Shaman Formerly Known as QAnon Pleads Guilty

Jacob Chansley has agreed to spend 41 to 51 months in prison for his role in the 6 January riots.

NPR (“Jacob Chansley, Self-Styled ‘QAnon Shaman,’ Pleads Guilty To Felony Over Capitol Riot“):

An Arizona man who sported face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns when he joined the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty Friday to a felony charge and wants to be released from jail while he awaits sentencing.

Jacob Chansley, who was widely photographed in the Senate chamber with a flagpole topped with a spear, could face 41 to 51 months in prison under sentencing guidelines, a prosecutor said. The man who called himself “QAnon Shaman” has been jailed for nearly eight months since his arrest.

Before entering the plea, Chansley was found by a judge to be mentally competent after having been transferred to a Colorado facility for a mental health evaluation. His lawyer Albert Watkins said the solitary confinement that Chansley faced for most of his time in jail has had an adverse effect on his mental health and that his time in Colorado helped him regain his sharpness.

“I am very appreciative for the court’s willingness to have my mental vulnerabilities examined,” Chansley said before pleading guilty to a charge of obstructing an official proceeding.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth is considering Chansley’s request to be released from jail while he awaits sentencing, which is set for Nov. 17.

Chansley was among the first wave of pro-Trump rioters to force its way into the Capitol building. He yelled into a bullhorn as officers tried to control the crowd, posed for photos, profanely referred to then-Vice President Mike Pence as a traitor while in the Senate. He wrote a note to Pence saying, “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.” He also made a social media post in November in which he promoted hangings for traitors.

[…]

His attorney has said Chansley was previously “horrendously smitten” by Trump and believed like other rioters that Trump called him to the Capitol, but later felt betrayed after Trump’s refusal to grant Chansley and others who participated in the insurrection a pardon.

After spending his first month in jail, Chansley said he re-evaluated his life, expressed regret for having stormed the building and apologized for causing fear in others.

Reuters (“Capitol rioter ‘QAnon Shaman’ pleads guilty, disappointed Trump didn’t pardon“) adds:

The U.S. Capitol rioter nicknamed the “QAnon Shaman” is disappointed former President Donald Trump did not pardon him, his defense lawyer said on Friday after the man pleaded guilty to taking part in the Jan. 6 unrest.

[…]

While in detention, Chansley underwent mental examinations and was diagnosed by prison officials with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.

[…]

Watkins noted that prosecutors had acknowledged Chansley was “not a planner or organizer” of the riot. Watkins later told reporters that Chansley had cooperated with Jan. 6 investigations and informed on a group he saw stealing classified materials from a Senate office.

NYT (“Capitol Rioter Known as QAnon Shaman Pleads Guilty“) adds:

His plea hearing in Federal District Court in Washington on Friday departed from the circuslike atmosphere that has surrounded the case from the start. He did not speak other than to answer yes-or-no procedural questions. Under the terms of his deal, Mr. Chansley agreed to accept a recommended 41 to 51 months in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17.

Another defendant who pleaded guilty to the same charge this year was given eight months at a sentencing hearing in July.

[…]

More recently, however, Mr. Watkins has said that Mr. Chansley — like other rioters — felt betrayed by Mr. Trump. He also said that Mr. Chansley has repudiated the QAnon cult and would like to be known merely as a shaman, not the QAnon shaman.

“The path charted by Mr. Chansley since Jan. 6 has been a process, one which has involved pain, depression, solitary confinement, introspection, recognition of mental health vulnerabilities and a coming to grips with the need for more self-work,” Mr. Watkins said in a statement on Thursday.

At a news conference after the hearing, Mr. Watkins told reporters that Mr. Chansley had been under pressure from his family not to plead guilty. His family, Mr. Watkins said, believed that Mr. Trump was going to be reinstated as president and could issue Mr. Chansley a pardon — a baseless theory of the sort once promoted by QAnon that continues to circulate among some Trump supporters.

“It took a lot of courage for a young man who was raised by his mother to say, ‘No,'” Mr. Watkins said.

With Mr. Chansley’s plea, 51 of the roughly 600 people who have been charged in connection with the riot have entered guilty pleas, most for misdemeanor offenses like disorderly conduct. At least another 11 defendants are scheduled to plead guilty by the end of October.

Granting that attorneys exist to present their clients in the best possible light, Chansley certainly comes across as a pitiable figure. He is almost certainly suffering from some mental illness. And he was surrounded by people who shared his delusions that the election was stolen from Trump and that he was doing justice by storming the Capitol.

