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Oath Keepers Member Is 1st To Plead Guilty In Capitol Riot Investigation

Rioters clash with law enforcement as they attempt to enter the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Rioters clash with law enforcement as they attempt to enter the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Updated April 16, 2021 at 1:50 PM ET

A heavy metal musician and founding member of the Oath Keepers extremist group pleaded guilty Friday to charges connected to the storming of the U.S. Capitol and agreed to cooperate with investigators — a first in the massive probe into the deadly Jan. 6 assault.

Jon Schaffer, a guitarist and songwriter for the heavy metal band Iced Earth, entered his plea during a hearing in federal court in Washington, D.C. The plea agreement, which comes 100 days after a mob of Trump supporters violently overran the Capitol, marks a significant step for prosecutors in the case.

Schaffer, who originally faced six counts, pleaded guilty to two charges — obstructing an official proceeding and entering restricted grounds with a dangerous weapon.

In his plea deal, Schaffer acknowledged that on Jan. 6 he was among the first people to force their way through police lines and into the Capitol. He also acknowledged wearing a tactical vest and carrying bear spray as he did so.

At Friday's hearing, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta walked Schaffer through the plea agreement and the charges.

"Are you pleading guilty, Mr. Schaffer, because you are in fact guilty, sir?" Mehta asked.

"Yes," Schaffer replied.

Mehta said the agreement stipulates that Schaffer fully cooperate with investigators, including providing testimony and witness interviews.

It is unclear what Schaffer may be able to tell investigators, but authorities are working to understand what exactly transpired on Jan. 6 and whether it was an organized and coordinated assault.

The FBI is closely scrutinizing the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys as they seek to answer that question.

Prosecutors have brought conspiracy charges against both groups in connection with Jan. 6. The biggest of those cases so far is against a dozen members or associates of the Oath Keepers who are accused of coordinating their actions on Jan. 6 to try to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College count.

Schaffer was arrested in mid-January after turning himself in to the FBI in Indiana. He's been in government custody since then.

The two charges against him carry a maximum sentence of 20 years and 10 years, respectively, although the judge said that — in light of the plea agreement — Schaffer is facing from 3 1/2 to four years under sentencing guidelines.

No sentencing date has been set.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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