Jacob A. Chansley, one of the most recognizable of the rioters who entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, pleaded guilty Friday to a federal felony.
Chansley, who was shirtless, wearing a horned headdress and face paint and carrying a 6-foot pole with an American flag, appeared in a series of photos and videos of the insurrection.
The 34-year-old pleaded guilty by video conference to a felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding and admitted being among the rioters who pushed through police lines and into the Capitol, his plea agreement says.
Proceedings to certify the 2020 election were going on at the time. The crowd broke into the building, with Chansley entering through a door at 2:14 p.m. — one of the first 30 rioters to do so.
By 2:16 p.m., Chansley and others were on the second floor on the Senate side of the building, face to face with a line of Capitol police who were asking them to leave. Chansley used a bullhorn to “rile up the crowd and demand that lawmakers be brought out,” his plea says.
Members of Congress were evacuated at 2:20 p.m.
At 2:52 p.m., Chansley entered the Senate gallery and screamed obscenities as rioters flooded the Senate floor. He again refused an officer’s request to leave. He went to the Senate dais, took some selfies and refused an officer’s third request to leave. He told the officer, “(Vice President) Mike Pence is a (expletive deleted) traitor,” and wrote a note at the seat Pence recently had vacated saying, “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.” Chansley called other rioters up to the dais, railing against “tyrants, the communists and the globalists” and saying “thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn.”
At 3:09 p.m. more officers arrived and Chansley and others were escorted out.
The riot delayed proceedings in the Capitol until 8 p.m.
Chansley later told NBC, “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,” the plea says.
During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth referred to the facts in the plea agreement and asked Chansley, “And that’s what really happened?”
“Yes, your honor,” replied Chansley, who Watkins said was attending by video from a Virginia jail. More than 200 people listened to the plea hearing Friday, which was held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall said prosecutors estimate sentencing guidelines will recommend 41-51 months. Defense attorney Albert Watkins said he would argue for probation, in part by citing Chansley’s mental health issues. Chansley, who was originally from Arizona, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17.
Watkins, whose office is in Richmond Heights, is seeking to have Chansley released from jail to the St. Louis area for mental health treatment and therapy before sentencing. Lamberth did not immediately rule on that request.
Chansley was originally indicted on six counts, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. The other charges will be dismissed.
The Justice Department says more than 570 people have been arrested across the country in connection with the riot, including more than 170 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. More than 30 had pleaded guilty as of Aug. 6, the department said.
‘Helping the president’
There was no mention of politics during the plea, but Chansley had already become a well-known figure at rallies in support of then-President Donald Trump and in the bizarre and discredited QAnon conspiracy theory community.
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch and in a later press conference, Watkins said Chansley, also known as the “QAnon Shaman,” was answering Trump’s call to come to Washington and protest the election.
“In his heart and in his mind, he was helping the president save the country,” Watkins said.
Watkins has said Chansley suffers from mental illness and believed Trump’s bogus claims of election fraud. He has since repudiated QAnon, Watkins said, and wouldn’t have pleaded guilty if he were still an adherent.
Watkins said, “At all times since Mr. Chansley voluntarily and peacefully self-surrendered on Jan. 9, he has been cooperative with and completely honest with the government.”
Watkins said his client was not a planner and was not violent during the riot. He helped investigators “identify those who were violent, those who were destructive” and those who stole items from the Capitol, including by providing “video footage depicting previously unidentified individuals who had accessed and stolen highly classified material from an unsurveilled Senate office.”
Watkins said Chansley was remorseful.
“He remains a man who loves deeply his country and wants to do right by his country, to atone for his actions on Jan. 6,” the lawyer said.
He was diagnosed with “significant mental health vulnerabilities” in 2006 while in the U.S. Navy, and that diagnosis was confirmed during an evaluation in jail.
Watkins publicly and privately sought a pardon for Chansley from Trump without success, then accused Trump of betraying his followers. On Friday, Watkins said Trump’s failure to pardon Chansley, while pardoning rapper Lil Wayne, was the beginning of Chansley’s break out of Trump’s orbit. Watkins said Chansley’s family has pressured him to resist a plea, believing that Trump will still somehow pardon him.
Chansley apologized for his actions in February.