I haven’t studied the differences between Chansley’s case and that of Paul A. Hodgkins, the aforementioned person who received an eight-month sentence for the same charge, enough to know exactly how comparable their offenses were. It does seem that Chansley’s offense was more serious, though. First, he was literally on the front wave that broke into the Capitol; Hodgkins came in later. And Chansley not only broke into private Congressional office spaces, he left a threatening note for then-Vice President Pence. Still, he has already served eight months; another 41 months, the low end of the plea deal, seems excessive.

FILED UNDER: Capitol Riot, 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. Kathy says:

    Is there any room at Arkham?

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    To be cynical. If he had been black and broke into a police station, he’d likely get double the sentence, just sayin’. Sentencing inequities between courtrooms is a bug in our judicial system that few are interested in changing, the shaman is just another victim.

    Maybe he’ll get some help for his mental health issues and some good can come of this for him.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    If he had been black and broke into a police station, he’d likely get double the sentence, just sayin’.

    Maybe but it’s really just apples and oranges. Yes, Black and Hispanic defendants tend to receive harsher sentences for a variety of reasons. But it’s not useful to compare municipal systems to the federal courts.

    Sentencing inequities between courtrooms is a bug in our judicial system that few are interested in changing, the shaman is just another victim.

    I’m not absolutely sure the inequity is unjust here but we should certainly strive to treat people charged with the same crime in the same event equally. But I fully agree that few are interested in the issue.

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  4. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    Imagine if a BLM mob as violent as the folks who invaded the capitol on Jan. 6.

    What would be the response?

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Still, he has already served eight months; another 41 months, the low end of the plea deal, seems excessive.

    According to the Guardian,

    While in detention, Chansley underwent mental examinations and was diagnosed by prison officials with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.

    I have to wonder how much 8 months of solitary played in his illnesses. Regardless, I am in agreement with you James, at least to the extent that the man needs help, something our prisons aren’t generally equipped for.

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  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Just going to put this link here:

    Four Capitol Hill police officers have died by suicide since January 6. But yeah, hey, this cosplaying loser might serve a few years in prison for attempted insurrection, so no biggie right?

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  7. Not the IT Dept. says:

    For the love of bleep, where’s the edit button? Here’s the link (not using the official link since I tried that and it didn’t work):

    https://www.reuters.com/world/us/officer-who-responded-us-capitol-attack-is-third-die-by-suicide-2021-08-02/

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  8. de stijl says:

    White Riot

    The Clash

    ReplyReply
  9. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    Mass murder.

    In America, a white skin is perhaps more useful than body armor when confronting the police.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m generally in favor of lenient sentencing, but this is necessary. He became a symbol.

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  11. CSK says:

    Is Chansley’s request for an all-organic diet still being accommodated?

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  12. Mike says:

    His having become such a symbol of Jan 6, and I believe, he himself claimed to be the Shaman of Q originally, I want to see jail time – however the mental health issues cause concern. But you have to be some level of mentally ill to believe in all these conspiracies to begin with…. it is a high burden to be found NGRI or not competent to stand trial though and he has been given a psych review. Hopefully he gets some additional/continued MH services while in the pokey so he isn’t returned to society more ill, after the conditions of confinement for a few years. At least while confined they can provide services and monitor him while on probation for medications and such.

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  13. Barry says:

    James: “First, he was literally on the front wave that broke into the Capitol; Hodgkins came in later. And Chansley not only broke into private Congressional office spaces, he left a threatening note for then-Vice President Pence. Still, he has already served eight months; another 41 months, the low end of the plea deal, seems excessive. ”

    Your last sentence is contradicted by the rest of your paragraph. This many physically attacked Congress to overturn an election.

    Heck, what sentence would any white person get for assaulting numerous police officers + breaking and entering plus threatening people?

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  14. Crusty Dem says:

    First, he was literally on the front wave that broke into the Capitol; Hodgkins came in later. And Chansley not only broke into private Congressional office spaces, he left a threatening note for then-Vice President Pence. Still, he has already served eight months; another 41 months, the low end of the plea deal, seems excessive.

    If the “Black Panthers” or an “Islamic Terror Cell” had thrown a rally, marched on the Capitol, invaded and ransacked the building while calling for the murder of American politicians, I doubt you’d have any issue with life in prison. I am certain that no one here (me included) would think that 4 years was excessive. It’s always amazing to me who gives the benefit of the doubt to people committing grievous offenses.

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  15. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Joe Scarborough nailed it back in January (you can find the rant on Youtube in multiple places): If the Capitol Hill insurrectionists had been black, they’d have been shot in the face. If they’d been Muslim, they’d have been sniped.

    Of course they’ve got a variety of mental health issues: they’re conspiracy theorists and cultists. That’s never a sign of sound mental cogitation. But they knew what they were doing, they bragged all over social media about what basasses they were and posed for photos.

    It was a dry run for the next time. And that’s going to be much messier.

