Jacob Chansley, who became known as the so-called “QAnon Shaman” after being seen at the Capitol in a horned and coyote-fur headdress and face paint, was denied pre-trial release on Monday after a federal judge berated his lawyer for squandering an opportunity to communicate with his client before trial on a “media publicity stunt” interview with 60 Minutes+, which wound up harming their defense.
“Such media appearances are undoubtedly conducive to defense counsel’s fame. 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,” Senior Judge Royce Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote in a scathing 32-page opinion. “Given defense counsel’s decision to use what could have been a confidential videoconference on a media publicity stunt, that argument is so frivolous as to insult the court’s intelligence.”
One of the most photographed rioters on Jan. 6th, Chansley roamed around the Capitol holding what prosecutors described as a spear and his defense attorney called a “flagpole” with a “spear finial,” in an aesthetic nod to “traditional Native American design.” The distinction was crucial in determining whether Chansley would pose a danger to the community if released, and the judge sided with the prosecution’s interpretation of the object.
“Under this definition, the court finds that a six-foot pole with a metal spearhead fixed to the top is, undoubtedly, a dangerous weapon,” Lamberth wrote. “Like a knife, it is inherently dangerous. Both objects have a sharpened point designed to inflict harm by piercing or puncturing. Moreover, a spear can inflict those puncturing and stabbing wounds at a distance, making it even more effective as an offensive weapon than a knife.”
On the day of the siege, Chansley stood shirtless and tattooed behind the dais where former Vice President Mike Pence was whisked out of the Senate chamber. Court papers show the note that Chansley left for Pence, a man he had called a “traitor”: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!”
Chansley’s attorney Albert Watkins has tried to depict that note as the “prayer” of a self-professed shaman, rather than an implicit threat to Donald Trump’s former second-in-command.
Judge Lamberth scoffed at that interpretation.
“Reading that note in the context of defendant’s earlier promotion of the execution of ‘traitors’ invalidates the notion that defendant breached the Capitol merely to leave peaceful, political commentary on the Senate dais,” he wrote.
Both of Chansley’s post-insurrection interviews with the press worked against him, including his remarks to NBC News on Jan. 7.
“The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win,” Chansley told NBC.
Chansley’s interview with 60 Minutes+ also undermined subsequent attempts by Watkins to depict his client as a penitent who was misled by Trump into attending the Capitol siege.
“Moreover, the fact that defendant attributes his actions on January 6th to President Trump does little to persuade the Court that defendant will not act in the same or similar ways again,” Lamberth wrote. “In fact, in his interview with 60 Minutes+, defendant stated that he does not regret his loyalty to former President Trump.”
The network also interviewed Martha Chansley, the accused rioter’s mother, whose dubious remarks that her son “walked through open doors” and was “escorted into the Senate” did her son no favors.
“The Court is not persuaded that defendant’s mother will ensure his compliance with any conditions of release imposed, and defendant identifies no other custodian,” Lamberth wrote.
In addition to finding Chansley a danger to the community, Judge Lamberth also determined that his QAnon ties made him a flight risk.
“At the detention hearing before Magistrate Judge Fine, the government proffered evidence indicating that defendant is a leader and mascot of ‘QAnon,’ a group that preaches conspiracy theories and has become widely publicized in recent months,” the opinon states, referring to Chansley’s prior detention hearing in Arizona predating his transfer to Washington, D.C. “Given his prominent position in this group, the government argued, defendant is able to ‘quickly raise large sums of money for travel through non-traditional sources.'”
For Lamberth, Chansley’s travel to the Capitol on Jan. 6th despite being unemployed corroborated the prosecution’s argument here.
“I am still working my way through the well-written and reasoned order,” Watkins told Law&Crime in an email.
He had no further comment.
Update—March 8 at 2:46 p.m. Central Time: This story has been updated to include Watkins’s initial response and the judge’s findings that mother Martha Chansley’s interview with 60 Minutes+ cut against her son’s release.
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