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The Faux Shamanism of Jake “Angeli” Chansley

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The Faux Shamanism of Jake “Angeli” Chansley

As the impeachment hearings against Donald Trump unfold this week, one of the participants who expressed willingness to testify against the former U.S. president is 33 year-old Jake Chansley of Arizona, better known as “Jake Angeli,” or the “QAnon Shaman.” Chansley was arrested by the FBI on January 9th for his involvement in the storming of the U.S. capitol three days prior. 

Until last week, Chansley was being held at a Washington, D.C. correctional facility awaiting trial where he refused to eat anything but organic food. He lost twenty pounds because, according to a statement by D.C. Department of Corrections Religious Services staff, they could not “find any religious merit pertaining to organic food or diet for Shamanism Practitioner.” He has since been moved to a correctional facility in Virginia to accommodate his “shamanic belief system.”

“It will be absolutely fundamental and necessary for those who are serving as the judges at that impeachment trial to hear the voice of those that were incited, and there is no more prominent face of those who were incited than that of my client,” said Chansley’s attorney Al Watkins. On Monday, February 9, in a statement released by Watkins, Chansley formally apologized for his role in the events at the Capitol on January 6, expressing regret for his actions, along with disappointment in Trump. 

While Chansley was not invited to participate in the impeachment trial, his is a prominent face because of his eccentric, self-proclaimed “shaman’s” attire of coyote skin and buffalo horns, and New Age commentary that defies the style conventions of the right wing activists that he stood alongside at the Capitol. 

As the Washington Post reported, Chansley explained his garb saying, “This is coyote skin. According to the Navajo the coyote is like the trickster, almost like a benevolent force, so I’m wearing the skin of the trickster. I got two tails here. I got the trickster mixed with the bull, got the horns… This is a war that is of like a spiritual nature… you need symbolism.”

According to The Washington Post, “Chansley said he had spent much of his life around Phoenix, following a spiritual path that led him from Catholicism to a mix of pagan and New Age-like religious beliefs.” Reports suggest he has an infatuation with Native American culture. 

When asked what led him to become a “shaman” by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), Chansley says it was a “calling” for him since childhood. 

“In all honesty, I always wanted to know what the Native Americans understood,” Chansley says, claiming a desire to understand the reason Native Americans dressed in feathers and headdresses, took plant medicines, and followed the “stars and the cycles of the earth and stuff.” He says he “knew there was a reason for their ancient traditions and I wanted to understand it in a deep and profound way.”

In many statements, Chansley has made it clear he considers himself to be a shaman. In a video interview recorded at an Arizona rally in 2020, Chansley said that “as a shaman,” he is a “multidimensional or hyper dimensional being… able to perceive multiple different frequencies of light beyond my five senses.” He goes on to boast of the ability to see into higher dimensions where spiritual entities hide within “pedophiles and rapists and murderers, really high up people… Nobody can see that because their third eye ain’t open, ok.” 

But many who practice indigenous spiritual traditions have not taken kindly to Chansley’s pronouncements. The Lakota Law Project stated in a recent Tweet, “Jake Chansley, the ’33-year-old self-initiated shaman and enthusiastic QAnon bullshit shoveler’ who made headlines for the coup attempt at the Capitol, is a good example of what happens when Indigenous culture is regarded as a little more than a costume.”

Itzhak Beery, an Israeli-born shamanic healer, teacher and author finds witnessing Chansley both “painful and pathetic,” and thinks that it raises tough questions for shamanic teachers and practitioners, especially for the visionary plant medicine people. “Is this just a lack of judgment or a delusionary actor playing a role he does not grasp? What is it that he is not getting about the shamanic way of life?” asks Beery. “Perhaps he is merely a gullible follower lost between worlds.”

Despite Chansley’s enthusiastic support of Trump, many on the right initially reacted to his “shaman’s” attire and New Age comments by incorrectly assuming that he was an Antifa shill. What’s more, prior to his arrest, Chansley made a telephone appearance on the right-leaning Infowars, hosted by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who hung up on him and launched into an acerbic rant, denouncing QAnon and its self-appointed shaman. Jones was present at the Capitol attack, supporting the cause while denouncing the violence.

Beery warns that we should be cautious about anyone who attaches the word shaman to their name. “So many do that after a brief encounter with plant medicine or taking a workshop, or because they can heal, blow tobacco, or sing in tongues. It’s become a kind of New Age trendy, sexy term,” says Beery. “But the practice is no such thing. It requires many years of training, experience, and unwavering responsibility for a community and the Earth. Chansley’s violent and caricaturist actions made us all look fake and ridiculous.”

Ethnopharmacologist and author Dennis McKenna agrees. When asked about Chansley’s professed shamanism, he was appalled but not surprised. “This just strikes me as his own hype,” says McKenna, “which the media has slavishly taken up. How many of them even know what a ’shaman’ is? He bills himself as a ’self-initiated’ shaman, implying that he is not part of any shamanic tradition. He’s basically making this stuff up. He is not a shaman; he’s a showman, not a very good one at that. He is an ego-inflated clown. This is all just made up stuff from his own delusions.”

Indeed, Chansley is a showman, literally an unemployed actor, as reported by the Independent during the days immediately following the Capitol insurrection. This has fueled mistrust of his motives, prompting some to suspect that media attention could be his primary motivation. 

While Chansley may have experienced psychedelic visions that he found meaningful, for McKenna that does not make him a shaman. “He may have some sincere thoughts influenced by his psychedelic experiences but he’s basically just a clown and a huckster. Usually shamanism involves learning from an elder shaman, within some traditional practice. Not always but that is the usual path to shaman-hood,” he says. 

According to McKenna, Chansley’s claim to psychedelic truth is an example of the notion that there is nothing inherently good or bad in any technology. “Psychedelics can be used for good or ill, but the moral dimension comes from the human heart,” he says, pointing out the evil uses to which psychedelics were put in years past, such as the CIA’s experiments with LSD for mind control, or the brainwashing of the Manson family. “Psychedelics will not turn sociopaths or psychopaths into peace/love flower children!”

Chansley, who says he “wears the skin of a trickster,” may well believe he embodies the archetype. Trump, too, has been analyzed through the lens of the trickster.

Nuage_Tricksters, an indigenous site that critiques false shamanism, and even provides a boycott list, defines the trickster as “a supernatural being and a hero who… often brings some form of good to his people… at the same time he often cannot tell the difference between good and evil. The trickster stands for the forces of mischief and destruction, but he can also represent less harmful horseplay, crafty trickery, or even bungling behavior. In his more sinister form, he enjoys bringing chaos and disorder to the world.”

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