When the first sentences were handed down in the earliest Jan. 6 insurrection cases—many of them involving less violent defendants accused of minor crimes—in late summer, many observers expressed concern that their relative lightness signaled similar treatment for the more serious cases. But the most recent sentences—particularly the 41-month sentence announced today for Jacob “QAnon Shaman” Chansley—should ameliorate those concerns considerably.
Chansley, whose horned garb, spear-tipped American flagpole, and painted face made him one of the symbolic figures of the Capitol siege, was handed the sentence by U.S. District Senior Judge Royce Lamberth. Federal prosecutors had sought a 51-month sentence, but Lamberth imposed the lower end of the federal guidelines. He also allowed Chansley’s sentence to include the 10 months’ prison time he already has served.
“What you did was terrible,” Lamberth told Chansley. “You made yourself the epitome of the riot.”
Chansley, 34, devoted a 30-minutes speech prior to sentencing expressing his regret for his actions that day. “I was wrong for entering the Capitol,” Chansley told Lamberth. “I have no excuse, no excuse whatsoever,” and described his behavior as “indefensible.”
He later added: “I am not an insurrectionist. I am certainly not a domestic terrorist. I am a good man who broke the law.”
Chansley’s 41-month sentence was identical to that handed down by Lamberth last week to 44-year-old Scott Fairlamb of New Jersey. Unlike Chansley, who was not accused of engaging violence that day, Fairlamb was convicted, among other things, of assaulting a police officer. Both men had pleaded guilty.
Lamberth told Fairlamb that his actions struck at “the heart of our democracy.” He added: “Had you gone to trial, I don’t think there’s any jury that could have acquitted you or would have acquitted you,” the judge said.
Fairlamb, a former mixed martial arts fighter, could be seen on video shoving one of several Metropolitan Police officers who he approached while carrying a baton, screaming as he followed them, and punching the officer’s face shield. (The officer was uninjured.) He had joined rioters on the Capitol’s West Terrace who pushed through a line of police officers and metal barricades.
Fairlamb also recorded a video of himself shouting, “What (do) patriots do? We fucking disarm them and then we storm the fucking Capitol!”
In another video that Fairlamb recorded two days later, he boasted that “they pulled the pin on the grenade, and the blackout is coming. What a time to be a patriot.”
Like Chansley, Fairlamb was remorseful and apologetic in court, describing his actions as irresponsible and reckless.
“I take full responsibility for what I did that day,” Fairlamb said. “That’s not who I am. That’s not who I was raised to be.”
Including Fairlamb, Chansley is the fourth felon to be sentenced. Two others received terms of eight and 14 months.
In October, District Judge Beryl Howell had complained to prosecutors about the light sentences being sought in the Jan. 6 cases, calling out the government over its “schizophrenic” briefs in comparison to its estimate of $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol. Howell pointed to prosecutors’ choice of low-level parading charges usually reserved for protestors who briefly disrupt congressional hearings.
“The government is resolving the crime of the century with Class ‘B’ misdemeanors,” Howell said. “Members of a mob who breach barriers and push back officers to disrupt the joint session of Congress are not trespassers, they are criminals.”
Chansley became notorious not only for his garb, but for his leading role among the insurrectionists who entered the Senate chambers on Jan. 6. Video shows him announcing as he entered: “Time’s up, motherfuckers!” Proceeding to the Senate floor, he greeted his fellow insurrectionists: “Heyyyy, glad to see you man. Look at you guys, you guys are fuckin’ Patriots!”
Mounting the dais with others, Chansley led a group prayer with fellow rioters—which a prosecutor later read aloud prior to his sentencing:
Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity…to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs. That we will not allow America, the American way of the United States of America to go down… Thank you for filling this chamber with Patriots that love you… Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government.
Chansley also left an ominous note on the dais in the Senate, apparently directed at Vice President Mike Pence: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!”
Afterwards, Chansley was not just unrepentant in press interviews but exultant. He told NBC News: “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’s attorney, Albert Watkins, had attempted to blame Donald Trump and Fox News for his client’s predicament. Watkins told Talking Points Memo (TPM) in an interview that his client has Asperger’s syndrome, his defense would involve Chansley’s mental state and how Trump’s Big Lie about the election affected it.
“A lot of these defendants—and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully—but they’re all fucking short-bus people,” Watkins told TPM. “These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”
“But they’re our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, our coworkers—they’re part of our country. These aren’t bad people, they don’t have prior criminal history. Fuck, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since fucking Hitler.”
In addition to the prison sentence, Lamberth also ordered Chansley to pay $2,000 in restitution and to serve three years of supervised release at the end of his term.
“You didn’t slug anybody,” Lamberth told Chansley, “but what you did here was actually obstruct the functioning of the whole government.”