Jacob Chansley Sentenced to 41 Months for Capitol Riot

The erstwhile QAnon Shaman will spend another three-and-a-half years in jail.

NPR (“Self-styled ‘QAnon shaman’ is sentenced to 41 months in Capitol riot“):

Jacob Chansley, the self-styled “QAnon shaman” who became one of the faces of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol after storming the building in a fur headdress with horns, has been sentenced to nearly three and a half years in prison for his role in the riot.

Photographs of a bare-chested Chansley carrying a bullhorn and a spear adorned with the American flag while howling in halls of the Capitol became some of the iconic images of that violent, chaotic day.

At a hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Chansley to 41 months in prison, although he will be given credit for the roughly 10 months he has already served.

“You didn’t slug anybody, but what you did here was actually obstruct the functioning of the whole government,” Lamberth said. “You know what you did was wrong. I admire you for being able to come to terms.”

[…]

Chansley was arrested days later and indicted on six charges, two of which were felonies, and ordered detained pending trial. He ultimately struck a deal with the government and pleaded guilty in September to a single count of obstruction of an official proceeding.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chansley addressed the court for around 40 minutes. He said he has spent much of the time he’s been locked up reflecting on his life and his actions on Jan. 6.

“Men of honor admit when they’re wrong. Not just publicly but to themselves,” he said. “I was wrong for entering the Capitol. I have no excuse. No excuse whatsoever. The behavior is indefensible.”

According to court papers, on Jan. 6, Chansley made his way into the Capitol and onto the floor of the Senate, where he scaled the dais.

After a police officer asked him to leave, Chansley refused and said: “Mike Pence is a f****** traitor.” On the desk at the dais, Chansley scrawled a note on a piece of paper that read: “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Chansley also led rioters in an incantation over his bullhorn, which he concluded with the words: “Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chansley admitted that he was guilty, but also said he’s not a “dangerous criminal.”

“I am not a violent man. I am not an insurrectionist. I am certainly not a domestic terrorist,” Chansley told the court. “I am a good man who broke the law. And I’m doing everything I can to take responsibility for that.”

[…]

Before announcing his sentence, Judge Lamberth told Chansley he believes that his remorse is genuine and heartfelt, but he also told Chansley that “what you did was terrible.”

He said Chansley had made the right decision to plead guilty and take responsibility for his actions, instead of going to trial where he faced a much longer possible sentence.

“You were facing 20 years, Mr. Chansley. The one advantage you get here is you’re only facing now 41 months,” Lamberth said. “It may not feel it today, but let me guarantee you, you were smart and did the right thing.”

The sentenced handed down was less than the 51 months the Justice Department had recommended for Chansley, whom prosecutors described as the “flag bearer” of the Capitol riot.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall told the court at the start of the hearing that such a sentence was necessary “to send a strong message” to Chansley and anyone who would wish to do harm to the country.

“The message today,” she said, “is don’t. Don’t think that your illegal actions come here without consequences.”

NYT (“Jan. 6 Defendant Known as QAnon Shaman Sentenced to 41 Months“) adds more details about the bizarre hearing:

This circuslike atmosphere continued on Wednesday as scores of people attended a court hearing where Mr. Watkins asked Judge Lamberth to heal the country’s divisions by issuing a fair sentence. Mr. Watkins told the judge that he could “mete out justice and emphasize common ground upon which all of us can somehow bridge this great divide.”

When Mr. Chansley addressed the court, he quoted Jesus, Gandhi and Justice Clarence Thomas. He went on to discuss his tattoos, his late grandfather’s role in his life and the prison movie “The Shawshank Redemption.”

He also apologized for his role in attacking the Capitol, saying that in the days since, he has often looked into the mirror and told himself, “You really messed up, royally.”

More than 30 people have been sentenced in connection with the Capitol attack, most of whom have avoided prison time by pleading guilty to minor crimes like disorderly conduct or illegally parading in the building. Last week, a former New Jersey gym owner was also given 41 months in prison for punching a police officer during the riot — the first of almost 200 riot cases of people charged with assault to reach the sentencing phase.

[…]

The government had recommended that he be sentenced to 51 months in prison, saying that long before Jan. 6, Mr. Chansley encouraged his large social media following to “identify traitors in our government” and to “stop the steal” — a reference to Mr. Trump’s repeated lies that the 2020 election was marred by fraud.

Two weeks after the presidential race ended, Mr. Chansley was already promoting violence online, prosecutors say, posting a message that read, “We shall have no real hope to survive the enemies arrayed against us until we hang the traitors lurking among us.”

On Jan. 6, the government says, Mr. Chansley was among the first 30 rioters to enter the Capitol and quickly used a bullhorn to “rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out.” Within an hour, he had made it to the Senate floor, taking the seat that Vice President Mike Pence had only just evacuated and leaving a note on the dais saying, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

In the days after the attack, Mr. Chansley gave an interview to NBC News in which he said he considered Jan. 6 “a win.” He also told the F.B.I. that he believed Mr. Pence was “a child trafficking traitor” and that the U.S. government was tyrannical, prosecutors say.

