Jake Angeli has become the de facto mascot of the far-right American mythology – be it through his tattooed icons of white supremacy, peddling of QAnon conspiracy theories, or a heady cocktail of new-age religion, alien advocacy and psychedelic drug use. In this article, we take a look at Angeli’s place in the fractured, dangerous online world of 2021, and its role in the insurrection on Capitol Hill.
[Author’s Note: This article was written on 20/1/2021, the final day of the Trump Presidency. I make no predictions for any events in the days to come, merely offering a commentary on the aftermath of the Capitol Riots.]
While the world watched in shock as a determined group of radical conservatives stormed the US Capitol building, attempting to overturn the results of a fair and democratic election, one figure dominated the spotlight. Looking like your average Burning Man attendee, Jacob Chansley (aka Jake Angeli) wore a traditional Native American war headdress with horns and coyote fur, American flag face-paint, and carried a spear and bullhorn. He stepped from the floor of the Senate building into world history when photos began to circulate from the insurrection.
Almost immediately he became the perfect mascot for the bizarre, amorphous world of ultra-right wing discourse in America. A look into Angeli’s presence online, aesthetic and statements before and after the riot give an excellent insight into the fracturing world of the far-right in the wake of Trump’s defeat in November.
Playing at Revolution
Perhaps unique among any political uprisings in modern history, the participants in the Capitol Riots not only made little to no effort to hide their identities, but indeed actively broadcast them to the world through social media. The internet was abuzz with images and footage from the shocking day. People everywhere recognised the historical significance of the event immediately. In addition to posting selfies and posturing for the media, many rioters live-streamed their movements through the various restricted offices, chambers and galleries.
Historically, people attempting to overthrow democracies wear military uniforms, protective equipment or at the very least face coverings. The Trump supporters in question, however, looked to have stepped out of a costume party.
The outfits and regalia were as spectacular as they were tacky – about the only unifying factors were MAGA hats and American flags.
Their champion was perhaps the most elaborately dressed of all. And this was by no means the first public appearance of the ‘QAnon Shaman’.
An Unlikely Figurehead
Angeli, 32, is a self-described ‘QAnon digital warrior, a shaman and ordained minister, a published author and former YouTube personality’. For a number of months, he has attended Trump rallies, giving his proud vocal support for the president and practicing his new-age religious beliefs. He’s gone on record discussing his frequent use of psychedelics to disrupt his consciousness and get him in touch with the universe.
Discharged from the Navy for refusing a vaccination, he is unemployed, and still lives with his mother. He believes that he is an alien, or a higher being, and that his purpose on Earth is to ascend to a higher level of consciousness. If there is such a thing as the ‘Rabbit Hole’, Angeli has well and truly tumbled down it.
In the aftermath of the riot, he has been taken into custody, and will remain there until his trial.
Fine orders that Chansley be detained pending trial.
— Daniel Barnes (@dnlbrns) January 15, 2021
If a character like Angeli seems like an unusual sight at a Republican event, you’d have been right for any election – except this one.
There’s a lot to unpack in his aesthetic, but each detail provides a bigger piece of the puzzle than the last. This is as true of his rhetoric as his outfits – his commentary on the Q Anon movement and his own identity give telling insights into the strange, fractured world of the Trumpist movement.
Satanist Paedophiles Run the Government – and Only Donald Trump Can Stop Them
So goes the theory espoused by the followers of ‘Q’ – an anonymous figure, allegedly with top-level clearance in the US intelligence community. Since 2017, Q has posted on image boards like 4chan with coded messages for their followers to interpret and debate. According to their mysterious source, America, and by extension the world, is run by a cabal of cannibalistic, devil-worshipping paedophiles.
Donald Trump is the chosen champion of a faction within the US military and government that want to overthrow this evil organisation, and everything Trump has done or said over the last four years has been sending coded messages to his loyal supporters.
Q’s predictions range from very specific predictions (usually involving the imminent arrest of a public figure, often Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama) to more general prognostications of “The Storm”, a great unveiling of Q and Trump’s master plan to expose the crimes against humanity by these people, along with the arrests and executions of hundreds of thousands of politicians, celebrities and enemies of Trump.
Hiding in the Web
As with most contemporary conspiracy theories, the internet has provided the perfect Petri dish for these ideas to grow, evolve and spread. Like most, once one looks deep enough, they all start to bleed into one another. A brief browse of /pol/ (4chan’s ‘Politically Incorrect’) provides exactly what one would expect to see – old-school Anti-Semitism, neo-Nazi rhetoric, shameless use of shocking racist and sexist slurs, and a lack of basic syntax. It is also a hive of baseless, anonymous and nonsensical claims about the world, be it cultures, ethnic groups or prominent individuals.
