The so-called “QAnon Shaman,” who stormed the U.S. Capitol last month in Viking garb, claims he hasn’t eaten in nine days because his Shaman faith bars him from eating the non-organic food provided in jail.
And during an unintentional fast that his lawyer says has caused him to lose 20 pounds, the 33-year-old has been pondering his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection—and he has some regrets.
“He has come to grasp that fact that the former president really didn’t love him and that all the bullshit about Trump’s army and all the social media-driven conspiracy theories led to a lot of the vulnerability,” Jacob Chansley’s defense attorney, Albert Watkins, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
“Has my client gone through a wholesale repudiation on his previous beliefs? No. It’s part of an ongoing process. But he has recognized his role and my client has bellied up and realized he needs to do right by his country. As part of this process, he is compelled to address a lot of things he has believed in the past from what I would call a propaganda machine.”
Chansley, from Phoenix, Arizona, was infamously photographed carrying a spear and a bullhorn and wearing a headdress made of coyote skin and buffalo horns during the Jan. 6 siege. He was arrested on Jan. 9 and charged with civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, disorderly conduct in a restricted building, and demonstrating in a Capitol building.
But since his arrest, and subsequent order to remain in jail pending trial, Chansley claims he hasn’t eaten. Why? Because his belief in Shamanism means food with unnatural chemicals “would act as an ‘object intrusion’ onto his body and cause serious illness,” an emergency motion filed on Wednesday stated.
During a Wednesday hearing on the emergency motion, a D.C. Department of Corrections official said they’d denied Chansley’s request, not because they doubted the sincerity of his Shamanism but because they found no evidence that an exclusively organic diet “is a tenet of that religion.”
The department disputed the fact Chansley hadn’t eaten in more than a week and said he didn’t identify his faith when he was initially imprisoned.
Watkins said it was “a choice between starvation, death, and consuming something contrary to his long-held faith”—even offering to bring in “a reliable Shamanism adviser” to prove to the judge that the diet was spiritually necessary.
Judge Royce Lamberth eventually granted the request for organic food on Wednesday afternoon.
Watkins’ emergency motion had argued that Shamanism is a faith “recognized by the U.S. government” that is “often associated with indigenous tribal societies, and involves belief that shamans, with a connection to the otherworld, have the power to heal the sick, communicate with spirits, and escort souls of the dead to the afterlife.”
Chansley won’t ingest “chemicals, preservatives, and GMOs that would compromise the integrity of his faith,” Watkins said. “Just like an Orthodox Jew would not feast on canned ham while incarcerated.” (Prosecutors, however, noted in prior filings that Chansley regularly takes drugs like peyote and mushrooms—and lied about it to authorities.)
The motion included a hand-written plea from Chansley stating that, for eight years, he has only eaten “traditional food that has been made by God.” “Being w/o food is stressful due to the way it affects my serotonin levels,” Chansley wrote to prison officials. “I am humbly requesting a few organic canned vegetables, canned tuna (wild caught), or organic canned soups.”
“I will continue to pray through the pain and do my best not to complain. I simply ask that you understand that the physical effects of not eating organic are harmful to my body & bio-chemistry,” he added.
Watkins said he had a “duty to be aggressive and make sure his client doesn’t die.” “I guess my client is going to have to eat his left leg,” he told The Daily Beast prior to Wednesday’s hearing.
Chansley’s lawyers have called him a “non-violent” person who only entered the Capitol after the doors were held open—“by a policeman who stated in effect, if not verbatim, ‘the building is yours.’” He is a “gentleman who catches insects and releases them outside” and whose idol is Mahatma Gandhi, Watkins said.
But prosecutors say he was a key participant in the riots and the “self-proclaimed leader” of QAnon, a violent conspiracy theory that believes pedophiles and cannibals among the Democratic Party will be arrested and executed.
Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Fine ordered that Chansley be detained before trial, calling him an “active” participant in “a violent insurrection” who was unlikely to follow court orders.
Chansley was among the handful of rioters who stormed the Senate chamber during the insurrection, along with an Air Force vet holding zip ties. Federal authorities said Chansley admitted he left a chilling note for former Vice President Mike Pence, who he said was a “child-trafficking traitor.”
“It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming,” the note read, though Chansley claimed to the FBI that he didn’t mean it as a threat.
In his motion, Watkins said Chansley was incited to storm the Capitol by Trump’s rhetoric and calls to action.
But since his incarceration, Watkins told The Daily Beast, Chansley has apparently “gone through a period of introspection” and realized that he made himself “open to the propaganda from the former president.”
Watkins said that after Trump snubbed a pardon request from Chansley and other Capitol rioters, his client realized that “the president didn’t have his back.” Now, Chansley wants to do “right by his country,” even if that means testifying against Trump in his upcoming impeachment proceedings.
While Chansley still has a “soft space in his heart” for Trump, Watkins said his “well-spoken” client could be crucial in proving Trump’s comments spurred the insurrection. “I am not saying that the senators have no choice but to put my client on the stand,” the defense lawyer said. “I am suggesting that if they're serious about the impeachment they need someone to testify—and who’s better than someone who is well-spoken.”
And while his bizarre outfit—apparently inspired by his Shaman faith—made him one of the most infamous participants in the riot, it might also present an opportunity, Watkins said.
“He has become the face of what happened on Jan. 6,” he said. “Once we get to know Jacob, and others like Jacob, Jan. 6 is not going to be akin to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. It is going to be a day of reckoning. We need to all own our role.”