As I noted in early September, when Chansley pled guilty, it’s pretty clear that he’s mentally ill. According to a Reuters report I cited at the time, he “underwent mental examinations and was diagnosed by prison officials with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.” While he’s certainly sane by the standards of our criminal justice system, he’s not quite right, either.

In isolation, the sentence seems more than fair. He wasn’t some rando in the demonstration who got caught up in the excitement of the mob but a visible leader of the Stop the Steal movement who, because of his outlandish costume and antics, became the very symbol of an attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election. Even for a mentally ill man caught up in a web of conspiracy theories, 41 months hardly seems excessive. And, indeed, 41 months was the lightest sentence available pursuant to the plea deal.

At the same time, there seems to be some real disparity in sentencing for the rioters. Chansley got exactly the same sentence as a man who physically assaulted a police officer in the performance of his duties. And another man who pled guilty of the same charge received only an 8-month sentence.

FILED UNDER: Capitol Riot, Crime, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    The reaction from the fringe seems to be that “he didn’t do anything bad,” with a few hold-outs suggesting that Chansley was a Democratic plant.

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Three plus years is a lot. I don’t think the judge had much choice, but with a mentally ill perp it doesn’t feel great. Putting mentally ill people in prison is bad for the other prisoners, bad for the guards who of course have no notion of how to deal with a delusional head case, and bad for the prisoner who is not likely to find prison therapeutic.

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  3. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IMO, people who plead mental illness or who are evidently mentally ill, should be required to undergo psychiatric treatment in lieu of prison time, for as long as necessary for a reasonable improvement.

    If they won’t accept necessary medical treatment, then they can rot in prison.

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  4. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @Kathy:
    The thing is, suffering from a mental disorder, which Chansley pretty clearly is, isn’t sufficient to prove legal insanity.

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  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Meh…whatever. He was merely a pawn. And, like most cult members, probably mentally challenged.
    It’s fun to see some of the cockier pawns get their comeuppance.
    But until the organizers and the instigators of the coup attempt are held to account none of this really matters.

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  6. Matt Bernius says:

    I’m going take things in a different direction to point out a sad truth about our criminal legal system:

    [The judge] said Chansley had made the right decision to plead guilty and take responsibility for his actions, instead of going to trial where he faced a much longer possible sentence.

    “You were facing 20 years, Mr. Chansley. The one advantage you get here is you’re only facing now 41 months,” Lamberth said. “It may not feel it today, but let me guarantee you, you were smart and did the right thing.”

    On the one hand, the judge chose to sentence Chansley to the shortest sentence he could under the statute, acknowledging the non-violent nature of the crime. And yet, if Chansley had exercised his constitutional right to a trial he would risk getting roughly 5 times that sentence. That’s what’s known as the trial penalty.

    It’s easy to say “well we knew he was guilty, why does that matter.” In this case it might not, but the impact of that trial penalty is that over 90% of all cases never go to trial and the State’s evidence is never tested. And this without a doubt leads to people pleading guilty to things they did not do out of sheer fear of risking the consequences of taking something to trial.

    And yet, without plea bargains, our judicial system would literally grind to a halt. And that’s something that should worry all of us. So there is no incentive to change.

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  7. matt bernius says:

    “You were facing 20 years, Mr. Chansley. The one advantage you get here is you’re only facing now 41 months,” Lamberth said. “It may not feel it today, but let me guarantee you, you were smart and did the right thing.”

    Yet again an example of the “trial penalty” at play. It’s easy to ignore this because there was little question about Chansley’s guilt in this case, but deciding between 3 years (including time served) or risking up to 5x that to invoke one’s constitutional right to a trial should concern folks.

    Of course, if that trial penalty was ever taken away, the entire American justice system would fall apart because we are not staffed to try all the people who are charged. And that should be equally disturbing to us as a nation. So we, instead, decide to live in a world where well over 90% of all cases get plead out.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @matt bernius:

    I wonder how many civil cases, especially lawsuits, are settled out fo court, or through arbitration, because the courts can’t handle all of them.

    I wonder, too, what would happen if more criminal defendants, say 25%, opted for trial. Would they be held in jail for years until they plead out or finally get their day in court? Or would we see some kind of expedited court, which would trample all rights and rules of evidence to be done in a day or two at most in a bench trial?

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  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: A very high percentage. The number that was slung around in my Negotiations class was 90%.

    The whole thing about trials, even civil trials, is that they take time. A judge is perfectly happy to get the two sides horse trading to reach an acceptable decision because there’s always another case coming down the pipeline taking up space on the docket.

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. the reason for the amount of time and money required is….civil procedure. Discovery, especially for a complicated case, takes forever.

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