(RNS) — At first, the crowd seemed almost euphoric. Gathered in an event space rented for the occasion in Scottsdale, Arizona, they erupted as Jacob Chansley, aka Jake Angeli or the “QAnon shaman,” was introduced, according to a video recording posted online Tuesday (May 30).
It was the beginning of a “welcome home” for Angeli, 35, a Phoenix resident best known for darting through the halls of the U.S. Capitol in horns and face paint during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and occasionally roaring. Released this month after serving roughly a year and a half of his original 41-month sentence for obstructing an official proceeding — which his attorney said was shortened partly due to good behavior — Angeli, who eschews the “QAnon shaman” title, launched into a speech in which he implored listeners to win a “spiritual war” by calling upon a “Christ-like love.”
But as Angeli, wearing a white blazer and a red, white and blue tie, offered details about his personal spiritual beliefs, the audience’s enthusiasm seemed to wane, and Angeli seemed to notice. “I felt a certain silence when I mentioned the name of Buddha, but Buddha’s a good dude, too, you guys,” he said.
In the recording of the event, a woman can be heard yelling back at him, “He’s not our Lord!”
It was a hint at the unlikely and sometimes awkward role Angeli occupies among former President Donald Trump’s most zealous supporters. When discussing Trump (whom he says he still supports) or conspiracy theories common among QAnon devotees (a community he still has an affinity for), Angeli is right at home among other Jan. 6 sympathizers. But his spiritual beliefs, which include elements of what he calls shamanism and the idea that Jesus may have eaten psychedelic mushrooms, have a New Age bent that does not always fit easily within far-right ideology.
The dissonance has implications for Angeli’s post-incarceration life. He hopes to appeal to his fans with a new podcast, an online store and a website, dubbed the “Forbidden Truth Academy,” that charges $500 for consultation on religious and political matters.
In a conversation with Religion News Service by phone as he drove around Phoenix on Wednesday, Angeli spoke at length about religion, politics and his aim to “facilitate the ascension of humanity and spread mass enlightenment.” (As a condition of the interview, he declined to discuss the events of Jan. 6, on the advice of his lawyer.)
Asked about his religious background, Angeli said he was raised Catholic and regularly attended Sunday school as a child. But around the age of 10, he said, he told his mom he wanted to stop going. “I just did not like it at all,” he said. “I always wanted to know God, but I really just did not like the vibe of the church or Sunday school.” His mother obliged him, he said.
Angeli now describes himself as a practitioner of what he calls “Shamanism,” the “oldest religion,” he said, insisting people he describes as shamans could be found in all faith traditions — whether or not they use the term shaman.
Angeli said he sees Jesus, whom he called “my idol,” as “the ultimate shaman” and suggested that Jesus achieved a higher form of realization, referred to as “Rainbow Body” — a concept most often found in Buddhism. He cited the Shroud of Turin as potential proof, claiming the outline of a body believed by some to be created by Jesus’ blood after crucifixion could be formed by burn marks instead, and thus evidence of a physical transformation brought about by achieving Rainbow Body.
Angeli, who sometimes goes by the name “Yellowstone Wolf,” said he does not have a teacher or mentor — “God is my mentor and the angels are my instructors,” he said — and usually practices rituals, which he did not describe, alone.
“Shamanism is the journey from the alone to the alone,” he said.
His beliefs have been characterized as a form of “conspirituality,” or what Hugh B. Urban, professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University, calls a “complex mix of New Age spirituality and conspiracy culture” in a chapter he wrote for a forthcoming book, “Conspiracy, Disinformation, and Media.”
“I would call it ‘neo-shamanism’ in the sense that it’s a modern re-imagining of shamanism that has relatively little in common with any historical practices,” Urban wrote in an email to RNS this week. Angeli, he said, “clearly inhabits the zone where the New Age and conspiracy theory worlds partially overlap.”
People who engage in forms of neo-shamanism have long been accused of appropriating other faiths’ practices. Angeli is no exception: In the aftermath of the Capitol attack, many members of the heathen and wider pagan community condemned Angeli’s tattoos of Norse symbols. One writer expressed outrage at his headgear, which Angeli immediately returned to wearing after his release, calling it a “perversion of the horns.”
