A federal judge smacked down a request by convicted Capitol rioter Jacob Chansley — also known as the “QAnon Shaman” — to withdraw his guilty plea based on a Tucker Carlson broadcast that claimed to show exonerating footage.
In a 35-page ruling Thursday, Judge Royce C. Lamberth expressed disappointment with Chansley’s “about-face” and reaffirmed that there remains ample evidence supporting his conviction for obstructing Congress during the 2021 Capitol attack ― even if this evidence was “conveniently omitted” in Carlson’s past programming on Fox News. (Carlson has since been fired from the network.)
“This Court cannot and will not reject the evidence before it. Nor should the public,” the judge wrote.
Chansley requested his plea be thrown out shortly after a March broadcast of Carlson’s Fox News show that claimed to show new video evidence from the Capitol. The evidence purportedly showed Chansley and other rioters acting like peaceful “sightseers” who merely “wandered” over to the Capitol and were welcomed inside by security. Carlson alleged that the footage undermined the legitimacy of the government’s prosecution of Chansley and others.
“These videos are decidedly not exculpatory, especially when viewed in context with the ‘miles and miles and miles of footage’ recorded of Mr. Chansley on January 6, 2021,” Lamberth fired back.
“Such footage, conveniently omitted by the March 6, 2023 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 continued.
Lamberth said none of the footage aired on Carlson’s program contained new facts and evidence, as Carlson claimed. Chansley also did not explain how any of it would be exculpatory to the charge he pled guilty to: obstruction of an official proceeding.
“This is likely because he cannot make this showing,” said Lamberth.
The judge further tore into the integrity of Carlson’s now-former program.
“Not only was the broadcast replete with misstatements and misrepresentations regarding the events of January 6, 2021 too numerous to count, 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.
He said Carlson told his viewers to “reject the evidence of [their] eyes and ears,” which the judge noted is language that resembles the “destructive, misguided rhetoric that fueled the events of January 6 in the first place.”
Chansley’s attorney, William Shipley, said he doesn’t anticipate that his client will appeal.
“Jake has moved forward, and I think he’ll close this door behind him now,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Chansley in 2021 pled guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding, in exchange for the dismissal of five other charges that were pending against him. He completed his prison sentence in March.
In his plea agreement, he said he was pleading guilty to the count because he was “in fact guilty.” He also apologized before the court and said he wanted to take responsibility for his actions, “because repentance is not just saying you’re sorry.”
Lamberth had said that he was swayed by Chansley’s apology, resulting in Chansley receiving 41 months in prison — the minimum sentence in the guidance — with credit for time served.
“You’ve certainly done everything you could today to convince the Court that you’re a new person, and I think you’re on the right track,” Lamberth told him at the time.
The judge in his ruling Thursday noted that had Chansley not taken the plea deal, he likely would have faced a harsher sentence.