Jon Schaffer, a guitarist for the metal band Iced Earth whose angry image made him one of the faces of the pro-Trump mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol in January, has become the first rioter to plead guilty for playing a role in the attack.
A plea deal described the musician as “unlawfully entering the Capitol building, armed with bear spray, intending to stop or delay the Congressional proceeding” of certifying the presidential election.
The Indiana native had faced six charges but, in the deal, pleaded guilty to two, both felonies: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, which could lead to up to 20 years in prison; and trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol while armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon, punishable by up to 10 years.
A judge will decide his punishment, but the guidelines under which the deal was made recommend a prison term of 41-51 months.
It’s not as if the group has any imminent touring or recording plans that a stint in prison could interrupt. Following Schaffer’s arrest, two members of Iced Earth, singer Stu Block and bassist Luke Appleton, quit the band. All of the group’s other members had earlier signed a statement disavowing Schaffer and his actions in the insurrection.
Schaffer’s distinctively long beard and furious visage were captured in a widely disseminated photo that eventually appeared as part of an FBI “wanted” list. Given his level of notoriety as part of a metal band with at least mid-level success, he was possibly the most easily identifiable Capitol invader.
The plea deal described Schaffer as “a founding lifetime member of the Oath Keepers… a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias. Some members of the Oath Keepers, including Schaffer, believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
The document described Schaffer as being at the forefront of a mob that advanced on and eventually overtook Capitol police inside the institution’s front doors, as members of Congress raced to safety. It said that the rocker took on pepper spray in the face from retreating officers, and he “thereafter exited the building, with his unholstered bear spray now in hand, through the same doors that he had entered through approximately nine minutes earlier.”
The document quoted the guitarist as telling an interviewer at an earlier “Million MAGA March” in November 2020: “A group of thugs and criminals hijacked this country a long time ago. And now they’re making their big move, and it’s not gonna happen …People need to wake up and snap out of the Matrix, because they’re going down… They’re messing with the wrong people here, trust me on that. And we needed it to be open like this. Open fraud. Open theft. Because now we see you, and you’re going down, mark my words. … [I]f somebody wants to bring violence, I think there’s a lot of us here that are ready for it.”
In the plea deal, Schaffer conceded “his belief that the Electoral College results were fraudulent is not a legal justification” for attempting to forcefully advance on Congress.
It’s believed the Justice Department may show leniency in his sentencing as a result of his guilty plea and ongoing cooperation with investigators in other cases.
The Washington Post quoted his attorney, Marc Victor, as saying, ““He is the first person to plead guilty in this historic investigation to take responsibility for his role in the Capitol riot. He contacted authorities as soon as he discovered he was a person of interest, and he self surrendered.”
former federal prosecutor Peter Skinner as saying of the deal: “Clearly, they’re trying to send a strong signal to other Oath Keepers and leaders that there’s somebody in the organization that is going to be telling them everything they know about the organization.”
In past performances by Iced Earth, Schaffer has worn a Confederate flag bandana. He had been a guest on Alex Jones’ conspiracy-laden show. In 2020, Schaffer did an interview in which he proclaimed that COVID-19 is “a psychological warfare campaign on the people” and warned against “the global elite families that run the federal reserve banking system.”
Iced Earth released 12 original studio albums since 1990, the last of which, 2017’s “Incorruptible,” represented the group’s chart peak to date. Schaffer produced the album and wrote or co-wrote all of its songs, which included titles like “Seven Headed Whore,” “Great Heathen Army” and “Clear the Way (December 13, 1862),” a song memorializing the Battle of Fredericksburg in the Civil War.