WASHINGTON — A federal judge sentenced Jacob Chansley, the Capitol rioter known as the “QAnon Shaman,” to 41 months in prison on Wednesday – handing down one of the longest sentences yet in connection with the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building.
Prior to his sentencing, Chansley spoke at length about his time in solitary confinement and his respect for Jesus and Gandhi. He was not, he said, a violent criminal or an insurrectionist.
“I’m a good man who broke the law,” Chansley said.
U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth told Chansley he was moved by his statement of contrition, but that he was unable to justify a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines for the obstruction charge Chansley pleaded guilty to.
"I guess the basic problem I have, in considering a departure downward, is that, although you have evolved in your thinking in many ways, what you did here was horrific. Obstructing the government... is so serious that I cannot justify a downward departure,” Lamberth said. “You made yourself the center of the riot.”
Lamberth ordered Chansley to serve 41 months in prison and to pay $2,000 in restitution for damage to the Capitol. Chansley will receive credit for the more than 300 days he had already served since his arrest in January. Once released, Chansley will be required to undergo periodic drug testing and to continue receiving mental health treatment.
Chansley’s 41-month sentence is the longest handed down yet in any Capitol riot case – tied with the prison term given to Scott Fairlamb, a New Jersey man also sentenced by Lamberth last week to 41 months in prison for assaulting police.
In its sentencing memo last week, the Justice Department asked Lamberth to give Chansley 51 months in prison – the upper range of his recommended sentence. The DOJ said Jacob Chansley, who wore a horned hat and carried a spear into the U.S. Capitol, was among the first 30 rioters who entered the building on January 6. Once inside, Chansley used a bullhorn to challenge police and to “rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out.”
Chansley eventually made it all the way onto the Senate dais, where he sat in the seat reserved for Vice President Mike Pence. Chansley left a note on the dais stating, “It’s Only a Matter of Time. Justice is Coming!”
Following the riot, Chansley gave a number of interviews in which he called January 6 “a win” and minimized his actions. In one, he claimed was merely intending “to bring divinity, to bring God back into the Senate.”
“The defendant stalked the hallowed halls of the building, riling up other members of the mob with his screaming obscenities about our nation’s lawmakers, and flouting the ‘opportunity’ to rid our government of those he has long considered to be traitors,” the DOJ wrote. “All of this took place mere minutes after the Vice President of the United States was evacuated from the Senate Chamber. The defendant’s consistent argument throughout this case that his actions on that day were peaceful is undermined by the evidence submitted to this Court, but demonstrative of a persistent mindset that could lead the defendant to commit similar acts again.”
“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,” the DOJ wrote. “And this defendant was, quite literally, their flagbearer.”
Chansley pleaded guilty in September to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding – a felony charge with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Federal guidelines call for him to serve a recommended sentence of 41-51 months in prison. In his own memo, Chansley’s attorney, Albert Watkins, has asked a judge to sentence him to a period of incarceration “significantly below” that range.
Watkins has described Chansley as someone who led a troubled life and who was drawn into the QAnon communities through his support of former President Donald Trump – in whom he saw a “kindred spirit.” Chansley’s family, particularly his mother, allegedly share many of those beliefs and encouraged him for months not to accept a plea deal out of a belief that Trump would eventually be reinstated as president.
“Jake was, like a lot of Americans, in a position of feeling that his voice wasn’t being heard," Watkins said during a September press conference. "For the first time, he felt like there was a politician whose message he heard. Who he felt was being spoken to him. He felt a fondness for Trump that was not unlike a first love."
In his memo, Watkins said Chansley had been living for 15 years with untreated schizotypal personality disorder, and that since his discharge from the U.S. Navy and the deaths of his father and step-father, he has been largely on his own.
“Mr. Chansley has spent his adult years as a longer, with neither guidance nor resources, forging his own path in a society that is largely unequipped to identify and help people like him, people with mental health vulnerabilities,” Watkins wrote.
On Wednesday, Watkins told Lamberth he had the opportunity to right the government’s 15-year-old wrong in not getting Chansley proper treatment. He also suggested leniency toward Chansley could heal the “unfettered repugnancy” of January 6.
"This case presents every bit as uniquely as Jake presented on January 6,” Watkins said. “This court is in a simultaneously unique position to mete out justice and to emphasize the common ground between all of us and somehow bridge this great divide."
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