Maybe Biden Should Pardon the QAnon Shaman?

Don't freak out. Take this journey with me . . .

1. Reconciliation

Tim and Charlie have thrown down about whether the 41-month sentence meted out to the QAnon Shaman—aka “Yellowstone Wolf,” aka Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansley—was unjustly excessive.

Tim is here. Charlie is here.

I want to sidestep this argument and propose something kind of crazy: Maybe President Biden should pardon Chansley.1 And then bring him to the White House and sit down with him, and Mike Pence, and have a beer and try to teach America a thing or two.

Before you start throwing things, hear me out.


Chansley is a weird dude and seems, at least from the outside, like he may have some mental challenges. He was anti-vaxx before it was a political thing—the reason he got kicked out of the Navy in 2007 was because he refused to take the anthrax vaccine. He’s a strange guy. Seems in need of some clinical help. Maybe it’s a chemistry problem.

Prior to the insurrection, though, he had no criminal record. During the insurrection he was not violent. The written message he addressed to Vice President Pence was threatening, but in a pretty oblique way. There’s a difference between writing “It's Only A Matter of Time. Justice Is Coming!” in Sharpie during the middle of a riot and sending someone a letter made up of magazine cutout words saying that you’re coming for their wife and kids.

Chansley cooperated with law enforcement prior to his arrest, pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and seems to be pretty genuinely remorseful. Here’s a report from the sentencing:

Chansley, who was almost unrecognizable as he addressed the court in a plain jail-issued dark green jumpsuit, said he was "a good man who broke the law" and implored Judge Lamberth to "judge a tree by its roots" in considering his sentence. "I am in no way, shape, or form a violent criminal. I am not an insurrectionist. I am certainly not a domestic terrorist," he said. "I hope that you see my heart."

"I was wrong for entering the Capitol. I have no excuse -- no excuse whatsoever," Chansley said. "In retrospect, I'd do everything differently on Jan. 6 … I would try with all my heart and soul to stop people."

"I think the hardest part about this is that I know that I'm to blame," he added. "I hope that you see my remorse is genuine."

Chansley spoke confidently as he addressed the court, making direct eye contact with Judge Lamberth as he referenced the bible and recited quotes from writer Max De Pree and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to argue that he is not the same person who stormed the Capitol.

"I want to grow beyond what it is that I was," Chansley said.

Lamberth, in response, called Chansley’s remarks "the most remarkable I’ve heard in my 34 years ... akin to the types of things Martin Luther King might have said."

So take all of that into account and think about what comes next.

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2. Beer Summit 2.0

What’s the point of the criminal justice system? From a cosmic perspective, law exists to protect society from crimes against it. One of the ways it protects society is by trying to discourage future crimes.

“Discourage.”

You discourage a problem which is endemic. Which will always be with you because you know that it is part of human nature and cannot be stopped or eradicated. We try to discourage theft, or murder, because we know that we cannot stop it completely. It will always be with us.

But was the insurrection an endemic sort of crime? Or was it a one-off? A perfect storm, an incident which we might reasonably hope will never be repeated?

It’s not crazy to hope for the latter.

So if we want to avoid another insurrection, how do we do that?


Two options:

(1) We bring down the full force of the law on everyone who participated and strike the fear of God into them, so that future potential insurrectionists know there will be consequences should they try such a thing.

(2) We defuse the situation so that in the future no one feels the need for an insurrection.

I’d like to try Door #2.

If the QAnon Shaman really is the face of the insurrection, and if he’s got his mental health challenges under control, and if he’s genuinely remorseful, Biden could commute his sentence and then bring him and Mike Pence together to sit down.

What could we get out of this?

  • You let the air out of the Hang Mike Pence crowd by giving Chansley a chance to apologize to the former VP and Pence a chance to forgive him.

  • You let Chansley speak to the entire #StopTheSteal movement about how they were used by a bunch of Republicans elites who will never do five minutes of time.

  • You let Biden demonstrate that we don’t have to fight this culture war. That reconciliation can start with him—even though he did nothing wrong.

  • You let the whole country see that Joe Biden and Mike Pence and Jake Chansley don’t have to be at each other’s throats. That we don’t have to fear one another. That we can apologize, forgive, and change. That we can have a world where no matter who wins or loses an election, it’s not the end of the world because everyone knows we’re going to run it back in a couple years.

Look, I’m only half-serious here. I know we’re in fantasyland and that this idea is a non-starter. I know that there are a dozen of practical problems with it. I know that even if it happened, it wouldn’t be all puppy dogs and ice cream.

But still. I can’t stop thinking that if you treat an insurrection as merely another kind of crime, you’re going to get more insurrections.

And our primary goal here shouldn’t be fairness or justice, but trying to short-circuit the entire idea of insurrection so that it goes back to being a crazy, unthinkable nightmare that no one considers a real possibility.

The primary goal is that by the next January 6—or the one after that—no one finds it necessary to fence off the Capitol or have the National Guard on standby.

Getting back to that world is going to require extraordinary effort from all of us. Why not start by having Biden do something extraordinary for Jake Chansley?

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3. American Hippo

This Atavist story needs to be a Coen Brothers movie:

This is a story about hippopotamuses, as advertised, but it’s also a story about two very complicated and exceptional men. These men were spies. They were also bitter enemies. Each wanted to kill the other and fully expected to feel really good about himself afterward. Eccentric circumstances—circumstances having to do with hippopotamuses—would join these men together as allies and even dear friends. But then, eventually, they’d be driven into opposition again.

Whatever strange bond these two men had, they were loyal to it. They were like repulsive magnets: Some fundamental property of each was perfectly opposed to the core of the other. And yet, somehow throughout their long lives—as several volatile phases of American history tumbled along in the background—they also had a way of continually snapping back together. One of these men was a humble patriot, known for his impeccable integrity. He tried to leave detailed, reliable accounts of what he did and thought and felt. The other, I discovered, was a megalomaniac and a pathological liar.

This is a true story, and a very serious one, even though it’s composed of many details that will seem ludicrous and impossible. Most of those details are irrefutable, though. And while I worked hard to verify the rest, doing so occasionally proved futile. I’d like to try and explain why.

Read the whole thing.

1

I’m going to keep saying “pardon” for the sake of argument, but you should understand that what I actually mean would be “commuting the sentence to time served.”