The sentence, tied for the biggest yet to be handed down for any of the nearly 700 people charged as a result of the riot, comes a week after federal prosecutors recommended Chansley serve 51 months for his role in the breach of the Capitol. The prosecution described Chansley as the “face” of the riot. “The defendant was among the first 30 rioters to penetrate the U.S. Capitol building,” it wrote in arguing for a harsh sentence. “The defendant then stalked the hallowed halls of the building, riling up other members of the mob with his screaming obscenities about our nation’s lawmakers, and flouting the ‘opportunity’ to rid our government of those he has long considered to be traitors.”
Chansley’s sentence of nearly three-and-a-half years, which fell on the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, will be followed by three years of probation. Judge Royce Lamberth said that Chansley will get credit for the 10 months he has already served since his arrest in January. “You didn’t slug anybody, but what you did here was obstruct the functioning of the whole government,” Lamberth said in handing down the sentence.
Prosecutors noted last week that Chansley failed to comply with officers inside the Capitol, that he carried a spear into the building, and that he did not show any remorse in the days following the attack. Chansley’s attorney, Al Watkins, pushed for leniency by citing his client’s mental health issues. He also quoted Forrest Gump. “‘My momma always said, you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.’ —Forest Gump,” Watkins wrote, misspelling the film’s title.
During the sentencing hearing on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Paschall continued to paint Chansley as a chief instigator of the riot and that even though he did not assault anyone, his actions were not “peaceful,” as many have claimed. She played a video of Chansley yelling “Time’s up, motherfuckers!” while was on the floor of the Senate, “feet away” from lawmakers, and noted that he left a “chilling” note about how “justice is coming” for Vice President Mike Pence. “If the defendant had been peaceful on that day, your honor, we would not be here,” Paschall said.
Watkins’ arguments were not as strong. The defense attorney again cited Chansley’s mental health by noting a 2006 diagnosis while he was in the Navy, spouted about how America is “a country of people that are brothers and sisters,” and claimed Chansley’s shamanic outfit was tied to his faith. Judge Lamberth wasn’t buying it. “He made himself the image of the riot, didn’t he?” he said in response to Watkins.
Chansley spoke to the court for a considerable length of time after Paschall and Watkins made their arguments, professing his desire to live like Jesus and Ghandi, citing the Shawshank Redemption, and praising John Roberts, chief justice of the Supreme Court. He expressed deep remorse for his actions, describing the horrors of incarceration and the lessons he’s learned. “I didn’t want to live that way,” he said. “How anybody can reoffend … I really don’t understand.”
Chansley was initially housed in the Washington, D.C., jail where most of the Capitol riot defendants have been kept, but was transferred to a facility in Alexandria, Virginia, that could accommodate his vegan diet.
“I was wrong for entering the Capitol,” Chansley said. “I have no excuse. No excuses whatsoever. My behavior was indefensible. Number two: I may be guilty of this crime. But I’m not a dangerous criminal. I’m not an Insurrectionist. I’m a good man who broke the law.”
Judge Lambert commended Chansley for his speech, but said he could not dip below the sentencing guidelines. “The type of conduct that is so serious that I cannot justify a downward departure,” he said.
Chansley pleaded guilty to a felony obstruction charge in September, and has so far served 10 months since his arrest in January. He is one of three Capitol defendants to be slapped with a felony sentence. Paul Hodgkins, who walked onto the Senate floor holding a Trump flag, was sentenced to eight months in July. Scott Fairlamb, who assaulted a police officer during the riot, was sentenced to 41 months, the same as Chansley, last week.
Chansley, 34, became known as the “QAnon Shaman” prior to the insurrection for the tattoos, animal skin cap, and viking horns he sported to conspiracy theory rallies. He was in character when he broke into the Capitol and made his way to the Senate chamber on Jan. 6. The photos of Chansley brandishing an American flag fashioned into a spear on the floor of Congress were among the most iconic of the riot where five were killed and dozens more injured as a mob of Trump supporters tried to stop the certification of the 2020 election results.
The former president and others who riled up the crowd to take action have not faced any legal consequences for their role in what happened that day.