Court Battles

Oath Keepers founding member pleads guilty in Jan. 6 riot case

A founding member of the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers pleaded guilty on Friday to charges stemming from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, becoming the first such defendant to enter into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Jon Ryan Schaffer, who was initially arrested in January after turning himself in to FBI agents, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding and one count of entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon.

A federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., had abruptly scheduled a plea agreement hearing on Friday at 11 a.m. Schaffer acknowledged during the hearing that the plea agreement will require him to cooperate with prosecutors.

Schaffer, who is also a guitarist and lead songwriter for the heavy metal band Iced Earth, is the first defendant to plead guilty in connection with actions during the Jan. 6 riot, in which five people died as the Capitol was overrun.

The expected plea deal also marks a significant step in federal prosecutors' investigation into the January pro-Trump mob attack, which has already led to charges against more than 400 people. 

A key part of the probe has now included investigations into far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, and Schaffer's agreement could prompt other defendants to cooperate in exchange for leniency as the Justice Department builds its case for more serious charges against those believed to have helped organize the mayhem.

Schaffer was initially charged in January with six counts that included committing an act of physical violence in a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct. The obstruction of an official proceeding charge carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, which will likely be significantly reduced based upon Schaffer's cooperation.

Judge Amit Mehta told Schaffer on Friday that the charges to which he was pleading guilty could carry up to more than four years in prison.

"On this 100th day since the horrific January 6 assault on the United States Capitol, Oath Keepers member Jon Schaffer has pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including for breaching the Capitol while wearing a tactical vest and armed with bear spray, with the intent to interfere with Congress' certification of the Electoral College results," John Carlin, the deputy attorney general, said in a statement.

"The FBI has made an average of more than four arrests a day, seven days a week since January 6th. 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 was photographed inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 wearing a hat that said "Oath Keepers Lifetime Member." According to the initial January criminal complaint, Schaffer was photographed and captured on surveillance footage spraying Capitol police officers with bear spray as rioters entered the Capitol building. 

The Justice Department has filed several charges against alleged leaders and members of the Oath Keepers, including in a conspiracy case that now has 12 defendants. 

Earlier this month, the agency announced that two alleged Oath Keepers who were part of GOP operative Roger Stone's security detail have been added to the conspiracy indictment. 

The New York Times previously reported that at least six people who guarded Stone when he was in D.C. for the "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the attack were part of the mob that stormed the Capitol.

Federal prosecutors this week said in a court document filed against Kenneth Harrelson, one of the group's members charged in connection with the riot, that group members discussed stashing firearms at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Va., should violence be used against rioters on Jan. 6. 

Updated at 1:08 p.m.

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