Jacob Chansley Pleads Guilty to Storming U.S. Capitol
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Horned, Furred, and Face-Painted ‘Shaman’ of the U.S. Capitol Siege Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: A protester screams "Freedom" inside the Senate chamber after the U.S. Capitol was breached by a mob during a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. Pro-Trump protesters entered the U.S. Capitol building during demonstrations in the nation's capital. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Jacob Anthony Chansley, formerly known as the ‘QAnon Shaman.’

The man who stood behind former Vice President Mike Pence’s Senate dais in a horned, coyote-fur headdress, red, white and blue face paint and a shirtless display of his tattooed torso dropped his ceremony of innocence on Friday.

Jacob Chansley, the man also known as Jake Angeli and formerly branded the “QAnon Shaman,” pleaded guilty to obstructing the congressional certification.

“Yes, your honor,” Chansley said, when asked if he was guilty of his offense.

Senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth accepted Chansley’s plea after a hearing.

Easily identified by his costume and quickly indicted days after Jan. 6, Chansley has spent more than half a year behind bars awaiting trial on six charges stemming from the attack on the U.S. Capitol building. He has now pleaded guilty to one of them: obstructing an official proceeding. The charge carries a maximum 20-year sentence, though he would likely get a lighter term of incarceration.

Of all the members of the pro-Trump mob that managed to enter the Senate chamber, Chansley was among the most instantly recognizable. Outfit aside, he carried what prosecutors described as a spear, and he downplayed as a flagpole. He stood behind the platform where Pence planned to certify President Joe Biden’s victory and delivered what he called a prayer.

Prosecutors called the note he left there a threat.

“It’s only a matter of time,” it read. “Justice is coming!”

And he did it all, prosecutors said, for QAnon—a belief that a child-eating cabal of Democratic Satanists secretly run the government and opposed former President Donald Trump.

On Thursday, Chansley’s lawyer Albert Watkins previously questioned his client’s mental fitness and asked for a psychological examination. The lawyer told the court that his client passed that test, allowing him to enter his plea.

“I am representing to the court that the defendant has had the opportunity to review in detail the psych eval,” Watkins said, adding later that his client had mental health struggles that did not affect his competency to enter his plea.

Once describing his client—and Jan. 6 defendants generally—as “short-bus people,” Watkins appeared to reverse himself, somewhat, on his client’s mind.

“I reviewed the plea agreement with the defendant, in detail, line by line,” Watkins told a judge. “He expressed a great deal of astuteness during our review.”

As for QAnon, Watkins said his client put that conspiracy theory behind him.

“Mr. Chansley, a long-avowed and practicing Shaman, has repudiated the ‘Q’ previously assigned to him and requests future references to him be devoid of use of the letter ‘Q’,” wrote Watkins, who successfully fought for his client to have organic meals behind bars in supposed compliance with Chansley’s faith.

Scholars of shamanism have questioned Chansley’s view of the religion.

“Jacob Chansley’s shamanism bears scant resemblance to the real thing, although he gets high sartorial marks for headgear and ink,” Professor Michael F. Brown, the president of the Santa Fe-based School for Advanced Research and author of The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age, told Law&Crime in March. “Traditional shamans consume organic foods largely because that’s all they have access to.”

Watkins routinely depicts his client as pious and peaceful, a description at odds with what prosecutors describe as a leader in a violent attack on the democratic process.

Chansley, who shouted the word “freedom” inside the Capitol building, has spent several months in jail, after losing multiple battles for his pre-trial release. Judge Lamberth denied one request after Chansley and his lawyer made the ill-fated decision to appear on 60 Minutes+, apparently violating jailhouse protocols in the process and undermining his defense.

The judge said Chansley “blatantly lied” in the interview.

Watkins claims that his client’s incarceration has come with reflection.

“The path charted by Mr. Chansley since January 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,” Watkins wrote in a statement. “It is imperative that patience and compassion be accorded those, who like Mr. Chansley, were non-violent, peaceful and possessed of genuine mental health issues which rendered them more vulnerable to the propaganda of the day but who, at the end of day, seek to be accountable for their actions.”

Following the acceptance of the guilty plea, Watkins renewed his push for client’s release. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Louise Paschall said such a motion may violate Chansley’s plea agreement.

Judge Lamberth rejected that interpretation.

“I did not read the agreement that way,” the judge said.

The prosecutor notes that Chansley continues to have a “significant portion” of what would be a guidelines sentence left to serve. The plea agreement has not been made public by press time, but Paschall said that Chansley’s range has been calculated between 41 and 51 months in prison. The judge can sentence him higher or lower than that.

Taking that decision “under advisement,” Judge Lamberth set Chansley’s sentencing for Nov. 17 at 10 a.m.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.