A member of the Oath Keepers militia who was charged in connection with the riot at the Capitol pleaded guilty on Friday and agreed to cooperate with the government — potentially against other members of the far-right group.
The guilty plea by the Oath Keeper, Jon Ryan Schaffer, 53, of Indiana, was the first to be entered publicly by any of the more than 400 people who have been charged so far in the Jan. 6 riot. News of the plea emerged last week after secret documents in Mr. Schaffer’s case were briefly unsealed by accident on a federal court database.
Mr. Schaffer’s cooperation with the government could prove instrumental in helping prosecutors pursue much broader conspiracy charges against 12 other members of the Oath Keepers who stand accused of the some of the most serious crimes in the sprawling investigation.
The Oath Keeper conspiracy case is one of two large cases in which prosecutors have charged rioters with hatching plans to commit violence at the Capitol as early as November. As part of the case, the authorities have said they are investigating Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but did not appear to have entered the building.
The other large conspiracy case involves four leaders of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys who led a mob of about 100 members and supporters past police barricades at the Capitol.
Mr. Schaffer, who is also a guitarist and songwriter for the heavy-metal band Iced Earth, was initially charged on Jan. 16, in what amounted to a first wave of criminal complaints, and accused of carrying bear spray and engaging in “verbal altercations” with police officers at the Capitol. Photos from the riot show him wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt under a tactical vest and a baseball cap that read “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member.”
At a hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, Mr. Schaffer pleaded guilty to two charges: obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. Both are felonies and carry a combined total of up to 30 years in prison.
As part of Mr. Schaffer’s deal with the government, prosecutors have agreed to sponsor him for the Witness Protection Program.