Judge: Tape shows Chansley’s ‘detachment from reality’ in riot defense

Jacob Chansley, shown at a Maricopa County election protest in November, remains in jail in Northern Virginia awaiting trial for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that left five dead. A federal judge rejected Chansley’s request to be released, saying he poses a threat to the community and a risk of flight. (Photo by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – An attorney for Arizona native Jacob Chansley, the face-painted “Q-Anon Shaman” charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, dismissed new government video showing his client as part of the mob that broke into the building and confronted police.

The attorney, Albert Watkins, said two videos released this week are “one-dimensional snippets” that lack context over Chansley’s participation in the riot that sent lawmakers scrambling for cover and temporarily halted the certification of President Joe Biden’s election.

But the judge in the case said the video shows that Chansley’s “perception of his actions on January 6th as peaceful, benign and well-intentioned shows a detachment from reality.” U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the videos made public this week as part of his order denying Chansley’s request to be released from jail while awaiting trial.

Chansley, who also goes by the name Jake Angeli, is one of at least four Arizona residents who are among the 254 charged so far by federal prosecutors in the Jan. 6 riot, when a crowd of former President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol to halt what they believed was a stolen election.

U.S. Capitol Police were overwhelmed by the crowds, who shouted profanities at officers, sprayed them with chemical irritants, shoved and beat them with flagpoles, sticks and – in some cases – the officers’ own shields. The crowd forced its way into the Capitol, breaking windows and doors and eventually taking over the Senate chamber.

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Five people, including a police officer, died in the assault and hundreds were injured.

Chansley can be seen prominently in many of the videos that rioters took of the assault. Bare-chested and tattooed, with his face painted in red and blue, Chansley was wearing animal pelts, including a horned fur headdress, and carrying a bullhorn and a 6-foot spear with the U.S. flag tied to it.

He was arrested on Jan. 9 in Arizona during an interview with the Phoenix field office of the FBI and indicted two days later on two felony counts of civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding, as well as four misdemeanors.

After a federal magistrate ordered Chansley held pending trial, he was transferred to a detention center in Washington, D.C. But after he complained that the jail could not provide the organic food he is required to eat as part of his shamanistic faith, he was transferred to a jail in Northern Virginia where he is still being held. But that transfer did not come until he had gone a week without eating and had filed an “emergency motion for sustenance or, in the alternative, for pretrial release.”

Chansley later renewed his request for release, arguing that he is not a flight threat and COVID-19 restrictions make it difficult to consult with his lawyer. The defense also claimed that Chansley’s faith prevents him from getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

But Lamberth called Chansley both a risk to the community and a risk for flight and rejected his request last week in blunt language that said one of the defenses arguments was “so frivolous as to insult the court’s intelligence.”

Chansley claimed that he was peacefully exercising his First Amendment right to protest at the Capitol and that police there escorted him and others into the building.

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But Lamberth said the videos released this week show Chansley crowding through a door to the Capitol as other members of the mob were smashing windows just feet away. Other videos show him refusing to follow police orders and leaving a threatening note for former Vice President Mike Pence in the Senate chamber.

Lamberth flatly rejected Chansley’s claim that he is unable to meet with his lawyers, noting that they were present for a lengthy remote video interview with “60 Minutes+” – time that could have been used for lawyer-client discussions, the judge said.

“The issue is that when defense counsel is able to speak with his client, he squanders the opportunity for private conversations, preferring instead to conduct an interview with 60 Minutes+, a national news outlet,” Lamberth wrote in his March 8 order.

The judge this week ordered the government to release a one-minute and a two-minute video that he cited in his order.

Watkins said the defense team has asked the public to submit their own videos of the riot and that it has already received a massive amount of footage that it is sifting through. He dismissed the relevance of the videos released Tuesday by the government.

“This case is in its infancy,” Watkins said. “The videos released do not demonstrate anything more than a one dimensional snippet devoid of temporal and spatial context.”

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Haleigh Kochanski expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. She is a digital reporter for Cronkite News in Washington this spring.