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The Rules of Law | Insight

The January 6th convictions aren’t quite on target yet. But by going for symbols of the insurrection, they’re on the right track.

According to Politico, 92 people have been convicted for crimes and misdemeanors related to the January 6th Capitol assault. More convictions will follow, but as of now, the vast majority are fairly low-level. Of the 92, only eight have been convicted of felonies, while 10 have been sentenced to some time in prison.

Every sentence in excess of 40 months has been assigned to rioters who assaulted police officers, except for one in particular. Jacob Chansley, sentenced to 41 months, never directly participated in any violence. He was the Q-Anon Shaman, as most people call him.

In an interview with the unconventional journalist Andrew Callaghan, Chansley complains that his sentence is proof “the justice system is not fair or balanced.” Some others, according to Chansley, threatened real violence and got lighter sentences than he did. “They tried to make an example of me,” he adds.

In the comments on the interview, there’s no shortage of people who agree. According to them and Chansley, not only is his sentence unfair compared to others handed down so far, it also seems to be a tool to excuse those most guilty who haven’t even been charged. Easily recognizable, Chansley is a useful scapegoat. His long sentence is meant to placate the masses and excuse the elites who helped orchestrate the insurrection, according to these claims.

To the extent that someone as unhinged as Chansley can have a point, (watch the interview to see what I mean) he does seem to have one here. People who really motivated everyone to assault the Capitol, who boosted the conspiracy theories, and stoked the flames of anger, people like President Donald Trump, seem to bear so much more guilt. After all, people like him are the reason all this happened in the first place.

But something about this reasoning doesn’t quite add up. Trump and other politicians and pundits didn’t directly participate in violence, just the same as Chansley. Their guilt is in instigating it. The real reason to convict and sentence Trump, for example, is to prevent this from happening again, as he could well serve as another rallying point. The symbols which animate such lawlessness need to be locked away, and Chansley became as much one of those symbols as Trump.

Ultimately, Donald Trump’s legacy—both for his entire term in office and especially exemplified January 6th—is one of disdain for the rule of law. He consistently flouted the notion that he was anything but above the law, bragging about his ability to dodge taxes, that he could shoot a man with no consequences, and seeking to undermine investigations into the legality of his conduct.

The key to Trump’s success, his cult-like following, and his followers’ willingness to do violence to this republic is a belief that he is more powerful than the law, that his declarations ought to be the basis of law. What’s needed to break such a trance is a show of force, a demonstration that the law is more powerful than those determined to erode it, including Donald Trump and Jacob Chansley.

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