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Oath Keepers founding member becomes first to plead guilty over US Capitol riot

On Friday, a founding member of the right-wing Oath Keepers became the first person to plead guilty to taking part in the U.S. Capitol riot, signaling a new stage in investigating the deadly January assault on the seat of American democracy. Jon Schaffer, a native of Indiana and founder of the band Iced Earth, entered a guilty plea to two felony charges of obstructing the certification of the 2020 election and breaching a restricted building.

Supporters of then-US President Donald Trump storm the US Capitol on 2 January, 2021, in Washington, DC.

During a Washington D.C. federal court hearing, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said Schaffer, 52, had no previous criminal record and voluntarily contacted authorities shortly after the Capitol riot.

The judge indicated that Schaffer was involved in discussions about cooperating with government investigators and agreed to release him from custody on his own recognizance, with another hearing scheduled for mid-June. Schaffer is among hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump, who stormed the Capitol to overturn the November election results. Rioters battled with police, smashed windows, and sent lawmakers fleeing for safety.

Five people, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, died in the violence.

Supporters of then-US President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on 2 January 2021 in Washington, DC. Prosecutors said Schaffer wore a tactical vest and carried bear spray repellant when he joined the attack on the Capitol 100 days ago. At Friday’s hearing, a lawyer for Schaffer agreed that Schaffer entered the Capitol that day as Congress prepared to certify the Electoral College vote in favor of Joe Biden.

In a court filing, prosecutors said Schaffer, who was photographed during the Capitol riot wearing a cap with the insignia of the right-wing Oath Keepers, “was among the rioters who sprayed United States Capitol Police officers with ‘bear spray.’ Prosecutors said Schaffer was “photographed and captured on surveillance video” carrying the bear spray and also was filmed “engaging in verbal altercations with Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol Building. More than 400 people have been arrested and charged with taking part in the violence. The most serious charges have been an assault, conspiracy, and obstruction of Congress or law enforcement.

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