Heavy metal guitarist is 1st suspect to plead guilty in Capitol riot

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — A heavy metal guitarist became the first defendant to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Friday.

Jon Ryan Schaffer, a native of Indiana and the frontman of the band Iced Earth, has agreed to cooperate with investigators in hopes of getting a lighter sentence while the Justice Department will consider putting Schaffer in the federal witness security program, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said.

Schaffer entered a guilty plea to charges of obstructing the certification of the 2020 election and breaching a restricted building with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

He is among hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the November election results. Rioters battled with police, smashed windows and sent lawmakers fleeing for safety. Schaffer turned himself in to police less than two weeks after the insurrection.

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

At the beginning of the plea hearing, a lawyer for Schaffer agreed with a federal prosecutor 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.”

“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. These actions are disgraceful and unacceptable” said FBI Deputy Director Paul M. Abbate in a statement to NewsNation. “The FBI and our partners will continue to utilize all available authorities to aggressively investigate, pursue and hold accountable those who committed acts of violence or otherwise violated the rule of law that day.” 

In the days following the attack Billboard Magazine reported fellow Iced Earth band members released a statement condemning the attack on the Capitol.

“We absolutely DO NOT condone nor do we support riots or the acts of violence that the rioters were involved in on January 6th at the US Capitol building,” the statement read in part. “We hope that all those involved that day are brought to justice to be investigated and answer for their actions.”

More than 370 people have been arrested and charged with taking part in the violence. The most serious charges have been assault, conspiracy and obstruction of Congress or law enforcement. The Justice Department has indicated it is in separate plea negotiations with other defendants. In a statement to NewsNation, Acting Deputy Attorney General John P. Carlin said the FBI has made an average of more than four arrests a day connected to the insurrection since Jan. 6.

You can read the charging documents below:

Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball of Reuters and Michael Balsamo and Alanna Durkin Richer of AP. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.