WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks after he was sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in the Capitol riot, the “QAnon Shaman” returned to court on Monday to swap his attorney for a high-profile lawyer who at one time represented acquitted Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse.
During a brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, Jacob Chansley – the Arizona man who wore a horned fur hat and left a threatening note for Vice President Mike Pence during the Capitol riot – said he wanted attorney John Pierce to represent him in an expected appeal.
Chansley had been represented since February by attorney Albert Watkins. Watkins, an eccentric attorney with a penchant for dramatic language, made headlines repeatedly by describing Capitol riot defendants as “short-bus people” and declaring his client, Chansley, had affection for former President Donald Trump “not unlike a first love.” Watkins said he made the former comment, which drew wide criticism, as a means of prodding the court into ordering a mental evaluation for Chansley – which it ultimately did.
In a more than 40-minute allocution during Chansley’s sentencing hearing Nov. 17, Watkins described his client as a good man who’d been failed by the government. He said Chansley had been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder while serving in the U.S. Navy, but had never been informed of the diagnosis. He also said granting leniency to him would allow the judge to begin to “emphasize the common ground between all of us and somehow bridge this great divide.”
Lamberth commended Watkins on his defense of Chansley – and said he was moved by the shaman’s own words during the hearing – but ultimately agreed to sentence him to the lower end of the guideline range of 41-51 months. With credit for 317 days already served in jail at the time of his sentencing, Chansley has roughly 2.5 years remaining behind bars.
While Chansley’s reasons for seeking to change legal counsel were entered under seal on Monday, his new attorney, Pierce, has already signaled he will seek to appeal his sentence by arguing Watkins provided ineffective counsel. The change of counsel hearing was expedited for Monday afternoon because federal appellate rules require appeals to be filed within 14 days of a judgement being entered – which gives Chansley until Wednesday to appeal his sentence.
Pierce, who up until recently made his career as a civil attorney specializing in commercial litigation, has represented more than 20 Capitol riot defendants – although several have since parted ways with him. He also previously represented Kyle Rittenhouse, the then-17-year-old who fatally shot two men and wounded another during riots in Kenosha, Washington. Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges two weeks ago, and has since criticized Pierce in media interviews for allegedly advising him to stay in jail because Pierce was “trying to raise money.” As of Monday, Pierce and other Rittenhouse attorneys – including Lin Wood, one of the lawyers who helped promote Trump’s election fraud lies – were reportedly feuding over the fate of more than $2 million raised to fund Rittenhouse’s bail.
Pierce also made headlines in August when he failed to appear for court hearings for two consecutive weeks while apparently in the hospital suffering from an undisclosed illness. One of his associates, an unlicensed attorney, made numerous appearances on his behalf – prompting the DOJ to warn that the 17 Capitol riot defendants then being represented by Pierce appeared to be “effectively without counsel.” Pierce ultimately returned and has appeared in person, albeit by video, at subsequent hearings.
We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.