“I’d rather die on my feet,” said Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919), “than live on my knees.” Tell it to the QAnon Shaman.
The Shaman was the resplendently face-painted, bare-chested, pelt-wearing, Viking-headressed face of the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection to bar Vice President Mike Pence from counting electoral ballots in the 2020 presidential election and, if at all possible, to hang him. On that day, the Shaman carried his flag-bedecked spear into the hastily vacated Senate chamber. He climbed the steps to the dais, sat himself in the Senate president’s chair, and snapped a few selfies. When a police officer told him to leave, the Shaman said, “Mike Pence is a fucking traitor” and scribbled onto some paper Pence left behind, “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.” When the police officer again told him to leave, the Shaman called other rioters to the dais and shouted through a bullhorn that they intended to “send a message to all the tyrants, the Communists, and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs.” Two months earlier, the Shaman had posted on Facebook: “We shall have no real hope to survive the enemies arrayed against us until we hang the traitors lurking among us.”
The Shaman is a 34-year-old from Phoenix whose earthly name is Jacob Anthony Chansley. He was sentenced Tuesday to 41 months in the slammer. Was he defiant? Did he tell the judge that he could jail one man, but he couldn’t jail a revolution? Not exactly. “I was wrong for entering the Capitol,” he said. He pronounced himself “truly, truly repentant of my actions” and promised he would “never re-offend again.” He said he had “no excuse whatsoever” and offered as an excuse his difficult childhood. He said the trauma of being jailed had turned some hairs on his chest and arms white, and “I should not have white hairs, Your Honor.”
He was the whiniest little brat you ever saw. Even Chansley’s lawyer, Albert Watkins, seemed to hold him in contempt. “A lot of these defendants—and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully—but they’re all fucking short-bus people,” Watkins told Talking Points Memo in May. (“Short-bus” is offensive slang for mentally disabled people.) “These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded.” Later, Watkins compared Chansley, less offensively but just as insultingly, to Forrest Gump. Watkins wrote, in a sentencing memo, that Chansley “seeks not to be seen as a political prisoner.” His client’s fanatical loyalty to Trump, Watkins explained, did not outlive his surprise at not receiving a presidential pardon before Trump left office. “I want to evolve,” Chansley said at sentencing. “I want to grow beyond what I was. That’s what life is all about.”
Look, I don’t want to be cruel. Chansley would appear to have some genuine mental health problems. But he isn’t an outlier. The typical January 6 insurrectionist turns out to be not a Burgher of Calais, erect and solemn with a noose encircling his neck, nor a Sydney Carton from Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, who declaims before the guillotine that it is a far, far better thing than he has ever done. The typical January 6 insurrectionist isn’t even Abbie Hoffman, clowning at his conspiracy trial that he’s “an orphan of America” who resides in “Woodstock nation.”
The typical January 6 insurrectionist is a delusional fathead with anger management issues who abandoned the revolution the second the price exceeded that of a round-trip bus ticket to Washington, D.C.
Consider Scott Kevin Fairlamb, a 44-year-old gym owner and former mixed martial arts fighter from Stockholm, New Jersey, who, like Chansley, got 41 months for participating in the January 6 revolt. Fairlamb (who, bizarrely, is brother to a guy who once led Michelle Obama’s Secret Service detail) punched a police officer in the face (video here) and afterward shouted, “What [do] patriots do? We fucking disarm ’em, and then we storm the fucking Capitol.” Fairlamb posted a video of himself saying this on Facebook. Then he went home and filmed a video of himself saying, “They pulled the pin on the grenade, and the blackout is coming. What a time to be a patriot.” Even after he was visited by FBI agents on January 15, Fairlamb messaged on Instagram that “I’d go again.” He was confident Donald Trump would be inaugurated, on March 4, the first president of what the faithful, I’m sorry to report, call the “new Republic.”
But after Fairlamb got busted, he didn’t have a lot of fight in him. “I have nothing but remorse,” he told the judge, for his “completely irresponsible, reckless behavior.” He said, “I truly regret my actions that day.” Fairlamb’s lawyer previously had written in a sentencing memo that Fairlamb “did, in fact, feel as if he had been duped by social media prior to Jan. 6.” As with Chansley, this revelation arrived alongside the blinding discovery that he would be punished for his crimes.
Jenna Ryan, a 51-year-old realtor from Frisco, Texas, who was sentenced earlier this month to 60 days, showed after her January 15 arrest more fight than Chansley and Fairlamb. “Definitely not going to jail,” she tweeted. “Sorry I have blonde hair white skin a great job a great future and I’m not going to jail. Sorry to rain on your hater parade. I did nothing wrong.” Even after her sentencing undermined her faith in the immutability of white supremacism, Ryan went on Newsmax to gripe that “I will be in prison for two months for standing up for my rights,” by which she meant her right to breach a police barricade in the middle of a deadly riot and enter the Capitol. Ryan similarly expected a Trump pardon. “I think we all deserve a pardon,” she said in a television interview.
But at the sentencing hearing itself, Ryan sang a very different tune. She said she was “very sorry.” She said, “I was foolish.” She said she “just shouldn’t tweet,” which was probably more than the judge was looking for, and which she didn’t mean, because she was back on Twitter the same day.
Chansley is sorry, Fairlamb is sorry, Ryan is sorry. This is the sorriest lot of Decembrists I ever saw. Give me liberty, but if liberty happens not to be available, please don’t give me death. Their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor were never at stake, not even for one second. This idiot revolution wasn’t a revolution at all, just recreation to liven an otherwise dull winter afternoon. I know I’m supposed to fear these bozos. I’m supposed to think they’re the thin edge of the fascist wedge. But I can’t. The thin edge is supposed to be sharp, and they’re anything but. Lock them up for a good long time by all means, but don’t ask me to take them seriously.
But what about Steve Bannon, you ask? The MAGA Robespierre, when he showed up Monday to plead guilty to contempt of Congress, told the waiting cameras, “This is gonna be the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden,” He also said: “We’re taking down the Biden regime.” That’s some of the old stuff, for sure.
Would Bannon talk so tough, however, if he were indicted for perjury, which is a felony? The maximum sentence for contempt of Congress is a year, and the maximum fine is $100,000. No one has gone to prison for this crime in half a century. At the absolute worst, Bannon might piss off the judge so much that he’d spend a few months in jail. Were that to happen, it would give a fabulous boost to his podcast. But I think if such an outcome started to look even vaguely plausible, Bannon would discover he regretted his role in the January 6 revolt. Think of the money to be made from a confessional memoir! Bannon could become Donald Trump’s Albert Speer, minus the unpleasant detour to Spandau Prison. Trump may make a religion out of never saying he’s sorry, but his shock troops these days scarcely know how to say anything. else. Insurrection means always having to say you’re sorry.