But it’s definitely a mistake to not take these groups seriously. The FBI has declared Q Anon to be a potential domestic terror threat. And unlike many other fringe groups that have a more radical anti-authoritarian bent, or that espouse a return to Christian or pagan values, Q Anon’s agenda is more specific – defend Donald Trump.
While Q Anon has existed since 2017, the pandemic gave it a whole new lease on life. With people in the US increasingly estranged from one another, whether through lockdowns, crippling unemployment levels or the stark reality of the country’s ever-rising death toll, people are more fearful and internet-dependent than ever. And while social media companies like Twitter are finally acting to silence accounts glorifying violence and encouraging further insurrection, many see this as too little, too late.
The Big Lie
The power of Q Anon is that its claims are so enormous, so extreme, that surely they must be true (at least, so the logic goes). This is known as a “Big Lie” – a term coined in reference to Adolf Hitler – and can be a terrifyingly effective political weapon. In his case, the conspiracy that the Jews had undermined the German war effort in 1918 and lost them the war they should have won, and that they were further conspiring to overthrow and exterminate the German race, was so outlandish and ridiculous that many Germans believed it out of principle.
Coerced by deep-seated Anti-Semitism, the trauma of World War One, and the recent Great Depression, this Big Lie allowed Hitler to consolidate his power and lead his country into a period of evil on an industrial scale.
Many would classify Q Anon as another Big Lie. That it emerged from an anonymous internet source rather from Trump himself is irrelevant. Its reach spreads wide and its influence is surprisingly powerful. Trump’s involvement with the Birther movement, which claimed Barack Obama was not a US citizen and demanded to see his birth certificate, proved that he is not above spreading deliberate falsehoods for political gain. And his alleged ignorance of QAnon is also irrelevant – it nearly enabled him to overturn a democratic election.
It’s unclear how many worship at the temple of Q. But it seems fairly clear that the movement has more in common with a religion or cult than a political cause.
The Q Shaman
Jake Angeli’s getup – one he has rocked at several demonstrations, mostly in and around his native Phoenix – reveals many of the attitudes and influences on the Q Anon movement. Firstly and most obviously are the American flags. The United States is an exceptionally religious place, especially when it comes to their patriotism. The conflation of all the other pagan symbols we are about to examine with the American flag is a clear indicator of how the American mythos is omnipresent in their culture.
Angeli’s headdress is also interesting to consider. It is the skin of the coyote (not bear, as many falsely reported). To Angeli, the coyote is important because many Native American traditions consider the coyote to be a trickster. Embodying the coyote allows him to take on its cunning and foresight. The headdress is also a striking piece of pagan ceremonial dress, in keeping with his self-proclaimed shamanic identity.
The tattoos that adorn his arms and torso are Norse in origin. The symbols include Mjolnir, hammer of the thunder god Thor, as well as Ygdrasill, the World Tree that connects the various worlds together in Norse mythology. On his left shoulder is the Black Sun, also known as the Sonnenrad, while below it is the Valknot. These have decidedly different connotations to Angeli’s other pagan attire, however. Symbols like these have been co-opted by white supremacists since the Nazis rose to power.
Heinrich Himmler, one of the main architects of the Holocaust and a leader of the Nazi party, used the Black Sun insignia frequently, both as a decorative symbol and as a possible alternative to the more iconic Swastika. Hitler was also very fond of Norse iconography, connecting his dream of an ethnostate with an imagined Aryan Germany lost to history.
Neo-Nazi movements have also used the symbol, employing it as a coded sign of loyalty . Norse imagery also invokes the Nordic Theory that believes in a superior Aryan race, stemming from Scandinavia through Germany, that should rule over other, lesser groups of people.
It should be strongly stressed that these symbols and their invocation represent the actual cultures of medieval Scandinavia just as little as the headdress Angeli wears represents the culture it is borrowing from. Academics in the field are struggling against Norse Culture being appropriated by white supremacists. Whether Angeli strictly holds these views or just enjoys the aesthetic and pagan implications is unclear, but given his actions it seems more likely that the former is true.
The Avatar of the Movement
Angeli is more than just a criminal in a costume. He represents everything there is about the movement. He is obsessed with media narratives, with showing his loyalty to the President, and with proving that he makes up his own mind and sticks to his beliefs. His wilfulness to mix symbols from several wildly different, even contradictory cultures and sources, shows the typical attitude of taking things at face value, of ignoring nuance, of blind trust in voices on the internet over official, ‘establishment’ sources.
Ultimately, Angeli is a product of his time. While distinctive, he is by no means a unique entity in the American political landscape. As the West attempts to heal after four years of divisive politics, erosion of truth and accountability in public discourse, and a narrowly avoided sedition, we shall have to see whether QAnon and its followers will go the way of the Norse, or whether their mythology will live on in the dark corners of the internet.
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