Monday, May 10, 2021

Capitol riot shaman’s TV interview irks judge

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Lamberth said the Marshals Service policy for federal pretrial prisoners requires numerous clearances for an interview, including the U.S. Attorney’s office, the judge and those running the detention facility. The judge said he was asked by the marshals if he’d approved the interview at the Alexandria Detention Center and he said he had not.

Watkins, who is based in St. Louis, denied any effort to mislead.

“There’s no subterfuge here, at all. … I did not under any circumstances try to conduct subterfuge to this court, certainly, and not to the facility where my client is currently housed,” the attorney said. “It’s just not my style.”

Nevertheless, Watkins appeared to concede that the jail was in the dark about his plans to use a virtual lawyers’ visit to make his client available to the media.

“The jail was only told this was an attorney-client interview video. I asked for a Zoom conference with him,” the defense lawyer said. “I didn’t tell them it was for an interview with ’60 Minutes.’”

“I’m sure you didn’t,” Lamberth shot back.

In a sign of his displeasure, following the court hearing, the judge publicly released an email an Alexandria jail spokesperson sent to Watkins’ office last month making clear the various approvals needed.

The main topic of Friday’s court session was Chansley’s request to be released from custody as he awaits trial on the various charges he faces, including interfering with police during a civil disorder and obstruction of Congress.

Watkins has spent weeks working to portray Chansley as a harmless, well-meaning dupe, taken in by former President Donald Trump’s claims that the election was stolen and acting on the mistaken belief that the commander-in-chief was being truthful. He spent Friday’s hearing comparing Chansley to Forrest Gump, drawing attention to his hobbies as a painter and a potter and asserting that the “spearhead” attached to the pole Chansley wielded inside the Capitol was just decorative.

Chansley underscored those points in his “60 Minutes” interview.

“I sang a song. And that’s a part of shamanism,” he said. “It’s about creating positive vibrations in a sacred chamber. I also stopped people from stealing and vandalizing that sacred space, the Senate. OK?”

At Friday’s hearing, Watkins asserted that Chansley’s eccentric style — he breached the Capitol shirtless, in a horned headdress, with ample tattoos exposed — underscore that he was not a leader of the violent charge but a happy-go-lucky follower. He committed no violence inside the building and prevented the theft of muffins from a Capitol break room, the defense attorney said.

Watkins also argued that video shows Chansley simply sauntered into the Capitol and was, in fact, invited in by the police. “Capitol Police are walking down the steps. There’s no barricade. There are no police lines and the police are saying the building is yours,” the defense lawyer said. “If you see my client’s horns, he’s just strolling up the steps. … The door my client walked into is actually being held by a Capitol policeman.”

Lamberth seemed incredulous about that claim, saying he’d seen a photo on the front page of The Washington Post showing a Capitol window being smashed just as Chansley moved through a nearby doorway.

Watkins also argued that releasing Chansley would be a gesture of goodwill and national reconciliation, ensuring that “people like Jacob Chansley and millions of others who really did adore former President [Donald] Trump are not subject to retribution and ridicule.”

“There are too many of them to hold them in disdain. There is compassion and patience that’s going to be required as a great many Americans extricate themselves from a longstanding, propaganda-ridden period of leadership,” the defense attorney said.

The government, though, has maintained that Watkins’ lighthearted portrayal of Chansley misconstrues a more sinister side. Chansley, they said, ignored numerous clear warnings to turn away from the Capitol. He loomed over law enforcement while wielding his spear, and he left a threatening note for then-Vice President Mike Pence on the Senate rostrum, they said.

Prosecutor Kimberly Paschall also painted as absurd the idea that Chansley thought it was permissible for him to enter the Capitol amid the riot.

“There is absolutely no way he could have thought that police were escorting him into the building when the window was being cracked. … Alarms were going off,” Paschall said. “There is no reasonable interpretation of events where this man could believe it was OK … that he could continue to walk up those steps.”

If released from prison, prosecutors say, there’s no guarantee he won’t recommence violent, anti-government activities. And Paschall said releasing Chansley is too great a risk as long as there are indications people are willing to take violent action to enforce their views that Trump won the election.

“While we can all hope that Jan. 6 was a once-in-a-lifetime event, we can’t rely on that,” she said.

Lamberth issued no immediate ruling on Chansley’s release request. The judge said he wants to review video footage before he issues a decision.

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