“This was a case with undeniably bizarre or obscure elements,” said the BBC, and it was not wrong.
Jaswant Singh Chail was after Queen Elizabeth II, not Queen Amidala or any other queen who may appear in the Star Wars franchise, which I stopped paying attention to a long time ago. Chail, who’s of Sikh heritage, was mad about the 1919 Amritsar massacre in which British-led troops killed hundreds of unarmed protesters. That was a terrible thing, but arguably not Elizabeth’s fault, since she was born in 1926. But she was queen at the time Chail got around to doing something about it, on Christmas Day 2021.
According to the BBC, that morning an officer noticed someone wandering around the grounds of Windsor Castle, and he suspected this person was not authorized to be there because he was wearing an iron face mask and carrying a loaded crossbow. “Morning, can I help, mate?” the officer said, which seems like a very British thing to say to someone wearing an iron face mask and carrying a loaded crossbow. Chail replied, “I am here to kill the Queen.” But he chose not to test his crossbow against the officer’s Taser, and was taken into custody.
It turned out that a few minutes earlier, Chail had posted a Snapchat video in which he apologized for what he was about to do, namely try to assassinate Elizabeth as “revenge” for the victims of the 1919 massacre. He identified himself in the video—although not as Jaswant Singh Chail.
“My name was Jaswant Singh Chail,” he stated, but now “my name is Darth Jones.” That is, Chail had begun thinking of himself as a Sith Lord, all of whom use “Darth” + [something vaguely scary] as their Sith names for some ridiculous reason. In addition to “Darth Vader,” of course, we also have “Darth Maul,” “Darth Sidious,” and “Darth Tyranus,” which is the Sith title of the otherwise hilariously named “Count Dooku,” somehow played by Christopher Lee with a completely straight face. Sorry, not even Christopher Lee could make “Count Dooku” scary. So I guess that name change does make some sense.
Why this guy went with Darth Jones is a question the reports don’t answer. (Another report says it was “Darth Chailis,” which is almost as bad.)
Anyway, Darth later pleaded guilty to three counts: (1) making threats to kill, (2) possession of an offensive weapon, and (3) what the BBC described as “being near to the person of the Queen, wilfully producing a loaded crossbow with intent to use the same to injure the person of her Majesty, contrary to the Treason Act 1842.” Two of those are pretty straightforward, so let’s discuss the other one.
The Treason Act 1842 is only one of many Treason Acts enacted in England and/or the United Kingdom over the centuries. This Wikipedia article lists three or four dozen, along with others that related to treason but weren’t called “Treason Act.” See, e.g., The Popish Recusants Act 1605, 3 Jas. 1 c. 4 (making it treason to obey the Pope instead of the King; since repealed). These date back at least to the Treason Act 1351, which we discussed briefly a few years back. See “What Is Treason?” (July 29, 2016) (opining among other things that Donald Trump hadn’t committed it under U.S. law, although that was in 2016). Part of that Treason Act is still in effect, actually, almost 800 years later. But Darth was charged only with violating the 1842 version, a very broad statute that makes it illegal to have almost any weapon near the Queen “with intent to use the same to injure the person of the Queen, or to alarm her Majesty….” (Emphasis added.)
Why is it a crime to “alarm” the Queen? Good question, thanks for asking, because the answer turns out to be kind of amusing. The Treason Act 1842 was passed shortly after a trio of assaults on Queen Victoria (r. 1819–1901). On May 29 of that year, John Francis aimed a pistol at Victoria but didn’t fire. He seems to have escaped, because as one account says, “[t]he following day, Victoria drove the same route, though faster and with a greater escort, in a deliberate attempt to provoke” the shooter to try again “and catch him in the act.” This time Francis did take the shot, and was promptly arrested, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted, however, and he was “transported” to Australia instead.
This isn’t the explanation of why it’s a crime to alarm the Queen, I just think it’s remarkably bad-ass that Victoria used herself as bait to catch an assassin. I’m a little surprised she didn’t jump out of the carriage and kick his ass herself, but that probably would’ve been considered unseemly at the time.
The ban on alarming the Queen stems from an incident a month later, when hunchback and failed cheesemonger John Bean took a shot at Victoria. His pistol misfired, “as it had mostly been loaded with paper and tobacco,” and Victoria didn’t even notice (luckily for him). Bean was also charged with high treason, but they downgraded it to misdemeanor assault, apparently hoping wrongly that the media would lose interest.
At Bean’s trial, his barrister argued that there could be no “assault” if the victim was unaware of the act, to which the prosecutor responded that a man had once “been indicted for grinning at King George III,” apparently without the latter’s knowledge. Whether the grinning precedent carried the day or not, the case went to the jury and Bean was convicted. But after this, the royals suggested that the death penalty was too harsh for offenses that were arguably treasonous but caused no harm, and asked Parliament to change the law. It did that, and among the lesser treason offenses it established was “intent to alarm.”
Of course, they didn’t need to charge Darth Jones Chailis with that because he admitted he had intended to kill the Queen, not just alarm her. So feel free to retroactively ignore the last three paragraphs, which I point out were provided at no additional charge.
At Chail’s sentencing hearing, the court explored his intent more thoroughly. According to the prosecution, the “defendant’s key motive was to create a new empire by destroying the remnants of the British Empire in the UK,” a motive informed in part by his immersion in the lore of Star Wars and “the role of Sith Lords in shaping the world.” But he was also influenced by his girlfriend Sarai, to whom he disclosed the assassination plot and who repeatedly encouraged him to proceed. She was never charged, however, because she was a chatbot.
“The judge said Chail created an artificial online companion called Sarai,” the BBC reported, “with whom he exchanged thousands of sexually charged messages” in the period leading up to his attack. The BBC thankfully spared readers those messages, but did provide this example of the couple discussing the plot a week in advance:
It’s nice to have a supportive partner, but this seems to be going too far. I don’t think it’s a crime just to encourage someone else to commit one, unless maybe a conspiracy already exists. But here we don’t have to answer these questions because Darth’s girlfriend was not a real person.
Of course, some of the facts above might cause one to suspect that Chail was not entirely sane at the relevant times, but experts disagreed as to whether his mental state warranted hospitalization instead of prison under UK law. Some diagnosed him as psychotic, while others said his careful planning showed he didn’t have a “fundamental breach with reality.” One pointed out that he had apologized for his actions in the Snapchat video and again after being arrested, and argued that “if you are in the grip of a very powerful psychosis you don’t seek to apologize.”
Ultimately, the judge decided to issue a “hybrid order” under the Mental Health Act, which means Chail will be treated first and then sent to prison later. The judge concluded Chail could be punished because he had “experienced homicidal thoughts that he acted on before becoming psychotic,” so it sounds like at least some criminal acts predated his relationship with Sarai and his turn to the Dark Side. He was sentenced to nine years in prison that he will serve after his treatment.
I had hoped to include some information here about the guy who was “indicted for grinning at King George III,” but it looks like further research will be necessary on that one.