The so-called “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley, who with his spear, horns and face paint quickly became the most recognizable participant in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, has pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding, a felony.
News that Chansley had reached a plea agreement with the government broke Thursday, and in a hearing Friday morning Chansley thanked the judge on his case for his work.
“God bless you and thank you for what you do for our country,” he said.
The full charge to which Chansley pleaded guilty states that he “attempted to, and did corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede and official proceeding, that is, a proceeding before Congress, by committing an act of civil disorder, and threatening Congressional officials, and unlawfully remaining in a restricted building with lawful authority, and engaging in disorderly and disruptive conduct.”
“You are in fact guilty of this offense?” U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Washington, D.C., asked Chansley after referring to a formal statement of offense, which at press time had not been publicly filed.
“Yes, your honor,” Chansley responded.
The maximum penalty for the charge would be 20 years in prison, but Chansley will likely serve significantly less than that due to his reaching a deal with prosecutors.
“Defendant faces quite a lengthy prison sentence still,” prosecutor Kimberly Louise Paschall said during the hearing, explaining the government’s opposition to Chansley’s potential pre-sentencing release from detention. Paschall noted that preliminary sentencing guidelines indicated Chansley could serve 41-51 months in prison.
The first capitol rioter to plead guilty to a felony obstruction of an official proceeding charge, Paul Allard Hodgkins, was sentenced to eight months behind bars after the government sought an 18-month sentence.
Lamberth noted “my hands are not totally tied here” given that Chansley was not pleading guilty to a violent crime. Albert Watkins, Chansley’s attorney, noted in court that he would continue to seek Chansley’s release from detention ahead of his sentencing hearing on Nov. 17.
Chansley faced multiple charges for his actions on Jan. 6, including two felonies, one each for obstructing an official proceeding and civil disorder. As part of the plea deal, he pleaded guilty only to the former felony, and also avoided pleading to several other charges, including entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct in a restricted building, violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
Unlike most Capitol rioters, Chansley made it all the way to the Senate chamber during the attack, where he left a note for then-Vice President Mike Pence that read “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.” In an interview with investigators after the attack, Chansley referred to Pence as a “child-trafficking traitor.”
Chansley had been a regular at QAnon events around the country for months prior to the Capitol attack.
Watkins attempted to blame Chansley’s involvement in the riot on Trump, writing in an early bid to be released from detention that “but for the actions and the words of the President, he would not have appeared in Washington, DC to support the President and, but for the specific words of the then-President during his January 6, 2021 speech, the Defendant would not have walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and would not have gone into the U.S. Capitol Building.”
Lamberth kept Chansley behind bars nonetheless, and by his plea hearing he’d spent nearly eight months in custody.
In an interview with TPM in May, Watkins — who pursued media spectacle as part of his client’s defense — also cited Chansley’s mental state.
“A lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all fucking short-bus people,” he said. “These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”
“But they’re our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, our coworkers — they’re part of our country. These aren’t bad people, they don’t have prior criminal history. Fuck, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since fucking Hitler.”
Watkins said the Capitol riot and Chansley’s subsequent detention had been a turning point for his client. Ahead of Friday’s hearing, Watkins said Chansley no longer wanted to be associated with the “Q” in the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“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’,” Watkins said in a press release ahead of the plea hearing — referring to himself in the same release as “the acclaimed St. Louis attorney known for his outspoken candor.”