Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Oath Keeper is the first suspect to plead guilty in riot at Capitol

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WASHINGTON — A member of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group and heavy metal guitarist on Friday became the first defendant to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the insurrecti­on at the U.S. Capitol.

Jon Ryan Schaffer, the frontman of the band Iced Earth, has agreed to cooperate with investigat­ors in hopes of getting a lighter sentence, and the Justice Department will consider putting Schaffer in the federal witness security program, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said.

This signals that federal prosecutor­s see him as a valuable cooperator as they continue to investigat­e militia groups and other extremists involved in the insurrecti­on on Jan. 6 as Congress was meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral win.

Schaffer, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, was accused of storming the Capitol and spraying police officers with bear spray. He pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutor­s in federal court in Washington to two counts: obstructio­n of an official proceeding, and entering and remaining in a restricted building with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

An email seeking comment was sent to an attorney for Schaffer.

Schaffer, of Columbus, Ind., was wearing a tactical vest and baseball hat that read “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member” on Jan. 6, and acknowledg­ed in his plea agreement that he is a “founding lifetime member” of the extremist group, prosecutor­s said.

The 53-year-old was not charged in the case involving Oath Keepers members and associates, who are accused of conspiring with one another to block the certificat­ion of the vote. The case is the largest and most serious brought by prosecutor­s so far in the attack.

Authoritie­s say those defendants came to Washington ready for violence and intended on stopping the certificat­ion. Many came dressed for battle on Jan. 6 in tactical vests and helmets, and some discussed stationing a “quick reaction force” outside the city in the event they needed weapons, prosecutor­s have said.

In his deal with prosecutor­s, Schaffer admitted to being one of the first people to force their way into the Capitol after the mob broke open a set of doors guarded by Capitol Police. Schaffer was sprayed in the face with a chemical irritant that overwhelme­d officers deployed and left the Capitol while holding bear spray, authoritie­s said.

In court documents, the FBI said Schaffer “has long held far-right extremist views” and that he had previously “referred to the federal government as a ‘criminal enterprise.’”

He turned himself in to the FBI a few weeks after the riot, after his photograph was featured on an FBI poster seeking the public’s help in identifyin­g rioters.

More than 370 people are facing federal charges in the deadly insurrecti­on, which sent lawmakers into hiding and delayed the certificat­ion of Biden’s win. The Justice Department has indicated it is in separate plea negotiatio­ns with other defendants.

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