disrupted by a mob of thousands. ... And this defendant was, quite literally, their flag-bearer."
Paschall told the judge Wednesday that "deterrence weighed heavily in the government's recommendations here." She said prosecutors wanted to send the message, "Don't think the justice system will sit idly by while you attempt to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power."
Watkins argued that "general deterrence does not justify a sentence in excess of time served."
He cited cases in his memo in which judges imposed sentences below the recommended guidelines because of the defendant's health conditions.
He noted that while Chansley was on active duty in the Navy, a psychological evaluation was done in 2006 which diagnosed him with "mental health infirmities," but that was never revealed to Chansley. On Jan. 6, his actions, appearance and Shamanic chants "were obvious indicia of mental health vulnerabilities," Watkins wrote.
"He made himself the image of the riot," Lambert told Watkins on Wednesday.
"Jake is a horrific image indeed," Watkins said. "This assault on democracy was repugnant."
Lamberth also issued the other 41-month sentence in the Jan. 6 cases, to Scott Kevin Fairlamb for assault on a police officer.
"You didn't slug anybody," the judge told Chansley, "but what you did here was actually obstruct the functioning of the whole government."