Jacob Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, is facing over four years in jail for his role in the Capitol riot, the stiffest penalty prosecutors have yet to recommend for any insurrectionist.
In a late-night court filing on Tuesday, federal prosecutors said in a memo that they were recommending a sentence of 51 months for Chansley, who became the face of the January 6 riots as a result of his striking appearance.
Shirtless, with his face and torso covered in red, white, and blue paint, and wearing a Viking hat adorned with fur and horns, Chansley was among the first to breach the Capitol. He was also carrying a bullhorn and a spear-tipped pole with an American flag tied to it.
“The government cannot overstate the seriousness of the defendant’s conduct as one of the most prominent figures of the historic riot on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 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,” prosecutors wrote in their memo.
To date, only one other Capitol rioter has been sentenced on felony charges. Paul Hodgkins, who also breached the Senate chamber, was sentenced to eight months in prison after prosecutors sought an 18-month term.
Another Capitol rioter, former MMA fighter Scott Fairlamb, who has pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer during the attack, is due to be sentenced Wednesday. The government is seeking a 44-month sentence.
Prosecutors argue that Chansley, who will be sentenced on November 17, deserves a longer sentence than both Hodgkins and Fairlamb, because of his social media posts urging followers to “stop the steal”, the fact he was brandishing a six-foot spear, and because he was among the first 30 people to breach the Capitol.
Prosecutors also mention the speech Chansley gave from the dais in the Senate chamber once inside.
“Thank you, Heavenly Father, for gracing us with this opportunity...to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs,” Chansley said, according to a quote that opens the prosecution’s sentencing memo.
In contrast, the sentencing memo filed on behalf of Chansley by his lawyer Al Watkins opens with a quote from the movie Forrest Gump (which Watkins misspells in his filing):
“My momma always said, you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”
Watkins continues to highlight similarities between his client and the character portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film, saying Chansley, too, was bullied and ostracized as a child for being an “oddball.”
Watkins, who is seeking a sentence of time-served, claims Chansley suffers from undiagnosed mental health issues, which is one of the reasons for his “apparent Forest Gump-like obliviousness to much of the activity and many of the actions of those surrounding him as he approached, entered, and traversed the Capitol.
Watkins portrays his client as an unwitting player in the Capitol riots, but the prosecution’s memo highlights how Chansley used social media platforms like Facebook, Rumble, Parler, and YouTube to foment anger by spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election result.
“We shall have no real hope to survive the enemies arrayed against us until we hang the traitors lurking among us,” Chansley wrote in a Facebook post on November 19, 2020.
Watkins also outlined how Chansley complied with law enforcement in the days and weeks after the riot and showed remorse. But prosecutors highlighted an interview Chansley gave to NBC on January 7 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.”
He also called the FBI to admit he was the man seen wearing the Viking hat, adding that he was glad he sat in the Vice President’s chair because Mike Pence was a “child trafficking traitor”—a common QAnon trope.
Chansley has subsequently attempted to downplay his role in the attack, claiming in a 60 Minutes interview that law enforcement agents let him into the building.
Watkins also confirmed that just over a week after the insurrection Chansley “reached out to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to confirm a request for a Presidential Pardon of the Defendant and other peaceful individuals who had accepted the president’s invitation to go to the Capitol.”
The pardon never came, and Chansley subsequently labeled Trump “not honorable” for letting “a lot of peaceful people down.”
Chansley has already been in prison for over 300 days and has spent the vast majority of that time in solitary confinement as a result of COVID-19 protocols, spending over 22 hours a day in his cell. His family, based in Arizona, is unable to travel to Virginia, where Chansley is incarcerated, to take advantage of the two 30-minute slots available for visitors each week.
“He suffers from severe anxiety, panic attacks, and a constant feeling of claustrophobia while he is locked alone in his cell each day,” Watkins wrote.
Watkins claims that Chansley’s very appearance during the insurrection should be evidence enough of a troubled mental state.
“Chansley was half nude for the entire morning and early afternoon of a wintery January 6, when the temperature was in the 30s and low 40s in Washington, D.C. His tattoo-inked torso was on full display, his face carefully painted in the colors of the nation’s red, white and blue, his crown adorned by horns and his ‘costume’ accessorized by a fur pelt. His Shamanic chants were further indicia of mental health vulnerabilities,” Watkins wrote.
In the wake of the Capitol attack, many with the GOP and at right-wing media outlets have attempted to portray the incarcerated rioters as “political prisoners,” but Watkins says Chansley is not seeking such a designation.
“Chansley is not a political prisoner. He does not seek to be labeled such.”
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