Like many Donald Trump supporters who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, Dona Sue Bissey has been promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory on social media. But the judge who sentenced her to 14 days in prison on Tuesday said it was for her actions, not for her beliefs.
Bissey, 53, pleaded guilty in July to marching, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, an offense punishable by up to six months in prison.
Prosecutors argued that statements from a rioter, in person or on social media, should be taken into account when crafting an appropriate sentence. She called Jan. 6 the “best day ever” in a Facebook post, according to court documents. And the federal prosecutor on Tuesday cited Bissey’s online support for QAnon and other conspiracy theories. But they also said Bissey was a “rare case” in which they agreed to recommend probation instead of house arrest or jail, based on his early acceptance of responsibility and his cooperation with the law enforcement.
Instead, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan sentenced her to 14 days of incarceration and 60 hours of community service, noting that she did so because Bissey celebrated and bragged about her participation in what amounted to an attempt to overthrow the government.
“The fact that she subscribes to bizarre conspiracy theories is her right. It’s something she’s allowed to do as an American, ”Chutkan said.
The most serious criminal cases resulting from the massive investigation involve leaders and members of two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Some are accused of plotting coordinated attacks on Capitol Hill to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
But several QAnon adherents also played prominent roles in the riot, and the conspiracy theory seemed to galvanize many more who joined the crowd. Long before the attack, many experts warned of a growing threat of violence driven by disinformation and conspiracy theories like QAnon and its predecessor, the so-called “pizzagate” conspiracy.
Department of Justice prosecutor Joshua Rothstein said Bissey appears to be an avid consumer of other conspiracy theories, including that the coronavirus is a “hoax pandemic” and that the Covid-19 vaccine is part of a Jewish plot to assassinate people. She also seemed to believe that the pandemic was foreshadowed by “predictive programming” during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.
“It’s one thing to believe conspiracy theories in your basement. It’s another thing to act on them, ”he said.
More than 630 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. Federal authorities have connected at least 27 defendants to QAnon, usually through social media posts or clothing they wore on Capitol Hill, according to an Associated Press review of court records.
The guilty plea tally from the Capitol rioters is expected to hit the top 100 this week. At least nine defendants linked to QAnon have pleaded guilty so far. Two were sentenced to probation before Bissey became the 15th rioter to be sentenced.
Meanwhile, around 70 defendants indicted in the January 6 attack are jailed pending trial. Authorities have linked at least 21 of them to far-right groups or movements, including six QAnon supporters, according to the PA review.
A core belief for followers of QAnon is that Trump was secretly fighting a Satan-worshiping child sex trafficking cabal made up of prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites, and “deep state” enemies. Pizzagate was centered on the baseless belief that Democrats were running a sex ring involving children in a pizza place. A federal intelligence report released in June predicted that some “digital soldiers” in the QAnon movement might resort to “real-world violence” as they lose faith in the conspiracy theory prophecies.
Some QAnon followers were easy to spot on January 6 as they wore clothing or signs with a telltale “Q” on them. A shirtless man with a painted face who wore a fur hat with horns and called himself “Shaman QAnon” has become one of the most recognizable rioters.
Bissey’s lawyer said she found solace in a “regular regime of cable news and Facebook scrolling” to distract herself from her financial worries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawyer said Bissey and a friend, Anna Morgan-Lloyd, traveled to Washington to attend the rally where Trump spoke on Jan.6 and only joined the crowd after Trump “concluded his remarks. calls to action “.
“Although this belief has since been debunked, Ms Bissey was convinced on January 6 that the allegations of electoral interference were true,” the defense lawyer wrote.
Bissey was jailed for two days after her arrest in February. In a letter to the judge, Bissey said some of her neighbors in Bloomfield, Indiana had avoided her since the riot. She described herself as “fearful of God, loving the motherland, abiding by the laws, patriotic worker”.
“I am not and have never been a violent person,” she wrote.
Some defendants linked to QAnon risk a significant prison sentence. Sentencing guidelines for Arizona resident Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman,” who pleaded guilty to a felony, could call for a jail term of 41 to 51 months, according to a prosecutor.
Douglas Jensen, an Iowa resident, whom prosecutors called a “religious” adherent of QAnon, has been charged with five felonies and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted. Jensen, whose confrontation with a Capitol Hill police officer was filmed, was released from pre-trial detention but was again jailed for violating his release conditions.
Scott Fairlamb, a New Jersey resident, who pleaded guilty in August to assaulting a police officer and is expected to be sentenced next month, also faces jail time. Fairlamb’s Instagram and Facebook accounts showed he was a QAnon believer who promoted the false claim that Trump would become the first president of the “New Republic” on March 4, 2021, prosecutors said.
A prosecutor in another riot case cited the embrace of a California man from QAnon as arguing that he was dangerous and should be detained before his trial.
“The accused was not just there, sitting in his basement, absorbing this material. He acts on it, amplifies it and repeats it, ”Assistant US Attorney Andrew Bosse said during a February 12 detention hearing for Eduardo Nicolas Alvear Gonzalez.
Defense attorney Rodolfo Cejas said it was not illegal for Gonzalez to brag about conspiracy theories online.
“Unfortunately, if people want to believe the earth is flat, it is not a crime. There are people who don’t believe that someone has been to the moon. It is not a crime, ”he said.
Also on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden sentenced Texas resident Eliel Rosa to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service for joining the riot. A prosecutor had recommended a month of home confinement and 60 hours of community service.