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News

CAPITOL RIOT: Oath Keeper Becomes First To Plead Guilty, Sentence Depends On Cooperation

Jon Schaffer
Jon Schaffer Photo Credit: left: Markus Felix, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons / MIDDLE: CNN / RIGHT: FACEBOOK

One hundred days after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, a lifetime member of the Oath Keepers who plays in a metal band admitted Friday that he breached the building in a tactical vest and armed with bear repellent.

Rather than face trial, Jon Schaffer, 53, of Columbus, Indiana, took a deal from the government, pleading guilty unlawfully entering the Capitol to obstruct Congress’ certification of the U.S. presidential election results. 

The conviction could get the Iced Earth guitarist sent to federal prison for up to four years -- or more -- depending on how much he helps prosecutors convict others.

That could mean significant time shaved from the potential term, given that more than 350 people in all have been charged in what has become a widespread domestic terrorism investigation.

"The FBI has made an average of more than four arrests a day, seven days a week since January 6th,” Acting Deputy Attorney General John P. Carlin said Friday. “I commend the hundreds of special agents, prosecutors and support staff that have worked tirelessly for the last hundred days to bring those who committed criminal acts to justice."

Schaffer admitted forcing his way into the building with “the express purpose of stopping or delaying congressional proceedings essential to our democratic process,” FBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate added. “These actions are disgraceful and unacceptable.”

Schaffer, in his plea, claimed to be a founding member of the Oath Keepers, a large, loosely-knit collection of those associated with militias and others who’ve questioned the legitimacy of the government and threatened political violence.

Schaffer told U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta that he was in Washington, DC that day to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally protesting the election of Joe Biden as president over incumbent Donald Trump.

After the rally ended, he said, he joined a large crowd that marched from the Ellipse to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress, presided over by Vice President Michael Pence, was in session to certify the electoral college vote results.

Schaffer said he was with the mob that forced its way into the building, which disrupted the joint session and had Secret Service agents escorting members of Congress and the vice president out.

He told the judge he walked past restrictive barriers and positioned himself in front of a crowd that broke open a set of doors on the west side.

Schaffer said he and others pushed their way in, forcing a quartet of U.S. Capitol Police officers in riot gear to retreat.

The mob advanced toward more USCP officers, eventually overwhelming them, he said.

Security footage showed Schaffer in a scuffle with Capitol police, who eventually dispersed the crowd with pepper spray.

Schaffer, who was among those sprayed, told Mehta that he turned and left the building at that point.

Federal authorities said he was still holding a cannister of bear repellent capsaicin pepper spray, commonly referred to as bear spray.

Schaffer, who surrendered to authorities with his lawyer, told federal agents that he was in the building for barely 60 seconds, according to court documents.

He also said he unholstered the bear spray because he thought someone was trying to take it, records show.

Although Schaffer had no criminal record to that point, federal agents pointed to a video interview from November of last year in which he said there would be “bloodshed” if the current administration came to power.

He “claimed he would only respond to violence in self defense,” they noted, adding: “There was no violence directed against him on January 6, 2021, yet he engaged in violent and destructive behavior when he entered the Capitol armed with a weapon."

Mehta accepted Schaffer’s plea to obstruction of official proceedings and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.

Federal prosecutors said they will recommend a prison term of from 3½ to four years, depending on Schaffer’s cooperation before sentencing.

That could involve testifying before a grand jury, although prosecutors haven’t publicly said so.

For now, Schaffer remains in federal custody.

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