A federal judge ordered a D.C. correctional facility to feed an all-organic diet to the Phoenix man who took part in the raid on the U.S. Capitol with a painted face and a fur hat with horns, in keeping with his professed religion as a shaman.
Jake Angeli had gone without food for nine days, his attorney told the court in a Wednesday hearing, because the D.C. Department of Corrections had refused Angeli’s request to be fed all organic food.
In an emergency court filing on Wednesday, Albert Watkins, the St. Louis attorney representing Angeli, said that his client had lost 20 pounds while in custody.
Angeli, in a handwritten note to the D.C. facility requesting an all-organic diet, said he was a shaman who was willing to suffer rather than modify his beliefs.
“If I have to go a week without food or longer, than so be it,” Angeli wrote. “I will stay committed to my spiritual beliefs even if it means I suffer physically.”
When asked by the judge to define what food would satisfy his request, Angeli said it would be food labeled with the organic label from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Angeli told the judge that his eight years of eating only organic food has “created a delicate bio-chemical balance in my body.”
However, an attorney for the D.C. Department of Corrections disputed, in an email to Angeli’s attorney, that Angeli had not eaten for a week. The email to Watkins was included as part of his emergency motion.
“Also, based on information and belief, contrary to your assertions,” the email said, “your client has not gone seven days without eating.”
The email did not elaborate on what Angeli has eaten or how often. That attorney, Eric Glover, did not return a request for comment from The Republic.
That detail was also not addressed during a 30-minute court hearing on Wednesday before Judge Royce Lamberth.
There, an attorney for the D.C. Department of Corrections said that the institution’s religious services department could find no evidence that an organic diet was part of the tenants of the shaman religion.
Without such a finding, the department was not under any obligation to honor the request, the attorney said.
The department had no outside budget for food requests, aside from the contract with its regular food provider. That contract, the attorney told the judge, did not include organic foods.
Watkins, arguing before the judge, said that his client’s religious beliefs were more important than any bureaucratic hurdles that the D.C. facility would have to overcome.
Watkins said that the shaman religion doesn’t have recognized rules or structures as other faiths do. But that Angeli’s refusal to eat for nine days should be proof enough of the sincerity of his religious beliefs.
Watkins said Angeli was being forced to “choose between starvation, death or consuming something that is adverse to his long-held faith.”
The judge ruled from the bench that Angeli’s request be honored. He said he would file a written ruling later.
Angeli had become a fixture at protests and rallies throughout Phoenix in the past two years wearing an eye-catching outfit that included a fur headdress with horns and face paint. He would also be shirtless, showing off elaborate tattoos. All of it, he said in past interviews with The Republic, was part of his self-study as a shaman.
Angeli wore that same outfit as he roamed the Capitol rotunda and the U.S. Senate chamber on Jan. 6, after he and a mob of Trump supporters breached the building, sending Representatives and Senators scurrying into secured rooms.
Angeli briefly took the seat on the U.S. Senate dais that had been occupied minutes before by then-Vice President Mike Pence who was presiding over a joint session of Congress. Lawmakers were in the midst of certifying the states’ electoral votes, making official the victory of President Joe Biden and the defeat of then-President Donald Trump.
While at the dais, Angeli left a threatening note for Pence that read, in all capital letters: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!”
Angeli was arrested Jan. 9 at the Phoenix FBI office. A grand jury in D.C. later indicted him, under his legal name of Jacob Chansley, on six criminal charges, including two felonies. The maximum punishment for the crimes, as charged, would be 28 years in prison. A judge in Arizona ordered Angeli held in custody and transported to D.C. to await trial.
Angeli filed an inmate request slip with the D.C. Department of Corrections on Jan. 27, two days after he was moved there from Phoenix, asking for an all-organic diet. The slip was included as part of the court filing.
In the handwritten note, Angeli said he had eaten an all-organic diet for the past eight years as part of his practice as a shaman. In his note, Angeli defined organic food as that which “has been made by God.” That meant, he said, nothing with genetically modified organisms, otherwise known as GMOs, as well as food grown without herbicides, pesticides or processed with artificial colors or flavorings.
“I am humbly requesting a few organic canned vegetables,” Angeli wrote, “canned tuna (wild caught) or organic canned soups.”
Angeli wrote that he had occasionally fasted as part of his religious practice as a shaman, but had not gone more than a few days.
Angeli said that if he doesn’t eat organic, he suffers physically. “I simply ask that you understand that the physical effects of not eating organic are harmful to my body and bio-chemestry,” he wrote.
Watkins, in his filing, said that non-organic food would represent an “object intrusion” into Angeli’s body that, under the shamanistic belief, introduces disease. Angeli’s reaction to non-organic food was immediate, Watkins wrote, and “not simply discomforting, but debilitating and, notably, dehydrating.”
The matter of the organic diet was raised while Angeli was held in Phoenix. It was honored in Arizona after being raised in court. Angeli, in his slip, said he would “kindly and humbly ask that a brief exception be made in this location as well.”
During Angeli’s initial appearance in Phoenix, his public defender mentioned the need for an organic diet. Magistrate Judge Deborah Fine instructed Angeli’s court-appointed attorney to work out the issue with the U.S. Marshal’s Service. She told the attorney to mention that it was under her direction.
“Mr. Chansley needs to eat,” she said using Angeli’s legal name.
However, Angeli’s request for an organic diet was denied by the chaplain for the facility on Monday. The chaplain noted on the slip, which was included in the filing, that Angeli did not identify himself as a shaman when he entered the D.C. facility.
Further, the chaplain wrote that the religious services department was “unable to find any religious merit” showing that practitioners of shamanism need an organic diet.
In his motion, Watkins said the court could solve the diet issue by releasing Angeli. That would also resolve the difficulty Watkins said he had communicated with his client about the case.
Federal prosecutors, in a motion also filed Wednesday ahead of the hearing, opposed Angeli’s release. The motion said the government took no position on his diet while in custody.
Wakins told the judge that since he had granted Angeli’s request for organic food, there was no need to address the release motion on Friday.
Watkins, in his motion arguing for Angeli’s release, said his client was “uniquely postured” to assist both federal investigators and members of Congress in finding out more about the Jan. 6 raid. But, he said, he could only make such offers of cooperation after being able to spend time with his client.
Watkins said in his motion that he had only had “a couple” of unmonitored phone calls with Angeli since he had signed on as his attorney. However, he told the judge in the hearing that he had worked out an arrangement with the D.C. facility that would allow him to speak to his client more often.
Watkins said in his written motion that Angeli had no criminal history and would pose no danger if released.
He said that Angeli practiced non-violence as a shaman. “(T)o the extent,” Watkins wrote, “he captures and releases insects rather than swatting, killing or injuring same.”