A self-described “poster boy” for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was sent back to jail Thursday after violating a federal judge’s order to stay off the Internet — a lapse his lawyer attributed to his seeming addiction to the QAnon cult.
Jensen — wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a large “Q” and an eagle — came to Washington believing that members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were going to be arrested for opposing President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly said at a hearing Thursday. The judge was in D.C., and Jensen appeared from Des Moines via video link.
“He was at the forefront of a mob deep inside the Capitol because he wanted a front row to see what would happen. . . . He wanted to be part of a revolution,” Kelly said, citing Jensen’s own statements.
Kelly said it was a “close call” when he released Jensen from jail July 13. At the time, the judge said he believed the assertion by Jensen that after being behind bars since Jan. 8, he recognized he had been deceived by “a pack of lies.”
Jensen agreed to abide by the judge’s order imposing conditions for his release, including not accessing the Internet or using Internet-capable devices, including cellphones. The court’s point was to separate Jensen from the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, which the FBI has warned could encourage violence among some believers of its false foundational claim that a cabal of Satan-worshipping “global elites” and “deep state” international child-sex traffickers were engaged in plots to conduct a coup against Trump.
But two weeks after Jensen’s release, a court supervision officer found him alone in his garage streaming news from a right-wing site to a WiFi-enabled iPhone, according to court filings, and prosecutors moved to revoke his bail.
Jensen later admitted that he had also spent two days watching a “cyber symposium” held by pillow magnate Mike Lindell to perpetuate false claims that the 2020 election was hacked in favor of President Biden.
On Thursday, Jensen’s defense lawyer, Christopher M. Davis, said that at first glance it might seem “Orwellian” that a man in his garage could be sent back to jail for streaming the news, but Davis conceded that Jensen had violated the judge’s plain order.
“We know why we’re here. . . . Mr. Jensen knows he shouldn’t have done this,” Davis said.
“I do liken this to an addiction. Why else would anyone incarcerated in D.C. jail for six months and just released do this? . . . I don’t have a good answer for this. I don’t think he does either,” Davis said.
Jensen has said he followed QAnon for four years, eventually spending most of his waking, nonworking hours pursuing it and becoming a “digital soldier” and “religious” adherent.
Jensen is now “in therapy, but what that is going to do, I don’t know,” Davis said. “I almost liken it to a compulsion. It just doesn’t add up. This is an intelligent man. I know this — he is not a bumbling idiot, in any sense of the word. He understands.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hava Mirell argued that Jensen claimed both that he felt deceived by QAnon and that he remains captivated by it, saying, “He can’t have it both ways.”
“There are no additional conditions this court could impose to ensure that Mr. Jensen does not return to the habits that led him to the Capitol, [to] resist police throughout the day and led him to jail,” Mirell said.
Kelly said he found “clear and convincing evidence” that Jensen barely hesitated before violating court orders and was unlikely to abide by them in the future.
Kelly remanded Jensen to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the federal courthouse in Des Moines and set a Sept. 24 hearing to assess the status of plea talks.
The QAnon conspiracy theory played a role in Jensen’s alleged, violent and very serious conduct, the judge said, and “played a major role in a very, very serious event.” Jensen claimed that he had experienced “a wake-up call that had ended his victimization,” but that reawakening appears not to have been completed, Kelly said.
Jensen has pleaded not guilty to a seven-count indictment that includes three felony charges: rioting, assaulting police and obstruction of a congressional proceeding. He could be sent to prison for up to 20 years.
The FBI noted in a threat assessment dated June 4 that more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents had been arrested in the storming of the Capitol. The assessment said their presence underscored how the current environment “likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action.”
The FBI assessed that some of QAnon’s violent extremist adherents were likely to begin believing that they had an obligation to shift “towards engaging in real-world violence,” even as others disengaged from the movement.
Separately Thursday, a federal judge ordered the Federal Defender’s Office in D.C. to appear next Thursday as possible “advisory counsel” for one of 17 Jan. 6 defendants represented by lawyer John Pierce, who has been reportedly hospitalized for nearly two weeks without explanation to judges or prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta issued the order in case defendant Peter Schwartz, a Kentucky welder who has pleaded not guilty to a 14-count indictment, wanted to replace Pierce after an employee of Pierce’s law firm failed to explain Pierce’s absence to Schwartz or arrange for another lawyer to appear, as Mehta had requested at a hearing Aug. 26.
Ryan Marshall, Pierce’s employee, did say he had spoken directly to Pierce three days earlier for the first time since Aug. 23. Marshall told the judge that Pierce said he was seriously ill but expected to be released from a hospital this week, without saying why or providing further elaboration.
Marshall also said that although Pierce had 17 clients, he had never spoken with Pierce’s firm’s other named partner and did not know of any other lawyer working with the firm.