'Public face' of Jan. 6 riot sentenced to 41 months in prison

Jacob Chansley was one of the first rioters inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6. On Wednesday, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison after pleading guilty to a felony charge of obstructing an official proceeding. “My behavior is indefensible,” he said.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Donald Trump supporters, including Jacob Chansley, (right), are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Mr. Chansley is one of 650 people charged in the Jan. 6 riot.

Jacob Chansley, the spear-carrying Jan. 6 rioter whose horned fur hat, bare chest, and face paint made him one of the more recognizable figures in the assault on the Capitol, was sentenced Wednesday to 41 months in prison.

Mr. Chansley, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obstructing an official proceeding, was among the first rioters to enter the building. He has acknowledged using a bullhorn to rile up the mob, offering thanks in a prayer while in the Senate for having the chance to get rid of traitors, and scratching out a threatening note to Vice President Mike Pence saying, “It’s Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!”

Though he isn’t accused of violence, prosecutors say Mr. Chansley, of Arizona, was the “public face of the Capitol riot” who went into the attack with a weapon, ignored repeated police orders to leave the building, and gloated about his actions in the days immediately after the attack.

Before he was sentenced, Mr. Chansley told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth it was wrong for him to enter the Capitol and that he accepts responsibility for his actions. He emphasized he wasn’t an insurrectionist and is troubled with the way he was portrayed in news stories in the aftermath of the riot.

“I have no excuse,” Mr. Chansley said. “No excuses whatsoever. My behavior is indefensible.”

The judge said Mr. Chansley’s remorse appeared to be genuine but noted the seriousness of his actions in the Capitol. “What you did was terrible,” Mr. Lamberth said. “You made yourself the center of the riot.”

The image of Mr. Chansley holding a flagpole topped with a spear tip and looking as if he were howling was one of the most striking to emerge from the riot. He previously called himself the “QAnon Shaman” but has since repudiated the QAnon movement, which is centered on the baseless belief that former President Donald Trump was fighting a cabal of Satan-worshipping, child sex trafficking cannibals.

He is among 650 people charged in the riot that forced lawmakers into hiding as they were meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. More than 120 defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor charges of demonstrating in the Capitol that carry a maximum of six months in prison.

Mr. Chansley and Scott Fairlamb, a New Jersey gym owner sentenced last week for punching a police officer during the attack, have received the longest prison sentences out of the 38 Capitol riot defendants who have been punished so far.

Mr. Chansley, who has been in jail for 10 months, sought to be sentenced to time served. His lawyer, Albert Watkins, said his client has longstanding mental health problems that were worsened by being held in solitary confinement due to COVID-19 protocols and is in dire need of mental health treatment.

In the year before the Capitol riot, Mr. Chansley appeared in costume at pro-Trump events, protests over face mask requirements and at a gathering of Trump supporters in November 2020 outside an election office in downtown Phoenix where votes from the presidential race were being counted.

His attorney has said Mr. Chansley was “horrendously smitten” by Mr. Trump and believed like other rioters that Mr. Trump had called him to the Capitol, but later felt betrayed after Mr. Trump refused to grant him and others who participated in the insurrection a pardon.

Mr. Watkins has said Mr. Chansley had been under pressure from family members not to plead guilty because they believed Mr. Trump would be reinstated as president and pardon him.

After spending his first month in jail, Mr. Chansley said he re-evaluated his life, felt regret for having stormed the building, and apologized for causing fear in others.

He twice quit eating while in jail and lost 20 pounds until he was given organic food.

The judge had previously rejected Mr. Chansley’s claims that the six-foot flagpole he carried during he riot wasn’t a weapon and that the metal spear tip was an ornament, saying the sharpened six-inch point could have been used to stab people from a distance. 

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Jacques Billeaud reported from Phoenix.

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