Jacob Chansley, a former actor and Navy sailor widely known as the QAnon Shaman, who stormed the Capitol in January in stars-and-stripes face paint and a horned fur hat, pleaded guilty on Friday to a single felony count of obstructing an official proceeding before Congress.
Chansley, 34, became one of the best-known figures in the Capitol breach after images of him standing shirtless on the Senate floor brandishing a spear made from a flagpole shot around the globe, vividly representing the role played in the riot by adherents of QAnon, the cultlike conspiracy theory embraced by some backers of former President Donald Trump.
Chansley, who says he has now lost faith in Trump, remained in the spotlight even after his arrest.
In February, his lawyer, Albert Watkins, persuaded a federal judge to order the jail where Chansley was being detained to provide him with a strict diet of organic meals. The next month, Chansley gave a widely watched interview to “60 Minutes,” saying that his actions on January 6 were not an attack on the nation, but rather a way to “bring God back into the Senate.”
His plea hearing in US District Court in Washington on Friday departed from the circuslike atmosphere that has surrounded the case from the start. He did not speak other than to answer yes-or-no procedural questions. Under the terms of his deal, Chansley agreed to accept a recommended 41 to 51 months in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced November 17.
Another defendant who pleaded guilty to the same charge this year was given eight months at a sentencing hearing in July.
Among the first rioters to break into the Capitol, Chansley was arrested three days later and charged with civil disorder, obstruction, disorderly conduct in a restricted building and demonstrating in a Capitol building. Prosecutors said that while he was in the Senate chamber, he left a note on the desk of Vice President Mike Pence saying, “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
Chansley, who had appeared in his shaman costume at several pro-Trump rallies before January 6, was also one of the first defendants to blame Trump for his own behavior at the riot. A few weeks after Chansley’s arrest, Watkins said that Trump was culpable of inciting his followers to attack the Capitol, adding that he planned to ask the White House for a pardon for his client.
“Does our president bear responsibility?” Watkins told The New York Times at the time. “Hell, yes, he does.”
More recently, however, Watkins has said that Chansley - like other rioters - felt betrayed by Trump. He also said that Chansley has repudiated the QAnon cult and would like to be known merely as a shaman, not the QAnon shaman.
“The path charted by Mr. Chansley since January 6 has been a process, one which has involved pain, depression, solitary confinement, introspection, recognition of mental health vulnerabilities and a coming to grips with the need for more self-work,” Watkins said in a statement on Thursday.
At a news conference after the hearing, Watkins told reporters that Chansley had been under pressure from his family not to plead guilty. His family, Watkins said, believed that Trump was going to be reinstated as president and could issue Chansley a pardon - a baseless theory of the sort once promoted by QAnon that continues to circulate among some Trump supporters.
“It took a lot of courage for a young man who was raised by his mother to say, ‘No,’” Watkins said.
With Chansley’s plea, 51 of the roughly 600 people who have been charged in connection with the riot have entered guilty pleas, most for misdemeanor offenses like disorderly conduct. At least 11 other defendants are scheduled to plead guilty by the end of October.