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Jacob Chansley 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. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Insurrectionist 'Shaman' Gets What He Deserves

Forty-one months was not as much as the prosecutors had requested, but it was significant and sent a signal to future insurrectionists that wrist-slapping would be rare moving forward.

On Jan. 6, Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon Shaman, became the symbol of insurrection in America with the shocking takeover of the U.S. Senate chamber. 

Standing at the vice president's seat in the Senate chamber, Chansley led his fellow hoodlums, anarchists and white nationalists in a prayer of thanks for their "victory" that day, giving credit to Jesus for "filling the chamber with patriots" and for allowing them to "get rid of the communists, the globalists and the traitors within our government."

I was pleasantly surprised to see him get the time he richly deserves as the face, if not the heart and soul, of this rebellion.

Chansley believed their violent stunt for the Lord had cut short the certification process that would usher in the Biden presidency.

Wearing a horned hat and an animal pelt and carrying a 6-foot-long spear with an American flag tied to it like a hostage, Chansley cut a ridiculous but instantly iconic figure that day.

From the moment he arrived and let out a lunatic howl that reverberated throughout the chamber, prompting an annoyed fellow rabble rouser to ask him to chill with the noise at one point, he was determined to make himself memorable.

While in real life he exuded all of the moral seriousness and dignity of Fred Flintstone at a Water Buffaloes Lodge meeting after a championship bowling match, in his own mind, Chansley was the avatar of a revolution that united heaven and earth.

QAnon had made him a true believer in the prophecy of Donald Trump's presidential reinstatement. Occupying the Senate chambers, half-naked, on a chilly day in Washington seemed to confirm it.

Before leaving the chamber, Chansley scrawled a note for Vice President Mike Pence, who had fled the premises minutes earlier: "It's Only A Matter Of Time. Justice Is Coming!"

Fast-forward to mid-November. Things look a lot different to the miniature minotaur and his fellow insurrectionists as they approach the bar of justice.

While former President Trump continues to elude attempts to make him accountable for his role as Inciter-in-Chief of the Jan. 6 insurrection, his flunkies have begun to face sentencing for their roles in destabilizing American democracy that day.

The pardons that Chansley and his fellow insurrectionists expected and sought never materialized, leaving him bitter and disillusioned with the former president and the cause that compelled him to join the invasion of the Capitol.

It took some months, but the QAnon Shaman finally got around to denouncing his spiritual home of recent years as a deceptive cult. He no longer considers Mr. Trump democracy's lord and savior, which is a reasonable start to his rehabilitation.

In a 30-minute conversation with U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth before his sentencing, Chansley poured on the charm. He invoked Jesus, Gandhi and as many saints as he could fit into his rambling statement of contrition to prove he was no longer the raging Hun who shouted, "Time's up, [expletive]," when he and his fellow barbarians had the run of the Capitol 10 months earlier.

The prosecutors wanted him sent away for 51 months, but he was angling for time served (10 months) with some months of supervised probation. He was arrested three days after he sashayed his horned headdress into the national spotlight and has been in federal custody ever since.

Chansley must have known there was no way he was going to get away with serving only the time he'd clocked awaiting trial, but he hoped to impress the judge with his born-again civic reasonableness and skepticism about QAnon.

By all accounts, they had a cordial and mutually respectful conversation, with flattering words flowing from both sides of the judge's bench.

Clean-shaven and smiling throughout the sentencing that would determine how much more time he would be a guest of the federal government, Chansley complimented Judge Lamberth on his military service. He mentioned his own service in the Navy, hoping to create a bond. He also thanked the judge for granting his request that he be fed a special organic diet while in prison, a request that generated derision around the world—especially after it was granted.

"God bless you for it," Chansley said. "It made all the difference. I could not have asked for a better judge." The defendant laid it on thick. The mutual admiration between the judge and the insurrectionist appeared genuine. There was respect in the air.

Sensing open-mindedness on the judge's part, Chansley leaned in with a mea culpa unimaginable by other Trump-adjacent stooges and fall guys. Calling himself a "good man who broke the law," he poured on the cheese and made references to Jesus Christ and "The Shawshank Redemption":

"The hardest part about this is to know that I'm to blame," he said. "To have to look in the mirror and know, you really messed up royally.

"I was in solitary confinement because of me. Because of my decision. I broke the law. I should do what Gandhi would do and take responsibility," he added, though one would be hard-pressed to remember when Gandhi was ever in a situation analogous to Chansley's.

"There's no ifs, ands or buts about it, that's what men of honor do," he said striking a military code of honor pose he hoped would resonate with his fellow American serviceman.

"I think you are genuine in your remorse and heartfelt," Judge Lamberth said. "Parts of those remarks are akin to the kinds of things Martin Luther King would have said."

Again with the gratuitous Martin Luther King Jr. reference! Even conservative judges are shameless in their invocation of an icon who was arrested for violating unjust laws, not for attempting to overthrow the U.S. government.

But to his credit, Judge Lamberth wasn't swayed by Chansley's conciliatory words. He gave the former QAnon Shaman 41 months in prison, the same sentence he gave to Scott Kevin Fairlamb recently for assaulting a police officer at the Capitol. The crime was caught on camera.

"You didn't slug anybody," Judge Lamberth said, "but what you did here was actually obstruct the functioning of the whole government."

Yes, that was the point of being there, after all. The judge saw through all of the puffery and handed down a just sentence for an unconscionable crime against American democracy.

Forty-one months was not as much as the prosecutors had requested, but it was significant and sent a signal to future insurrectionists that wrist-slapping would be rare moving forward, especially if the government has overwhelming evidence that you're an insurrectionist and not simply a guilty bystander caught up in the nihilistic enthusiasm of the moment.

Three and a half years is far more time than I expected the QAnon Shaman to receive, to tell the truth, especially after his macrobiotic diet was approved. I was pleasantly surprised to see him get the time he richly deserves as the face, if not the heart and soul, of this rebellion.

It gives me hope about verdicts in several high-profile trials now in their end stages. It also gives me hope that a certain seditious ex-president living in Florida will have to turn on the charm offensive himself before a federal judge some day.


Tony Norman

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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