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: If he’d been black and broke into a police station, he likely be dead, but whatevs…
    […]

    …but later felt betrayed after Trump’s refusal to grant Chansley and others who participated in the insurrection a pardon.

    Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…

    “Chansley certainly comes across as a pitiableful figure>” FTFY

    “He is almost certainly suffering from some mental illness.”

    I read somewhere recently that people (particularly laypeople) should avoid making statements about the mental health situations of people they don’t know and have never met. It’s a good policy.

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  17. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So did RE Lee. I know, a terribly flawed analogy.

    However it should factor in there somewhere that these people did what they did at the behest of a duly elected and still serving POTUS. Some “with malice towards none” seems warranted, considering we lack the courage as a nation to prosecute the person who led them to it. If after long evaluation he manages to please the shrinks I would have no problem with letting Chief Squatting Bull here get out in a year or less, with long term probation.

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  18. JohnSF says:

    Re. mental incapacity and culpability: If you look at the records, a lot of the Nazi leadership were definitely at least on the borderlines of being clinically mentally ill.
    Mad and evil have never been easily separable.
    Indeed, a lot of philosophers and theologians will argue that true evil is insane by definition.

    Though Chansley is more a fool than evil; but sometimes being a fool is just a stage on a dark path.

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  19. Kathy says:

    IMO someone with a mental illness who commits a crime might not be morally responsible for their actions, but they are still a danger to the community. Therefore, they should be interned in a psychiatric hospital to get the treatment they need. They should be released when they improve, or no longer pose a threat.

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  20. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not absolutely sure the inequity is unjust here but we should certainly strive to treat people charged with the same crime in the same event equally.

    The same crime in the same event does not mean the same aggravating or mitigating factors

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  21. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: @Crusty Dem: I’m not proposing sentencing in the abstract. I’m comparing someone else charged in the exact same crime. Five times as much seems excessive to me.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: He has literally been “diagnosed by prison officials with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.” That, not my armchair analysis, is what I’m basing my assertion on.

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  22. Mimai says:

    I didn’t comment on this when it first came up, but now I just can’t help it.

    transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety

    It’s not clear if “transient” is meant to apply to all of these. It is clearly meant to apply to the first in the list. In that case, let me note that there is no such thing as a diagnosis of “transient schizophrenia.” It’s a contradiction in terms.

    I don’t expect reporters to understand and accurately write about nuanced clinical or scientific matters. But the basics? Sigh.

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  23. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I’m not proposing sentencing in the abstract. I’m comparing someone else charged in the exact same crime. Five times as much seems excessive to me.”

    No, letting people off for this is excessive.

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  24. de stijl says:

    @Mimai:

    That is a very bizarre description. I did not note the usage until you highlighted it.

    My guess is that it was his lawyer’s verbiage that got repeated in the press.

    Some conditions wax and wane, but schizophrenia is kinda like pregnant: you are or you aren’t.

    My anxiety is pretty consistent. It’s always there. My agoraphobia is wildly inconsistent and varies considerably from very acute to not really a big deal at all – I got this, dude! No prob.

    One thing I have noted is that agoraphobic behaviors go up if I have a situation that I need to deal with but have not yet because my brain is very fond of avoidance and is extremely capable at inventing excuses as to why we should deal with that issue tomorrow and not right now today. Agoraphobia spikes hard for me then. I am bad at “unresolved”.

    Sometimes I live through a seemingly endless series of days where I promise to myself “I will deal with that tomorrow.”

    It is a sign I need to take action even though it will be painful and stressful.

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  25. Jay L Gischer says:

    Not to pile on, but I’m hesitant to call Chansley mentally ill as well. I wonder if it doesn’t serve as a distancing thing – a way to think you could never do that, or anything like it.

    Thing is, we could. Any of us, given a set of bad choices, could do it.

    Having said that, I endorse the stiff sentence. Like Michael said, he became a symbol. Heck, he used his symbology to motivate others during the insurrection.

    And belief that Trump will be reinstated is belief in a revolution – an overthrow of the government. There is no other way that happens.

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  26. David S. says:

    Using claims of mental illness to distance white offenders from the public at large is a well-established strategy. This is especially egregious in mass murders.

    Also, I notice that Chansley is no longer claiming autism spectrum disorder as the mental illness he’s hiding behind, as he was doing in May. The current reporting of his mental diagnosis is copy-paste from articles a month old, and entirely based on statements from his lawyer to Reuters. Which is proper, but not remotely reliable, as evidenced by the fact that he was making stuff up to sway public opinion about his client. Legal, yes. Smart, yes. But not what you want to base your judgment on.

    Frankly, I’m half-surprised it hasn’t been claimed that he played too many video games.

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