On Saturday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Washington, D.C., announced that it had filed federal charges against three men for their participation in the riots at the U.S. Capitol. They named Adam Johnson, the man in the red, white, and blue bobble hat who smiled broadly as he made off with Nancy Pelosi's lectern; Derrick Evans, who had recently been elected to West Virginia's House of Delegates; and Jacob Chansley, who was described as being "dressed in horns, a bearskin headdress, red, white and blue face paint" and carrying a six-foot long spear.
Chansley, who also goes by the name Jake Angeli, turned himself in at an FBI field office in Arizona when he and his horned headdress made it back from D.C. He is facing a pair of federal misdemeanors for knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
The 33-year-old “self-initiated shaman” and enthusiastic QAnon bullshit shoveler has reportedly refused to eat during his time in custody, because the food being served in the federal detention center isn't up to his personal standards. According to ABC15, Chansley's mother insisted that he "literally will get physically sick" if he doesn't eat all organic foods. The U.S. Marshals have since agreed to provide Chansley with organic meals during his stay in their detention center, due to the requirements of his shamanistic religious beliefs. (A request for comment has not been returned.)
But according to Jeff Firewalker Schmitt, the founder of the Eagle Condor Council, an organization that supports traditional communities in Peru, not only is "self-initiated shamanism" not a thing, Chansley's performance and his fur-trimmed accessories are doing a disservice to the Indigenous cultures whose traditions he's turned into an opportunistic kind of cosplay.
"We are definitely in a place in our culture where people are hungry to fill the voids that aren't recognized or addressed by capitalist society, and when people like [Chansley] come along, sadly, a lot of people can get hurt," he told VICE. "If you yourself haven't gone through the steps that it takes to actually carry a tradition and its power, it perpetuates the prejudice and misunderstanding that we have about Indigenous culture, and what has allowed us in the West to destroy native civilizations with impunity."
Schmitt, who also practices and advocates for the healing arts, has worked with enough teachers, healers, and medicine people to know when somebody tries to pull off the spiritual equivalent of stolen valor.
"In my 30 years or so in this kind of work in these communities, if a person says 'I am a shaman,' that's the major indication that they probably have not been trained and initiated in a traditional lineage," he said. "The issue is of one of hubris. To put it a different way, I don't know any true medicine people or shamans that actually call themselves a shaman. That is what will, in Indigenous tradition, get you the biggest smackdown you've ever experienced."
At some point between being discharged from the Navy for allegedly refusing to take the anthrax vaccine and abandoning his career as a "highly talented actor, voiceover artist, and singer"—according to his now-deleted profile on Backstage.com—Chansley established something that he called the Starseed Academy Enlightenment and Ascension Mystery School.
In an event invitation on the Starseed Academy's now-deleted Facebook page, Chansley described himself as a "self-initiated shaman, energetic healer, ordained minister, public speaker, and published author." He says that he has "walked the Shamanic path" for the past 10 years, a process that required him to undergo "90 hours of tattooing," which resulted in the assortment of Norse symbols that cover his arms and chest. (Anyone who attended that event, called the "Red Pill Party," two summers ago heard a wide-ranging discussion about astrology, the Law of Attraction, the Fibonacci sequence, "Fluoride and the Pineal Gland," the Central Banking System, and, yes, that series of sci-fi flicks where Keanu Reeves says 'whoa' a lot.)
That could be shrugged off as some synonym of “questionable,” during normal, non-insurrectionist times, but it's a special kind of problematic when Chansley is using a combination of cultural appropriation and conspiracy theories to justify getting special treatment while in federal custody.
The path to becoming a shaman, Schmitt explained, takes decades of sacrifice, dedication, and discipline. "These old traditions, they insist on you being willing to bring yourself, at times, to the brink of death, and to be willing to lose everything," he said. "That's a very different thing to deciding one day that you're a Matrix-quoting shaman, creating a website and [trying to] make money. Nobody in their right mind would volunteer to take the path of a shaman. It's the hardest thing you can imagine."
Even the term itself is loaded with complications, and it means a different thing to anthropologists and academics than it does to Indigenous people. "If you talk to native North American elders and ask them the definition of a shaman, [they define it as] a rarified human being walking the earth with extraordinary powers, capacity, and spirituality," he explains. "One of my friends and teachers, who was a Cherokee elder, I talked to her about the word shaman, and she said 'Well there's only two or three shamans alive.'"
Chansley's expectation that, as a shaman, he should receive a special diet while he's in custody, also doesn't track. "Food, on occasion, especially with the traditions that work with visionary plants, have very strict diet protocols that you sometimes have to adhere to for upwards of a year to allow for certain things to happen," Schmitt says. "But I've also visited Tibetan monks who have come to the U.S. and the first thing they do is go get a hamburger at Wendy's."
The fact that Chansley's request was granted is a reflection of our failures on a number of levels, starting with Judge Deborah Fine, who found it "deeply concerning" when Chansley's public defender relayed that his organic diet wasn't being accommodated.
"From what I know about how people from various cultures are mistreated within the confines of our judiciary system, to have this privileged white guy wearing horns being treated differently, from my perspective, from the perspective of a medicine person, this is infuriating," Schmitt said. "I'm embarrassed for the judicial system, I'm sorry to say."
It might be too late to rescind Chansley's personal menu—and we'll save the argument that people who are incarcerated are all equally worthy of receiving quality food and having their religious and cultural requirements accommodated—but his situation is yet another example of how much work is left to do when it comes to recognizing and respecting Native American and Indigenous communities, Schmitt said.
"To take the spotlight off of [Chansley], it's more an indication of how culturally blind that we are in America," he sighed. "The people that we trust to be policymakers, to be lawmakers, and to enforce laws have no tools to discern between a real cultural act and a charlatan. From my perspective, it's about him, and it's not about him, because if you look at it from a larger perspective, we have allowed stupidity like that to not only exist, but to thrive."
And sometimes stupidity gets a special breakfast too.