A heavy metal guitarist and self-described “founding” member of the Oath Keepers who stormed the U.S. Capitol armed with bear spray has become the first Jan. 6 insurrectionist to plead guilty and cooperate with the feds, prosecutors said Friday.
Jon Ryan Schaffer, a 53-year-old from Indiana, pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a deadly or dangerous weapon during a Friday hearing. During the hearing, Judge Amit Mehta also revealed that Schaffer will be sponsored for witness protection.
“The defendant in this case admits forcing his way into the U.S. Capitol on January 6 for the express purpose of stopping or delaying congressional proceedings essential to our democratic process. These actions are disgraceful and unacceptable,” FBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate said in a statement.
The plea, which requires his full cooperation with federal prosecutors in their ongoing investigation, marks the first time a rioter has copped to his crimes on Jan. 6. It’s been exactly 100 days since thousands of MAGA rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to prevent Joe Biden's electoral certification. So far, 400 individuals have been charged in connection to the riots.
Schaffer was released after the Friday hearing until his sentencing, though he must now submit to court supervision in the Northern District of Indiana, surrender his passport, and stay away from Washington, D.C. His release came after his attorney argued for no travel restrictions, claiming Schaffer is an “internationally known musician and recording artist.”
Plea negotiations between Schaffer’s lawyers and federal prosecutors were unintentionally disclosed earlier this month after sealed Department of Justice documents were accidentally filed on the public docket.
“The government’s ongoing plea negotiations with this defendant are the first and most advanced plea negotiations involving any of the over 300 Capitol Riot defendants,” federal prosecutors wrote in the April 5 filing. By pleading guilty on Friday, Schaffer will likely face a four-year prison sentence.
The guitarist and founding member of the heavy metal band Iced Earth was initially charged in January with six crimes for participating in the Jan. 6 siege while wearing a hat that proclaimed him to be an “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member.”
In his plea agreement, Schaffer “acknowledged he is a founding lifetime member of the Oath Keepers,” and admitted to traveling to D.C. to protest the results of the presidential election, which he believed was rigged, prosecutors stated.
“Schaffer admitted to being among the first individuals to push past the damaged doors and into the Capitol building, forcing officers to retreat. Schaffer and others advanced toward five or six backpedaling USCP officers while members of the mob swelled inside of the Capitol and overwhelmed the officers,” prosecutors said in a press release announcing his plea agreement. “The officers ultimately deployed a chemical irritant to disperse the mob. Schaffer was among the people who were sprayed in the face, after which exited while holding his own bear spray in his hands.”
During the siege, Schaffer allegedly sprayed multiple U.S. Capitol police officers with bear spray as they breached the government building. A criminal complaint also states Schaffer verbally assaulted officers inside the building.
Long before his decision to storm the Capitol alongside his paramilitary members, prosecutors state Schaffer held far-right extremist views.
“During an interview in 2017, Schaffer identified himself as an ‘anarchist’ and referred to the federal government as a ‘criminal enterprise.’ During that same interview, Schaffer stated that the 2016 Presidential election was ‘rigged,’” the complaint states.
After the election, Schaffer attended several Trump rallies protesting the election results, including one March event where he told reports, “If somebody wants to bring violence, I think there’s a lot of us here that are ready for it. We don’t want that, but if they bring it we’re going to respond to that, trust me.”
So far, prosecutors have charged over a dozen Oath Keepers with conspiracy, including Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old former Army vet accused of recruiting members to “fight hand to hand” to take over the Capitol. Prosecutors describe the Oath Keepers as “an organization that characterizes itself as a militia of former law enforcement and military personnel and has often, as a group, urged President Trump to declare Martial Law in order to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College Results.”