Prosecutors say newly aired Chansley footage paints misleading portrait of his Jan. 6 conduct
Prosecutors on Sunday rejected the notion that newly public footage of Jacob Chansley — known as the QAnon Shaman — accompanied by police in the Capitol undercuts his criminal conduct on Jan. 6, 2021.
In their first response since Fox News’ Tucker Carlson aired the footage — supplied to him by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — prosecutors indicated that Carlson aired footage only from a four-minute period toward the end of Chansley’s hourlong trip through the Capitol, omitting the most incriminating aspects of his conduct.
“The televised footage shows Chansley’s movements only from approximately 2:56 p.m. to 3:00 p.m,” prosecutors said in a 10-page court filing connected to the seditious conspiracy trial of five Proud Boys leaders, including Dominic Pezzola, who used a riot shield to initiate the breach of the Capitol.
“Prior to that time, Chansley had, amongst other acts, breached a police line at 2:09 p.m. with the mob, entered the Capitol less than one minute behind Pezzola during the initial breach of the building, and faced off with members of the U.S. Capitol Police for more than thirty minutes in front of the Senate Chamber doors while elected officials, including the Vice President of the United States, were fleeing from the chamber,” they continued.
The footage aired by Carlson earlier this month showed Chansley walking through Capitol hallways accompanied by police officers, who at some moments appeared to be facilitating his movements — even opening a Senate-wing door for him at one point — and certainly weren’t trying to subdue him. But the clips didn’t indicate what time of day the footage came from or any of the context about the interactions.
Asked about the Justice Department's characterization of Chansley's actions at the Capitol, a Fox New spokesperson shared a comment from Tucker Carlson Tonight senior executive producer Justin Wells, who said, “Our team’s review of available surveillance footage of Mr. Chansley is consistent with our reporting."
The episode — billed by Carlson as a refutation of the prevailing perception of the events of Jan. 6 — ignited a firestorm among allies of former President Donald Trump, who have long sought to downplay the Jan. 6 riot and the threat it posed to the transfer of power. Separately, Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, came out in favor of freeing Chansley over the weekend. Chansley’s current attorney, William Shipley, has indicated he intends to take a “creative” action to aid his client’s legal fight.
But Carlson omitted footage of Chansley’s entry into the Capitol, which came amid the earliest wave of rioters overrunning police, as well as footage from a lengthy standoff with police outside the Senate, and Chansley’s own trip inside the Senate chamber, where he stood on the Senate dais, recited a prayer and wrote an ominous message to then-Vice President Mike Pence: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.”
“In sum, Chansley was not some passive, chaperoned observer of events for the roughly hour that he was unlawfully inside the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors emphasized that U.S. Capitol Police officers had been overwhelmed at that point in the riot, resorting to triage to minimize the damage of the riot.
“For a period that afternoon, those defending the Capitol were in triage mode — trying to deal with the most violent element of those unlawfully present, holding those portions of the Capitol that had not yet been seized by rioters, and protecting those Members and staffers who were still trapped in the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote.
Chansley’s defenders have noted that he garnered outsize attention for his role in the riot, in part by his outlandish attire — he strode shirtless through the Capitol, wearing a horned helmet and full face paint, while carrying a flagpole with a sharp finial that led the judge in his case to conclude he was carrying a dangerous weapon.
Chansley is not accused of violence and has contended that he had positive interactions with officers inside the Capitol and encouraged other rioters not to loot the building. He became one of the earliest rioters to plead guilty to obstruction after about eight months in pretrial detention — which was ordered by a magistrate judge in Arizona and upheld by D.C.-based U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth. Lamberth sentenced him to 41 months in prison in November 2021.
Chansley is currently incarcerated and slated for release in July.
Chansley’s allies say the footage aired by Carlson might have changed the case against him. In Sunday’s filing, however, the Justice Department contended that it had shipped all but 10 seconds of the footage to Chansley’s attorney by Sept. 24, 2021 — about three weeks after Chansley pleaded guilty but more than a month before his sentencing.
Shipley, Chansley’s current attorney, said the Justice Department’s argument appeared more focused on the substance of the videos than whether it had violated Chansley’s rights by not producing them to him prior to his guilty plea. Though prosecutors touted that it had included them in a mass production of Jan. 6 video that it provided to the hundreds of defendants with pending cases connected to the riot, Shipley said the Justice Department was “oddly silent” about whether it had met its burden to produce specific videos to Chansley’s previous lawyer, Al Watkins.
“The Government knows its lawful obligations, and artfully avoided making a positive assertion that it complied with them in a timely fashion as to Mr. Chansley,” Shipley said in an email.
Watkins similarly took issue with the Justice Department’s explanation of Chansley’s case. He said prosecutors did provide some specific videos to his case immediately before he pleaded guilty, which led Watkins to visit Chansley to review the footage before signing the plea deal. Watkins said that had Lamberth seen the footage, it might have informed many of his decisions in the case, including his assessment that Chansley was dangerous to others.
“This was not a function of a rogue AUSA, but rather, a function of a discovery protocol established at the highest levels of the DOJ,” Watkins said, noting that Chansley had been incarcerated in particularly harsh isolation — a function of strict Covid protocols in the prison at the time of Jan. 6 — prior to accepting his plea deal. And he noted that Chansley had been living with undiagnosed mental health issues that he only learned of after Lamberth ordered an evaluation during the criminal proceedings.
“Remember, the DOJ characterized Jake as the face of insurrection,” Watkins said. “The assertion that the nondisclosure of the exculpatory footage was a ‘whoops’ moment is nothing short of unconscionable.”
Pezzola’s defense seized on the flap over the Carlson footage to urge the dismissal of the entire case against the Proud Boys, contending that it proved there had been prosecutorial misconduct and that the crowd inside the Capitol was nonviolent.
“Once tethered to facts and reality, defendant Pezzola’s arguments quickly unravel,” the Justice Department wrote.