Jacob Chansley, the fur-clad, spear-toting and horned-helmeted accused U.S. Capitol insurrectionist known as the “QAnon Shaman,” must have court-ordered organic meals in jail as he awaits trial on a six-count indictment, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, found that if kosher and halal meals can be provided to incarcerated people, so can a shamanic diet.
“The court recognizes the DOC’s need to maintain an administratively and financially feasible method of sourcing food for its inmates,” Lamberth wrote in an 11-page opinion expanding upon his oral order during the hearing. “But the DOC candidly admitted that it routinely makes dietary accommodations for individuals who adhere to Islam and Judaism. If the DOC is able to make accommodations for individuals of these faiths, the Court finds no reason to believe that it would be administratively infeasible for the DOC to likewise accommodate defendant.”
Since pleading not guilty on Jan. 29, Chansley has consistently demanded organic food on the grounds of what he claims to be sincerely held religious beliefs—with mixed results.
The Department of Corrections has found little support for the proposition that shamanism would require a diet of wild caught tuna, vegetables, and soup, and a federal magistrate judge in Arizona appeared reluctant to grant an order absent more information.
At the time, Chansley’s attorney Albert Watkins told that Grand Canyon State judge that his geology degree gave him little basis to speak on the subject but offered for his client to expound about his religious beliefs “with a greater degree of detail” if necessary in the future.
Some nine days into what he claims to be an involuntary nine-day fast, Chansley followed through on that with a handwritten letter with detailed instructions.
“Because of my being a Shamanic practitioner, I only eat traditional food that has been made by God. This means no GMO’s, herbicides, pesticides, or artificial preservatives or artificial colors,” Chansley wrote in a jailhouse letter released on Wednesday. “I have not eaten anything since Monday morning @ approx. 8:15 a.m. Being w/o food is stressful due to the way it affects my serotonin levels. As a spiritual man, I don’t mind fasting for a few days, but 5 days is the longest I have ever gone w/o food/fasted for. I am humbly requesting a few organic canned vegetables, canned tuna (wild caught), or organic canned soups. If I have to go a week w/o food or longer then so be it. I will stay committed to my spiritual/religious beliefs even if it means I suffer physically. I will continue to pray through the pain and do my best not to complain. I simply ask that you understand that the physical effects of not eating organic are harmful to my body & bio-chemistry.”
As an alternative to organic food, Chansley requested release from prison, a motion mooted by the granting of his diet.
Judge Lambert started off a little more than half-hour long hearing by seeking the basis for Chansley’s request.
“Are you bringing a First Amendment religious liberty challenge?” Chansley asked, also inquiring whether those beliefs were sincerely held.
Watkins replied yes on both counts, describing the stakes as a life and annihilation, of the spiritual and physical varieties.
“It’s a choice between starvation, death and consuming something contrary to his long-held faith,” Watkins said.
Deputy Attorney General Chad Copeland of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General told the judge that their researchers could find no support for the “USDA-approved organic” diet that Chansley claims to be a tenet of Shamanism, a supposed tenet that would require a change in vending contracts—or a trip to the local grocery store—to accommodate.
Watkins proffered a Wikipedia entry in support, leaving the government to point out that the word “organic” does not appear on that page.
Though Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Louise Paschall appeared on the line for the telephone conference, prosecutors took no position on Chansley’s request for organic food. Prosecutors did, however, oppose his release on the grounds of his danger to the community.
“The defendant cannot be trusted to keep from inciting, contacting or coordinating with other radical extremists, intent on continuing to obstruct the normal functioning of our democracy,” the government’s opposition memo stated. “Given his participation in the obstruction of the normal functioning of the government, and his disbelief in the legitimacy of the current United States government, it is unlikely that the defendant will obey any pretrial release conditions.”
On the day of the Jan. 6th siege, Chansley stood up behind the dais where then-Vice President Mike Pence prepared to certify President Joe Biden’s victory and left the now-former VP a note telling him: “IT[‘]S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME” and “JUSTICE IS COMING.”
Denying that his client meant that as a threat, Watkins has offered Chansley’s testimony help making the case that Donald Trump incited the insurrection—the sole charge against the 45th president at his impeachment trial next week.
Read the judge’s ruling below:
Update — Feb. 4, 11:40 a.m. ET: This story has been updated to add the judge’s written ruling following his oral order in the hearing.
Editor’s note: this story initially and incorrectly indicated that Chansley is in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. The story now says that the D.C. Department of Corrections is the agency involved, and that DAG Chad Copeland was the official who pushed back on Chansley’s claims about the dietary tenets of Shamanism.
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]
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