A federal judge on Thursday denied a bid from Jacob Chansley to withdraw his guilty plea to obstructing Congress on Jan. 6 and rebuked the so-called “QAnon Shaman” for going on a Tucker Carlson program that gave a distorted view of the riot.
Chansley’s bare chest, painted face, and hat of fur and horns made him one of the most recognizable participants in the attack. He was also one of the first rioters to admit to a felony crime. Judge Royce C. Lamberth sentenced him in November 2021 to 41 months in prison, the low end of federal sentencing guidelines, after Chansley said he was “truly repentant” and called his behavior “indefensible.”
“I think your remarks are the most remarkable that I’ve heard in 34 years” as a judge, Lamberth, a Reagan appointee, said at the time. “I think you are genuine in your remorse.”
Chansley finished his sentence in March. But after leaving prison, he asked Lamberth to undo his conviction, saying security camera footage from inside the Capitol aired by Fox News host Tucker Carlson a few weeks prior showed police allowed him to wander around the building on Jan. 6. The attorney who represented Chansley when he took his plea told Carlson he did not have that video at the time.
Lamberth, in a 35-page ruling, denied Chansley’s bid while laying out in detail why the claim that he and other rioters were allowed in and around the Capitol by police is false.
All but 10 seconds of the video Carlson showed was produced to Chansley before his sentencing, Lamberth said, and the surveillance video Chansley now claims undermines his conviction is duplicative of police body-camera footage he was given months before he decided to plead guilty.
“These videos are decidedly not exculpatory,” Lamberth wrote. “Such footage, conveniently omitted by the [Fox News] program, shows nearly all of Mr. Chansley’s actions that day, including: carrying a six-foot-long pole armed with a spearhead, unlawfully entering the Capitol through a broken door, disobeying orders from law enforcement on more than a half-dozen occasions, screaming obscenities, entering the Senate chamber, climbing onto the Senate dais, sitting in the Vice President’s chair, and leaving a threatening message for the Vice President.” He added, “That law enforcement officers outnumbered by the quantity of rioters did not physically engage Mr. Chansley or impede his progress is irrelevant.”
Lamberth said that if Chansley had gone to trial or fought conditions of the plea, as he now says he should have, he would have still been convicted and faced a higher sentence for not accepting responsibility. He said he was “disappointed” that Chansley had disavowed the remorse that had impressed the judge at sentencing.
“Such an about-face casts serious doubt on the veracity of any of Mr. Chansley’ s claims, here or elsewhere,” Lamberth wrote.
Chansley’s current attorney, William Shipley, said on Twitter that his client “has moved forward” and will likely not challenge the conviction any further.
Several other defendants have argued unsuccessfully that the Fox News presentation is exonerating.
After dismissing Chansley’s claims that the government failed to turn over information and that his attorney was not effective, Lamberth went on to express his concern with Carlson’s misleading depiction on the riot, calling it not just “ill-advised” and inaccurate but “alarming.”
“The host explicitly questioned the integrity of this Court — not to mention the legitimacy of the entire U.S. criminal justice system — with inflammatory characterizations of cherry-picked videos stripped of their proper context,” he wrote, “language resembling the destructive, misguided rhetoric that fueled the events of January 6 in the first place.”
The judge suggested that “members of the public who are concerned about the evidence presented in Mr. Chansley’s case and others” read the public filings and attend court hearings.
“Those of us who have presided over dozens of cases arising from, listened to hundreds of hours of testimony describing, and reviewed thousands of pages of briefing about the attack on our democracy of January 6 know all too well that neither the events of that day nor any particular defendant’s involvement can be fully captured in a seconds-long video carelessly, or perhaps even cynically, aired in a television segment or attached to a tweet,” he wrote.
Carlson did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Capitol surveillance footage aired on Fox News was given to Carlson by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.); Carlson had demanded the video as a condition of supporting McCarthy’s bid to lead the House against a right-wing revolt. Carlson was fired by Fox News in April, just after the network settled a defamation claim involving false claims about the 2020 election.