Politico

Judge rejects QAnon shaman’s bid for release


The spear-wielding self-described shaman who stormed the Senate chamber on Jan. 6 will remain behind bars pending trial, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

The decision by Jacob Chansley, an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory, to speak to CBS’ “60 Minutes+” and other media outlets appears to have backfired, as U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said Chansley’s statements underscored his ongoing dangerousness. Lamberth repeatedly cited Chansley’s comments to “60 Minutes+” — as well as his mother’s — as evidence that he shouldn’t be released.

“[D]efendant’s statements after January 6 indicate that he does not fully appreciate the severity of the charges brought against him,” Lamberth wrote in a 32-page opinion. “If defendant does not understand the severity of the allegations against him, the Court finds no reason to believe he would not commit the same or similar actions again.

Chansley’s attorney, Al Watkins, sought to paint the eccentric Arizona man as a harmless figure who was deeply in the thrall of former President Donald Trump but has now come to terms with the results of last November’s election.

However, Lamberth said that Chansley appeared to still be loyal to Trump and that this fealty made the defendant more of a risk to commit other crimes. The judge also said Chansley “blatantly lied” in the interview, contending that police officers welcomed him into the Capitol when evidence proves otherwise — and shows that he disobeyed officers’ orders once inside.

“The notion that defendant is no longer beholden to President Trump is undercut by defendant’s statement on 60 Minutes+ that he does not regret his loyalty to the former President,” wrote Lamberth, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.

Chansley, who also goes by Jake Angeli, has become perhaps the most notorious participant in the takeover of the Capitol. Images of a shirtless Chansley, wearing a horned headdress and with a spear looming above overwhelmed Capitol Police officers, proliferated across media on Jan. 6. Chansley strode to the Senate rostrum, sat in the presiding officer’s chair and left a threatening note for then-Vice President Mike Pence, who had fled the chamber for safety as a violent mob disrupted the ceremony to certify the results of the 2020 election.

Lamberth thoroughly rejected the notion that Chansley’s foray into the Capitol was simply a peaceful exercise in civil disobedience, as Watkins repeatedly claimed. Chansley’s statement’s leading up to Jan. 6 and amid the riot suggested he entered the Capitol “not to ponder Statuary Hall, but with an intent to disrupt the functions of our government by means of force,” the judge wrote. Chansley’s failure to come to grips with this, Lamberth said, further proved the defendant’s unfitness for release.

The ruling also dealt another potentially mortal blow to riot suspects’ efforts to portray themselves as innocent followers of Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Lamberth cited his District Court colleague, Chief Judge Beryl Howell, in rejecting Chansley’s effort to pin his actions on the former president — arguing that they actually bolster the case to confine him pending trial. It proves, Lamberth said, that Chansley lacked “independent judgment” that might support pretrial release.

“The fact that defendant only left the building once President Trump told him to … further illustrated defendant’s disrespect for law enforcement,” Lamberth wrote.

Lamberth also rejected as “unpersuasive” an argument by Chansley’s attorney to describe the spear as merely a “flagpole” with a decorative “spearhead” attached. That spearhead, Lamberth noted, was six inches in length and sharp. “Whether the sharpened metal point is referred to as a ‘spear’ or ‘a traditional Native American design,’ it is still, like a knife, inherently dangerous,” Lamberth noted.

And Lamberth credited the government’s argument that Chansley presents a flight risk because of his connections to the QAnon community. Chansley, Lamberth noted, has been able to travel the country to attend protests despite “having no known source of income.”

Chansley’s TV interviews aren’t his only media appearances that damaged his bid for release. Lamberth also dinged Chansley for claiming to take no illicit drugs other than marijuana despite professing in a podcast to taking “psychoactive substances and mushrooms” as part of his “shamanistic practice.”

In his ruling on Monday, Lamberth revisited his earlier criticism of Watkins for using his privileges as an attorney to arrange the “60 Minutes+” interview with Chansley, who is currently in a jail in Alexandria, Va. The judge said the action undercut the defense lawyer’s argument that it would be much easier to consult with his client if he were released.

“Such media appearances are no doubt conducive to defense counsel’s fame,” Lamberth wrote. “But they are not at all conducive to an argument that the only way defense counsel could privately communicate with his client is if defendant were temporarily released. Given defense counsel’s decision to use what could have been a confidential video conference on a media publicity stunt, that argument is so frivolous as to insult the Court’s intelligence.”

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