Jacob Chansley, the man federal prosecutors called “the public face of the Capitol riot,” was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison on Wednesday, one of the longest sentences handed down so far in connection with the events of Jan. 6.
Chansley, a 34-year-old Donald Trump supporter who was known as the “QAnon Shaman” and wore a viking hat with fur and horns and carried a spear bearing an American flag when he stormed the Capitol, was sentenced by Judge Royce C. Lamberth. Last week, Lamberth sentenced a New Jersey man who assaulted an officer outside of the Capitol on Jan. 6 to 41 months in federal prison.
“If the defendant had been peaceful on that day, your honor, we would not be here,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall told Lamberth on Wednesday.
“‘Times up, motherfuckers’ is not peaceful, your honor,” Paschall said, referencing what Chansley yelled in the Senate chamber. “That’s chilling.” She noted the letter Chansley left on Vice President Mike Pence’s desk ― which said, “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.” ― was “not peaceful.” She called the note “a threat.”
Paschall said that while Chansley did not assault police that day, the judge should note the tenor of Jan. 6 and read the threatening note in that context. She also noted that Chansley called Pence “a fucking traitor” from the dais in the Senate.
“None of what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, was peaceful,” Paschall said, adding Chansley engaged in “obstructionist activities” that day. She asked the court to send a message to the “flag-bearer” of Jan. 6 and any other people, regardless of their political beliefs, that there are consequences for trying to obstruct American democracy.
Lamberth said what Chansley did was “horrific” and “terrible,” and that while he believed Chansley had indeed changed and was apologetic, that he would not depart from the sentencing guidelines (which suggested a minimum of 41 months) because of the “serious nature of the crime itself.”
Chansley, who pleaded guilty in September to a felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, was among the first 30 rioters to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6 and faced off with police officers outside the Senate chamber as senators scrambled to safety.
Speaking before Lamberth just before he was sentenced, Chansley thanked the judge for moving him to another jail where he could get an organic diet.
“I believe in freedom with all my heart and soul,” Chansley said. “But I also believe in law and order, because without law and order you can’t have freedom.”
Chansley said he came to understand why Lamberth kept him locked up pretrial, and said that “men of honor” admit when they’re wrong.
“I was in solitary confinement because of me, because of my decision. I broke the law, and if I believe in freedom, if I believe in law and order … I should take responsibility,” Chansley said. “I needed the time to reevaluate.”
Chansley said he came to realize he was wrong for entering the Capitol, but said he was not “an insurrectionist” or “a domestic terrorist,” just “a good man who broke the law.” Chansley said he would “do everything differently” if he could go back and relive Jan. 6.
Minutes later, Chansley made his way inside the gallery of the U.S. Senate, where he yelled “time’s up motherfuckers” as other rioters rifled through senators’ desks in the chamber below. He eventually made his way to the floor of the Senate, where he took the seat that had been occupied by then-Vice President Mike Pence. Chansley called Pence “a fucking traitor” and left his letter on the desk.
Chansley’s attorney, Al Watkins, said in September that his client “REPUDIATES THE ‘Q’ MONIKER” and no longer wanted to be known as the QAnon Shaman and had started to move away from his belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“Have I witnessed this traversing of a path away from QAnon by Jacob? Absolutely. Has he extricated himself such that his boots don’t smell of QAnon? No. No, it’s still there,” Watkins said. “And it’s going to take time.”
On Wednesday, Watkins said the court was in a “remarkably unique position” both to both hand out justice and to help bridge the political divide by showing mercy on Chansley.
“He is accountable, and wants to be held accountable,” Watkins said.
The government asked for a sentence of 51 months in federal prison, saying his criminal acts had “made him the public face of the Capitol riot.”
“Armed with a six-foot long spear, the defendant brazenly marched past dozens of law enforcement officers, with rioters throwing debris of all kind at those who opposed them, past broken windows and through doors ringing with alarm bells,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. “The defendant was among the first 30 rioters to penetrate the U.S. Capitol building. The defendant then stalked the hallowed halls of the building, riling up other members of the mob with his screaming obscenities about our nation’s lawmakers, and flouting the ‘opportunity’ to rid our government of those he has long considered to be traitors.”
The Justice Department told Judge Lamberth that it was “important to convey to future rioters and would-be mob participants ― especially those who intend to improperly influence the democratic process ― that their actions will have consequences.”
The damage from Jan. 6, the DOJ argued, “will last far longer than the hours’ delay” in the certification of the results of the presidential election.
“The world watched the actions of this defendant and others on January 6, 2021 shake one of the foundations of our democracy ― the peaceful transfer of power after free and fair elections ― and has made us all question the safety and security of the country in which we live,” they wrote. “Those enormous harms, borne out of the acts of this defendant, must be deterred so that we never see a similar assault on our democracy again.”
Chansley’s attorney argued in a sentencing memo that his client has “mental health vulnerabilities” and showed “apparent Forest Gump-like obliviousness too much of the activity and many of the actions of those surrounding him as he approached, entered, and traversed the Capitol.” Chansley’s father was incarcerated for the “lion’s share” of Chansley’s life, and his stepfather ― who Chansley’s lawyer said imposed “extraordinary physical and mental abuse” on his client ― died by suicide in 2013. Chansley’s lawyer said his client has now been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, anxiety, and depression.
“Patience and compassion represent the only course that is medically appropriate, ethically appropriate, and legally appropriate,” Watkins wrote, asking the court to sentence his client to time served. “It is time for the Shaman to start on his journey to freedom ― not from jail, but from mental health infirmities of significance. It is time for Mr. Chansley to commence his journey from within.”