As expected based on court document that leaked in early April, Iced Earth mastermind Jon Schaffer, who notoriously participated in the seditious riot at the Capitol on January 6, entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors last week. The deal will see him cooperate with authorities by sharing information with them about other conspirators in exchange for a lessened sentence.
As the first such plea bargain to be struck among the nearly 400 rioters charged, Schaffer’s case has received quite a bit of attention from national mainstream news outlets. One of those, MSNBC, invited former federal prosector Glenn Kirschner to speak with Jonathan Capehart on “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” on the April 17 broadcast, where Kirschner explained in more detail what Schaffer’s cooperation means for both he and the federal government.
Kirschner explained the importance of Schaffer’s agreement to cooperate with investigators and indicated that discussions between the parties had likely been ongoing for quite a while already before Schaffer’s guilty plea was officially entered (video embedded at the bottom of this post). He said:
“It’s actually pretty consequential, because this is not as some people have said just a glorified trespassing guilty plea. This is actually a guilty plea with cooperation, which we’ll talk about in a minute, but it’s a guilty plea for a crime that involves breaching the Capitol with the intent to impede a congressional inquiry specifically the Electoral College vote count.
“And when we realize that defendant Schaffer bills himself as a founding member of the Oath Keepers, this is where the cooperation part of the guilty plea comes into play because I can tell you, today was not sort of the first step in a cooperation agreement with defendant Schaffer. This has been going on for some time.
“Anytime a defendant approaches the prosecution, and it wants to consider pleading guilty and cooperating, what we do is we sit down across the table with that aspiring cooperating defendant and we basically make them tell us everything they know about criminal activity. Not only criminal activity they’ve perpetrated, but all of their fellow Oath Keepers, all of their fellow insurrectionists. And then we go about trying to corroborate all that information before we ever strike a plea and cooperation agreement with them.”
When asked what the implications are for others charged in the January 6 insurrection attempt, as well as other activities of any organizations they’re linked to, Kirschner replied:
“Think about this. This man fancies himself as one of the founding members of the Oath Keepers. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Oath Keeper organization has been involved in other criminal activity, but if it has, you can bet the prosecutors are going to wring every drop of criminal information out of defendant Schaffer, not only about the run up to January 6th, not only about the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, but anything the Oath Keepers have been up to.
“And let’s remember, there was some coordination between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. So, you know, I think defendant Schaffer can also provide information potentially about the Proud Boys organization.
“So, this is like the first cooperator shot fired across the bow, and I predict this is going to start the dominos falling. You’re going to see other guilty pleas. You’re going to see other cooperators. And the big ticket question is how far up the criminal food chain can these kind of cooperating defendants take the government.”
As part of the deal, Schaffer will plead guilty to two of the six charges brought against him after the riot: “Obstruction of an Official Proceeding” and “Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon.” The former charge carries a prison sentence of up to twenty years; the latter charge, ten. According to CNN, prosecutors and Schaffer’s attorneys agreed to recommend that his sentence be between three and a half and four and a half years in prison depending on the results of his cooperation.
Schaffer is being represented by the Attorneys for Freedom Law Firm, a practice advertising a specialty in criminal defense, with offices located in Arizona and Hawaii.
Schaffer initially faced six federal charges (four of which have now been dropped):
- “Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority”
- “Disrupting the Orderly Conduct of Government Business”
- “Knowingly Engages in an Act of Physical Violence Against any Person or Property in any Restricted Building or Grounds”
- “Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building”
- “Engage in an Act of Physical Violence in a Capitol Building”
- “Parade, Demonstrate, or Picket in a Capitol Building”
Following his arrest, The New York Times reported that authorities believed Schaffer to be a member of the Oath Keepers, an organized, far-right militia group who planned the invasion of the building in advance, and can be seen wearing an Oath Keepers hat in photos from the insurrection. Days later, however, the Indiana chapter of the Oath Keepers released a statement in which they asserted that Schaffer is not a member of their organization.
Iced Earth vocalist Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity), bassist Luke Appleton, and guitarist Jake Dreyer (Witherfall) have since all announced their departure from Iced Earth. Vocalist Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) quit Schaffer’s other project, Demons & Wizards, earlier this month. Both of those bands no longer appear on the current or former artist pages of Schaffer’s longtime label, Century Media. The label has yet to issue a formal statement as to whether or not they’ve dropped the two acts.
Schaffer has been quite open about his far-right political views for years, openly discussing his mistrust of government (with a special emphasis on the federal reserve), asserting his belief that Trump’s loss in the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election was tipped by illegal immigrants, speaking out in favor of arming teachers to prevent school shootings, and claiming that COVID-19 is a hoax.