Jacob Chansley, also known as the QAnon Shaman, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for his involvement in last January’s U.S. Capitol riot, the lowest the judge could go within the sentencing guidelines.
Chansley, who became a notable figure among those pictured during the riot, was seen shirtless and wearing a horned headdress on the Senate dais, where Vice President Mike Pence had stood about an hour earlier, on January 6. He pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, a charge that comes with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million.
Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who has presided over several other Capitol riot cases, to sentence Chansley to 51 months in jail, which is at the top of the sentencing guideline range.
“What should have been a day in which Congress fulfilled its solemn, constitutional duty in certifying the vote count of the Electoral College, ensuring the peaceful transition of power in our nation, was disrupted by a mob of thousands on January 6, 2021. And this defendant was, quite literally, their flagbearer,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Chansley has been detained since his arrest in January, serving about 317 days in solitary confinement because of COVID-19 protocols. His attorney, Albert Watkins, pushed Lamberth to consider a sentence of time served for his client, arguing that incarceration is detrimental to Chansley’s mental and physical health and that additional jail time won’t deter him from committing future crimes any more than a sentence of time served will.
In addressing the court at Wednesday’s hearing, Chansley said he questioned how Jesus and Gandhi would react. He said he struggled in solitary confinement but respected Lamberth’s decision to keep him incarcerated pending his trial and shared what he’s learned from looking inward.
“Men of honor admit when they’re wrong not just publicly but to themselves, and so I would like to use this as an opportunity to admit to your honor, to the prosecution, to the nation, to the world I was wrong for entering the Capitol,” Chansley said.
“I may be guilty of this crime, but I am in no way, shape or form a dangerous criminal. I am not a violent man. I am not an insurrectionist. I am certainly not a domestic terrorist. I am a good man who broke the law,” he said.
Chansley also told Lamberth that he’s “nothing like these criminals” whom he was incarcerated with. He noted that several were repeat offenders who acted as if they were in a Holiday Inn and questioned how anyone could spend time in prison and then commit an act that would mean going back to jail.
Lamberth called Chansley’s remarks some of the most “remarkable” he’s heard in his 34 years as a judge. However, he said he couldn’t deviate from the sentencing guidelines because of how serious Chansley’s conduct was. He said he considered 41 months an appropriate sentence.
“What you did was terrible. You made yourself the epitome of the riot,” Lamberth said. “I don’t take any pleasure in these sentencings…. What you did here was actually obstruct the functioning of the whole government. It’s such a serious crime.”
Watkins acknowledged that Chansley is the “face” of January 6 for many people, saying Chansley is to the Capitol riot what the Swoosh is to Nike. However, he argued that his client’s behavior on January 6 demonstrated his mental health vulnerabilities and told Lamberth his client had a “Forrest Gump-like obliviousness to what was going on around him.”
Watkins attributed Chansley’s participation in the riot to a “host of issues and traumas,” including being seen as a “loner” as a kid in school. Trump’s reelection, Watkins said, gave him an opportunity to become “part of something he believed to be noble and patriotic, right and righteous.”
“Mr. Chansley saw himself as a patriot, one who was admired for his self-taught discipline and sincere love for his country. Mr. Chansley was targeted. The arrow landed dead center,” Watkins wrote in a court filing.
Chansley also sat in Pence’s seat on the Senate floor, and when an officer asked him to move, he refused, saying, “Mike Pence is a f***ing traitor.” He also left a note on the Senate dais that said, “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall called the note to Pence “chilling.” Lamberth agreed that was particularly “disturbing,” given the noose that was constructed outside the Capitol with a sign that said Pence should be hanged.
Chansley has blamed Trump for his presence at the Capitol, since the former president encouraged people to come to Washington, D.C., on January 6 and march to the federal building. His attorney has likened Trump’s “propaganda” to that of Adolf Hitler.
While Watkins said Trump’s rhetoric persuaded his client to participate in the riot, prosecutors argued that Chansley’s “hateful rhetoric” and use of social media to spread “false information” helped bring thousands of people to the Capitol that day.
Shortly before Trump left office, Watkins reached out to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to request that Trump grant Chansley and others who “accepted the president’s invitation to go to the Capitol” a presidential pardon. Trump did not pardon any of the January 6 defendants, although he’s expressed his support for them during their legal battles.
Chansley didn’t fade into the background after the Capitol riot but instead gave several interviews to media outlets. He told NBC News he considered it a “win” that “we had a bunch of traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker.” He also reportedly told the FBI that he was “glad” he sat in the seat of the vice president, whom he called a “child trafficking traitor.”
Prosecutors acknowledged that Chansley has since expressed remorse for what he did but argued that his statements in the immediate aftermath were of a “man gloating over victory in battle.” Such actions, they said, made Americans “question the safety and security of the country in which we live” and therefore need to be deterred with a significant sentence.
Chansley told Lamberth he could “guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt” that his incarceration would be the last time he goes to prison.