WASHINGTON (CN) — The spear-toting Arizona man whose iconic look at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot made him the unwitting face of the insurrection returned to court humble and penitent for sentencing Wednesday, stunning U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth with his introspective account about what he’s learned from his time in jail.
Jacob Chansley asked Lamberth to see him in a more holistic light than the one in which he has been portrayed by the media and the government.
“We live two different lives. One life that we learn from, and the other after that,” Chansley said, adapting a quotation from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bernard Malamud. “I’ve meant to give your honor a much broader perspective than media belabors to give the public. I’m asking your honor to judge a tree by its fruits.”
While the speech did not lessen his punishment — Lamberth said he could not go below the sentencing guidelines because of the serious nature of Chansley’s crime — it earned him a rare tribute from the Reagan appointee.
"Yesterday I celebrated my 34th year as a judge. I think your remarks are the most remarkable I've heard in 34 years," Lamberth told Chansley.
Prosecutors asked for 51 months incarceration — the high end of the guidelines that recommend 41 to 51 months for the felony charge to which Chansley pleaded guilty in September: obstruction of a congressional proceeding, which can hold up to 20 years in prison.
“The message here today should be: Don't. Don't think your actions won't have consequences,” Justice Department attorney Kimberly Paschall said Wednesday. “Don't think federal law enforcement will sit idly by. Don't think you can disrupt the peaceful transition of power. Don't.”
On the afternoon of the riot, Chansley used a bullhorn to rile up the crowd and left a note for former Vice President Mike Pence that warned: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!” Toting a spear, face paint and extensive body art underneath his horned, furry headdress, the 34-year-old Chansley quickly went viral on Jan. 6.
On Wednesday, he appeared in a prison jumpsuit and shaved head, though his beard has grown lengthy. He said he never meant to scare people with the headdress and spear.
“I’m appalled that my image has been used to create fear,” said Chansley, who got his nickname from sharing his Shamanic religious beliefs at gatherings for fellow QAnon conspiracy theorists. “It was meant to ward off spirits, not to scare people.”
Chansley's attorney Albert Watkins asked Lamberth to go “significantly below” guidelines, citing Chansley’s severe mental illness that has been left untreated for over 15 years. Though a Navy doctor diagnosed his client in 2006 with schizotypal personality disorder, Chansley was never given the diagnosis or a treatment plan.
“It was a 15-year missed opportunity,” Watkins told Lamberth, claiming that if the doctor had told Chansley he had a mental illness, he would not have ended up at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “The government in this case has an opportunity to right a wrong that was perpetrated by the government.”
Chansley delivered a more-than-30-minute speech to Lamberth, saying how he has used the 317 days he has spent in solitary confinement since his arrest thinking about what Jesus or Gandhi would do in his situation.
“Jesus would love, respect and understand everyone involved in the court proceeding,” Chansley said. “Jesus would accept responsibility for his actions.”
Chansley told Lamberth that, because he strongly believes in freedom, law, order, responsibility and accountability, he also wants to take full responsibility for his actions.
“In short, if I didn’t like the ruling on the field, I should not have behaved in a way that caused the court to blow the whistle and throw the yellow flag on the field,” Chansley said, after referencing a quote by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that compared judges to referees. “You really dig in when you have 22 hours alone every day.”
Chansley told Lamberth that he is working through a repentance process, by taking responsibility then moving in the “exact opposite direction of the sin that was committed.” Chansley called the FBI when he was wanted for questioning, and then fully cooperated.
The defense urged Lamberth to take into account the rest of Chansley’s life and circumstances, not just his conduct on Jan. 6.
“The government has cast Jake in a pretty horrific light,” Watkins said. “I hope that the court will understand that there is more to his story.”
Now that he has finally been diagnosed, Chansley says that he is viewing his entire life through a different lens.
“I want the trauma to stop. I want the pain to stop. I want to grow beyond the symptoms of my disorder,” Chansley said. “I want to be more than I was.”
Lamberth, clearly moved by the remarks, told Chansley that he was impressed how much his thinking had evolved.
“Your heartfelt remarks are akin to some of the things that Martin Luther King Jr. would have said,” Lamberth said.
Chansley’s time already served will count toward the 41-month sentence that Lamberth ordered. Afterward, he will be on probation for three years.
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