Below is my column in the New York Post on the recently disclosed videotapes from Jan. 6th. The tapes include images never seen before by the public of that day. However, my interest was drawn primarily to the images of “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley being escorted through the Capitol. That footage raises serious questions about Chansley’s case in my view.
I am continuing to pursue the implications of the video today, but here is the column:
Fox’s Tucker Carson aired the long-awaited release of previously undisclosed footage from the Jan. 6 riot this week.
The first tranche of videotapes elicits major concerns over Jan. 6 committee members’ past claims.
Yet the most serious disclosures, in my view, relate to the case of “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley.
I previously expressed reservations over the heavy sentence given to Chansley.
The new footage raises more questions about the Justice Department’s and the court’s handling of the case.
After the Republican Party boycotted the committee following the rejection of its proposed members, the committee could have strived to offer a balanced inquiry.
Instead, it hired a former ABC producer to put on a production for television, including tightly scripted statements and questions.
Witnesses were used as virtual props, and the committee consistently blocked any alternative views and evidence.
The members repeatedly used the hearing to make a pitch for the midterm and 2024 elections.
Even The New York Times admitted the narrative was meant to “recast the midterm message” and “give [Democrats] a platform for making a broader case about why they deserve to stay in power.”
I supported the committee’s creation, and I was highly critical of President Donald Trump’s remarks before the riot.
Indeed, I publicly condemned Trump’s speech while it was being given, and I called for a bipartisan vote of censure over his responsibility in the riots.
I also found much of the testimony to be highly disturbing from respected public servants opposed to the violence and the election denial.
The committee sacrificed its legitimacy by putting on hearings that often sounded more like a show trial than an objective congressional inquiry. It could have been so much more.
But the footage of Chansley was most disturbing.
I have supported the prosecution of those who rioted on Jan. 6. As I said immediately after the riot, it was a desecration of our constitutional process.
Yet many of us were surprised Chansley was given a 41-month sentence for “obstructing a federal proceeding.”
The sentence exceeded those handed down for violent offenses. Indeed, an Antifa member who took an axe to a member’s office in Fargo, ND, was later given probation … and his axe back.
I also objected to the Justice Department’s draconian treatment in holding figures like Chansley in prolonged solitary confinement without any apparent justification.
We knew Chansley was not shown engaging in violence or property destruction. The footage, however, showed Chansley walking through one of the doors with hundreds of others but escorted through the Capitol by a couple of officers.
The officials appear to be assisting him in gaining access to internal areas.
He walks past a dozen armed officers who do not try to stop him. He even appears to thank the officers for their assistance.
It’s not clear if the defense had access to all of these videotapes. Regardless, these tapes are in sharp contrast to what was presented in court.
The Justice Department portrayed Chansley as a violent offender. Prosecutor Kimberly Paschall played videos to show Chansley yelling along with the crowd. “That is not peaceful,” she insisted.
In his sentence, Judge Royce Lamberth noted, “He made himself the image of the riot, didn’t he? For good or bad, he made himself the very image of this whole event.”
I have great respect for Lamberth, but the sentence was hard to justify, particularly when compared with other defendants.
A Navy veteran, Chansley had no prior criminal record and pleaded guilty. He stood before Lamberth and implored that there was “a lot of bad juju that I never meant to create.”
Yet none of those mitigating factors seemed to count for much.
I agree with Lamberth that Chansley and others warrant longer than average sentences due to this attack on our constitutional process. However, Chansley seems to have a unique “aggravating factor” in his sentencing for “iconic costuming.”
An out-of-work actor, Chansley instantly became a sensation by appearing in his animal headdress, horns and red-white-and-blue face paint.
Had he merely worn a MAGA hat and chinos, he would likely have been given a fraction of this sentence.
Chansley did not appear to be a leader of any group that day as he wandered about the Capitol. The only people with him were often two attending and remarkably attentive Capitol police officers.
On the Senate floor, he is described as “chanting an unintelligible mantra” before leaving.
Chansley reaffirms the old expression among defense attorneys: “One day on the cover of Time, next day doing time.” That is a price that comes from being a celebrity shaman.
Once again, Chansley and any rioters deserve jail time. What occurred on Jan. 6 was a disgrace that has caused a lasting wound for this nation.
But making Chansley an example because he was the most visible is dangerously detached from his underlying conduct.
I have no particular sympathy for Chansley, but I do have concerns for the system that sentenced him.
In the end, justice has to remain blind. In this case, that means focusing on the crime rather than the costume.