Almost immediately after Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley became the red, white and blue-painted face of the 6 January riot at the US Capitol, the horned QAnon Shaman began to flip against his “first love” Donald Trump.
Mr Chansley had been forced to “reconcile” his shamanistic faith in Mr Trump when the former president rejected his petition for a pardon.
He called the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and outed himself as the flag-carrying Shaman, claimed he was “groomed” by MAGA propaganda, and offered to testify before Congress during Mr Trump’s second impeachment hearing.
But denouncing Mr Trump had little impact on prosecutors, who are asking for the longest sentence yet among the hundreds of rioters charged with a range of misdemeanour and felony offences.
Among more than 600 people arrested after the riot, the QAnon Shaman stands apart as one of the most iconic, bizarre, and enduring examples of the rag-tag mob that stormed the halls of Congress during the last gasp of the Trump administration.
Who is the QAnon Shaman?
Mr Chansley, who also goes by the name Jake Angeli, came to national prominence after being photographed in the Senate chamber shirtless with a costume of Viking horns, furs and face paint.
Before becoming a household punchline, Mr Chansley was seen at various rallies throughout 2020 of inconsistent ideological bent, from Black Lives Matter protests to climate rallies to pro-Trump campaign events.
He was often seen with signs like “Q Sent Me” while espousing the core tenets of the QAnon conspiracy, that Q was “a government agent who wanted to ‘take the country back’ from paedophiles and globalists”.
Outside of his public appearances, Mr Chansley was a self-published author and artist who lived by the principle of “Ahimsa”, which promotes a shamanistic life that does no harm to any living being.
His books can be found on Amazon, One Mind At a Time: A Deep State of Illusion, written under the name Jacob Angeli, and Will & Power: Inside the Living Library, written under the name Loan Wolf.
He served briefly in the US Navy aboard the USS Kittyhawk for two years before he was discharged for refusing to take the anthrax vaccine, which violated his shamanistic belief system.
He enlisted as supply clerk seaman apprentice in September 2005 before leaving service 25 months later in 2007. He was awarded decorations including the National Defence Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon.
A profile from Backstage.com showed that Mr Angeli was at one point looking for acting work. That connection, combined with his appearances at protests, demonstrations and riots in support of both left-wing and right-wing causes, led to conspiracy theories that he was a paid actor in a false flag operation.
The tip of the spear
Mr Chansley was among the first 30 people to enter the Capitol building shortly after 2 pm as the certification of the presidential election results were still underway, according to his plea deal.
After being asked to peacefully leave, he challenged a US Capitol Police officer to let them pass. He used a bullhorn to “rile up the crowd and demand the lawmakers be brought out”.
He made his way to the third floor and into the Gallery of the Senate alone where he screamed obscenities before going to the Senate and taking a seat where vice president Mike Pence had been less than an hour earlier.
“Mike Pence is a f****** traitor”, he yelled as his now-infamous photos were being taken.
He also wrote “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!” and shouted over his bullhorn, “thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists and the traitors within our government”.
In one of the most iconic images of the riot, Mr Chansley was pictured in an extreme close-up, mouth agape, yelling “FREEDOM!”
Regrets, the shaman has a few
The next day, Mr Chansley called the FBI himself to confirm he was the QAnon Shaman.
He was arrested on 9 January in his home city of Phoenix, Arizona and charged with multiple offences, including Civil Disorder; Obstruction of an Official Proceeding; Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building; Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building; Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building; Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building.
He originally pleaded not guilty on all counts before cutting a plea deal with prosecutors in September on the single charge of Obstruction of an Official Proceeding.
The turnaround came after more than 300 days in prison, many of those in solitary confinement, and eight months of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance that Mr Chansley’s “first love”, Donald Trump, had abandoned him.
“He had a fondness for Trump that was not unlike the first love a man may have for a girl, or a girl for a man, or man for a man,” his lawyer, Albert Watkins, has said.
“The first love always, always maintains a tender and soft spot in the heart of the lover.”
