“Prior to that time, Chansley had, amongst other acts, breached a police line at 2:09 p.m. with the mob, entered the Capitol less than one minute behind Pezzola during the initial breach of the building, and faced off with members of the U.S. Capitol Police for more than thirty minutes in front of the Senate Chamber doors while elected officials, including the Vice President of the United States, were fleeing from the chamber,” they continued.
The footage aired by Carlson earlier this month showed Chansley walking through Capitol hallways accompanied by police officers, who at some moments appeared to be facilitating his movements — even opening a Senate-wing door for him at one point — and certainly weren’t trying to subdue him. But the clips didn’t indicate what time of day the footage came from or any of the context about the interactions.
Nevertheless, the episode — billed by Carlson as a refutation of the prevailing perception of the events of Jan. 6 — ignited a firestorm among allies of former President Donald Trump, who have long sought to downplay the Jan. 6 riot and the threat it posed to the transfer of power. Separately, Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, came out in favor of freeing Chansley over the weekend. Chansley’s current attorney, William Shipley, has indicated he intends to take a “creative” action to aid his client’s legal fight.
But Carlson omitted footage of Chansley’s entry into the Capitol, which came amid the earliest wave of rioters overrunning police, as well as footage from a lengthy standoff with police outside the Senate, and Chansley’s own trip inside the Senate chamber, where he stood on the Senate dais, recited a prayer and wrote an ominous message to then-Vice President Mike Pence: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.”
“In sum, Chansley was not some passive, chaperoned observer of events for the roughly hour that he was unlawfully inside the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors emphasized that U.S. Capitol Police officers had been overwhelmed at that point in the riot, resorting to triage to minimize the damage of the riot.
“For a period that afternoon, those defending the Capitol were in triage mode — trying to deal with the most violent element of those unlawfully present, holding those portions of the Capitol that had not yet been seized by rioters, and protecting those Members and staffers who were still trapped in the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote.
Chansley’s defenders have noted that he garnered outsize attention for his role in the riot, in part by his outlandish attire — he strode shirtless through the Capitol, wearing a horned helmet and full face paint, while carrying a flagpole with a sharp finial that led the judge in his case to conclude he was carrying a dangerous weapon.
Chansley is not accused of violence and has contended that he had positive interactions with officers inside the Capitol and encouraged other rioters not to loot the building. He became one of the earliest rioters to plead guilty to obstruction after about eight months in pretrial detention — which was ordered by a magistrate judge in Arizona and upheld by D.C.-based U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth. Lamberth sentenced him to 41 months in prison in November 2021.
Chansley is currently incarcerated and slated for release in July.
Chansley’s allies say the footage aired by Carlson might have changed the case against him. In Sunday’s filing, however, the Justice Department contended that it had shipped all but 10 seconds of the footage to Chansley’s attorney by Sept. 24, 2021 — about three weeks after Chansley pleaded guilty but more than a month before his sentencing.
Pezzola’s defense seized on the flap over the Carlson footage to urge the dismissal of the entire case against the Proud Boys, contending that it proved there had been prosecutorial misconduct and that the crowd inside the Capitol was nonviolent.
“Once tethered to facts and reality, defendant Pezzola’s arguments quickly unravel,” the Justice Department wrote.