Founding member of Oath Keepers set to enter first guilty plea in Jan. 6 Capitol breach
A founding member of the Oath Keepers arrested in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate against others in the case — the first defendant to potentially flip in the sprawling domestic terrorism investigation that has led to charges against more than 400 people.
The scheduled plea comes exactly 100 days after Jon Ryan Schaffer and hundreds of other supporters of former president Donald Trump allegedly stormed the Capitol hoping to prevent Joe Biden from being confirmed as the next president. Prosecutors hope Schaffer’s plea spurs others to provide additional evidence in hopes of avoiding long prison sentences.
The plea marks a new stage in the historic investigation, as prosecutors seek to work up the chain of defendants to gather evidence and better understand the full scope of any planning and organizing of the violence — particularly among groups like the far-right Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. Dozens of members from both groups appeared to act in concert to storm the building, prosecutors have alleged.
Schaffer, 53, a guitarist and lead songwriter for the heavy metal band Iced Earth, was charged on Friday by criminal information, a type of charging document used when a defendant waives the right to an indictment. A plea hearing was set for 11 a.m.
Schaffer has been jailed since he turned himself in to FBI agents in Indianapolis on Jan. 18 after being photographed inside the Capitol wearing a hat that said “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member.”
He was initially charged with six crimes, including engaging in an act of physical violence and targeting police with bear spray.
Friday’s filing shows Schaffer has agreed to plead guilty to only two charges, but both are felony offenses carrying heavy penalties that federal prosecutors are relying on heavily in the wider probe.
One, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; the other, trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol while armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon, carries up to a 10 year prison term.
Those two charges have been brought against roughly one-fourth of individuals charged to date — about 100 of more than 410 defendants — including those accused of the most serious offenses in the riot. Authorities have said the attack on the Capitol led to five deaths, assaults against nearly 140 police and the evacuation of Congress.
Schaffer’s knowledge of other Oath Keepers members’ activities is unclear from court filings, but prosecutors say he was an early backer of the group
Founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized network of right-wing groups including self-styled militias that recruits military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel with a disinformation-fueled ideology that the federal government is bound toward dictatorship.
At a pro-Trump march in November attended by Oath Keepers, the FBI alleged, Schaffer said: “We’re not going to merge into some globalist, communist system. It will not happen. There will be a lot of bloodshed if it comes down to that, trust me.”
The FBI and Justice Department have hit a dozen affiliates of the anti-government group with conspiracy charges for allegedly planning and preparing for violence before Jan. 6. Court papers alleged charged members communicated with Rhodes and his on-the-ground deputy that day and breached the Capitol in formation after guarding GOP figures such as Trump confidant Roger Stone.