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Oath Keeper enters first guilty plea in Capitol attack inquiry, agrees to help government

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/16/2021 Erin Mansfield and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
a group of people are drinking from a glass: Indiana resident Jon Schaffer, right, is shown inside the U.S. Capitol Building during the Jan. 6, 2021, rioting, according to the FBI. He is now facing six federal criminal charges. © FBI Indiana resident Jon Schaffer, right, is shown inside the U.S. Capitol Building during the Jan. 6, 2021, rioting, according to the FBI. He is now facing six federal criminal charges.

An Indiana man who wore an Oath Keepers Lifetime Member hat in the halls of Congress on Jan. 6 has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors and will cooperate in the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation. 

Jon Ryan Schaffer, a heavy metal guitarist from Indiana, entered two guilty pleas in federal court on Friday on felony counts of obstruction of an official proceeding, and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon. 

This is the first guilty plea in the DOJ’s investigation into the Jan. 6. siege of the U.S. Capitol. The cooperation agreement is a key turning point for prosecutors who have been pursuing a broad conspiracy case against groups of rioters, including the paramilitary Oath Keepers group and the far-right Proud Boys organization.

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In court documents in March, prosecutors said the ongoing conspiracy inquiry involves "a large number of participants." Prosecutors also have indicated that they have significant information on Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes actions during the attack. 

On Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray described the investigation as perhaps the largest inquiry since the 9/11 attacks.

Prosecutors say Schaffer wore a tactical vest and carried bear spray and positioned himself at the front of a crowd that pushed past four Capitol Police officers on the west side of the building. 

“Schaffer admitted to being among the first individuals to push past the damaged doors and into the Capitol building, forcing officers to retreat,” the Department of Justice said in a news release. “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. The officers ultimately deployed a chemical irritant to disperse the mob.” 

"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,” FBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbatte said in a news release. “These actions are disgraceful and unacceptable.” 

a group of people standing in front of a building: The FBI says Kenneth Harrelson is among 13 Oath Keepers who took part in the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. © SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images The FBI says Kenneth Harrelson is among 13 Oath Keepers who took part in the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Schaffer is a founding lifetime member of the extremist group known as the Oath Keepers, prosecutors say. Separate from Schaffer’s case, the DOJ has charged 12 members of the Oath Keepers, many with conspiracy for planning together ahead of the attack. 

The terms of the plea agreement are broad and require Schaffer to fully cooperate with any matters the government deems relevant. The terms also leave open the possibility that Schaffer will be offered witness protection. 

Schaffer has not yet been sentenced. The obstruction charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and the weapons charge 10 years in prison. He was originally arrested in January on six different federal charges related to his actions on Jan. 6, but the remaining four charges have apparently been dropped. 

The plea agreement estimates Schaffer may serve 41 to 51 months in prison and face fines between $15,000 and $150,000. These recommendations are lower than maximum allowable penalties because of his lack of criminal history.

A federal judge also authorized Schaffer’s release from jail. He will be permitted to travel within the lower 48 states and will not be allowed to carry any firearms, including ones he may already legally own. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oath Keeper enters first guilty plea in Capitol attack inquiry, agrees to help government

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