A shaman scorned
Immediately after being arrested, Mr Chansley, through his lawyers, claimed he behaved peacefully at the invitation of Mr Trump and should therefore have his charges dropped.
But he quickly felt “duped” when the former president rejected his direct appeal for a pardon only for clemency to be granted to Mr Trump’s colleagues and friends, like Lil’ Wayne.
In a motion for pre-trial release that began with a misattributed quote to Mark Twain, lawyers said Mr Chansley is a work in progress of “self-analysing” who is dedicating his life to art, writing and working with children.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” the motion begins, attributing a quote to Mr Twain that probably originated centuries earlier courtesy of satirist Jonathan Swift.
After feeling betrayed, he offered to testify at the 6 January commission but was turned down.
With no support from either the former president or prosecutors, Mr Chansley went on a hunger strike for nine days in protest of the lack of organic food.
He was moved from the DC Department of Corrections facility in Washington to Virginia’s Alexandria Detention Centre so that he could be fed organic food.
By February, Mr Chansley apologised for his role in the riot and said he was “deeply disappointed in former President Trump”.
“He was not honourable,” he said in a statement. “He let a lot of peaceful people down. I have to leave judging him up to other people.”
A crime of passion for Donald Trump
In a series of motions seeking release, Mr Chansley’s lawyers argued that Mr Trump “groomed” his followers using propaganda on social media.
The defence attorney, Mr Watkins, wrote that “for years during the Trump administration, the President honed and routinely utilized his mass communication means to effectively groom millions of Americans with respect to his policies, protocols, beliefs and overwhelming fixation on all matters conspiratorial”.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, he claimed that he considered himself a lover of his country and that he had not attacked the building but was there to provide “positive vibrations”.
“My actions were not an attack on this country. I sang a song,” Mr Chansley said while admitting that he “regretted” breaking into the Capitol. “That’s a part of Shamanism, it was about creating positive vibrations in a sacred chamber [the Senate]”.
“I also stopped people from stealing and vandalising that sacred space,” he continued. “OK, I actually stopped somebody from stealing muffins out of the break room.”
He also claimed police waved the mob through open doors.
Federal judge Royce Lamberth said the interview was evidence Mr Chansley did not understand the severity of his actions, effectively ending any hope of a pre-trial release from prison.
“Defendant’s perception of his actions on January 6th as peaceful, benign, and well-intentioned shows a detachment from reality,” Mr Lamberth wrote.
“If the 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.”
A Hail Mary at passing as insane
The president didn’t give him a pardon. Congress rejected his offer to testify. And the court refused to release him from prison ahead of trial.
As options dwindled, Mr Chansley’s defence team turned to mental illness as an explanation for his actions, compared Mr Trump to Hitler, and blamed all Americans and disinformation were to blame for 6 January.
Mr Chansley was autistic and only following Mr Trump’s orders when he entered the Capitol, Mr Watkins said of his client.
“A lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all f******* short-bus people,” Mr Watkins said during an interview with Talking Points Memo. “These are people with brain damage, they’re f****** r*******, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”
“F***, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since f****** Hitler.”
Mr Chansley was moved from Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia to a federal facility in Colorado for a “forensic” mental evaluation.
Psychological tests showed that Mr Chansley suffers from transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. But the court ruled that he was still mentally competent to face the charges.
Soon after, Mr Chansley entered negotiations with prosecutors pled guilty on 3 September.
Like Trump, the Shaman faces four years in exile
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to $260,000 in fines.
In seeking a lenient sentence, defence lawyers quoted fictional character Forrest Gump from a fictional movie: “My momma always said, you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”
The 23-page sentencing memo seeking a light sentence argued Mr Chansley had spent more than 300 days in “dank, fully enclosed” solitary confinement despite being a non-violent offender.
He expressed “sincere remorse” and accepted responsibility, and the court should consider his longstanding mental health diagnosis to use its “authority and discretion” to impose an alternative to a long term of incarceration.
While other defendants who pled guilty to obstruction received an eight-month sentence, prosecutors said they would recommend up to 51 months for Mr Chansley.
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