Jeff Firewalker Schmitt, the founder of the Eagle Condor Council, an organization that supports traditional communities in Peru, told Vice News after Jan. 6 that claims to shamanism like Angeli’s perpetuate “prejudice and misunderstanding that we have about Indigenous culture.”
Angeli was defiant. Asserting he has Indigenous and Nordic family ties (though acknowledging he doesn’t “have the paperwork to prove it”), he chalked up the pushback to “haters.”
“They can say whatever they want. This is America, and I’d like to keep it that way,” he said. “I really don’t care. I’m gonna do me, and I like me. I’m living the faith.”
Angeli has also been criticized for a prayer he led with fellow insurrectionists in the Senate Chamber, which has been linked to Christian nationalist rhetoric. Invoking Jesus Christ, he thanked God for allowing him and others to send a “message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists that this is our nation, not theirs.” He left behind a note on the Senate dais that read, “It’s Only A Matter Of Time. Justice Is Coming!”
Angeli declined to discuss the prayer and said, “I’m not a Christian nationalist. I’m a shamanic practitioner that understands that all labels are cognitive in nature, and through labeling other people or groups of people, that is the first step to dehumanizing them.”
In discussing his beliefs, he sometimes spoke critically of Christians, saying, “A lot of Christians are not very much like Christ,” and rejecting the idea that Christians have “exclusivity to the truth.”
Even so, Angeli demurred when asked if he opposed a national politics that reflected specifically Christian values. “The founders of our country were Christian, and they founded our nation on Christian principles,” he said, referencing a version of history popular among Christian nationalists.
Angeli said that during his time behind bars, he read both the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. He also had religious conversations with other prisoners: In detention in Washington before trial, he said he talked with former New Mexico County Commissioner Couy Griffin, a pastor and founder of “Cowboys for Trump” who prayed over the crowd on Jan. 6 and has said he believes Trump was appointed by God.
The two met while Angeli was fasting to protest the D.C. jail’s food, which was not organic. The protest, his lawyer claimed, was part of Angeli’s “shamanic belief system and way of life.” (A judge eventually agreed, and Angeli was transferred to another jail that provided him with organic meals.) Angeli recalled that Griffin, who was found guilty of trespassing on Jan. 6, slipped Bible passages underneath his prison door.
“I think it was the Gospel of John, which I had read before, but it was very kind of him,” Angeli said.
Angeli exhibits his own experience of Jesus in “The Basics of Spiritual Warfare,” one of the first videos posted to his new website. In the hourlong video, Angeli insists Jesus belonged to a group of wandering nomads who regularly consumed psychedelic mushrooms. “For those in the Christian community — did I lose you?” he asks. “Well, TFB, man. This is history.”
QAnon conspiracy theories made their way into his conversation, including unfounded claims of elites participating in ritualistic child sacrifice. He also repeatedly referred to “globalists,” a group he insisted were orchestrating evil conspiracies across the planet. Pressed about the term, which is considered by many Jewish Americans to be antisemitic, Angeli said he was not referring to Jewish people, but rather “Satanists” and “Luciferians.”
But Angeli is wary of what he claimed was an “infiltration” of the QAnon community. “Talking about JFK Jr. still being alive and he’s going to be Donald Trump’s vice president, or the idea that the earth is flat — these things are ridiculous,” Angeli said.
In the spiritual regions Angeli is plying, religious boundaries are often a matter of personal politics and tradition. Members of the Reformed Living Bible Church, an evangelical Christian congregation whose name appeared on flyers for Angeli’s welcome home gathering, have since made clear they played no part in organizing the event. Leaders say the association was a mistake, noting they only rent one of the buildings on the same plot of land where it took place.
“We would never join forces with this gentleman,” John Politan, a preaching elder at the church, told RNS. “We would not join forces with somebody who believes in many other religions or many other ways to God.”
Angeli pointed out that other religious figures, such as Jesus and Krishna, also faced disavowals. And he seemed undeterred by the fact that his spiritual and political consultation business has yet to take off.
“No one has taken me up on the offer yet,” he said.
For now, he said, he’s working on planning a spiritual retreat in Arizona and continuing what he says is the work of a “spiritual warrior.”
“It is my intention to ensure that the planet Earth and humanity are saved,” he said.