Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer Belongs to “Right-Wing Militia” Group Oath Keepers, New York Times Report Says
A new report in the New York Times indicates that Iced Earth leader Jon Schaffer, who was arrested on Sunday for his role in the pro-Trump riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, is a member of an organized, far-right militia group known as the Oath Keepers who planned the invasion of the building in advance.
While most of the rioters spontaneously stormed the Capitol, investigators are increasingly focused on small groups of extremists who plotted their actions in advance. One such group, The Oath Keepers, a militia-style organization founded by military and law enforcement veterans, believe that a shadowy globalist cabal is plotting to take away Americans’ rights. Schaffer was wearing an Oath Keepers hat in a widely circulated photo taken inside the Capitol and has expressed similar views in several interviews over the years.
Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, Donovan Crowl, 50, and Jessica Watkins, 38, were identified by the Times as leaders of the Oath Keepers faction present at the Capitol. Charging documents identify a group dressed in paramilitary gear and Oath Keepers paraphernalia that stood out for their coordination. A video depicts roughly 10 members of the group in helmets “mov[ing] in an organized and practiced fashion and forc[ing] their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the U.S. Capitol.” All were charged with conspiracy to commit federal crimes and are currently being held.
The report identifies the Iced Earth guitarist by full name for his role in the Capitol riots and allegiance with the Oath Keepers:
“A criminal complaint filed Saturday against Jon Ryan Schaffer, a guitarist for the heavy metal band Iced Earth, accused of being among rioters who sprayed Capitol Police with “bear spray,” said he has long held “far-right extremist views” and suggested that he is a member of the Oath Keepers.”
The report details how the group, led by Mr. Caldwell, planned and executed the organized ambush of the Capitol:
“Mr. Caldwell had advised militia members to stay in a particular Comfort Inn in Washington’s suburbs, according to messages cited in court documents, advising that it offered a good base to ‘hunt at night’ — apparently meaning looking for antifa-style left-wing protesters to fight. Ms. Watkins apparently rented a room there under an assumed name, an F.B.I. agent said.
“Federal investigators also recovered audio recordings of Ms. Watkins’ voice during the riot from the Zello cellphone app, which acts like a walkie-talkie, speaking to other people thought to be Oath Keepers. ‘We have a good group,’ she said early in the riot, according to the charging document. “We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan.” An unknown male responded, “We’ll see you soon, Jess. Airborne.”
“An unidentified man said later, ‘You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly; we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.’ Ms. Watkins responded that she and others were under the main dome of the Capitol, and another unknown male voice encouraged her to continue, saying this was what they ‘trained for.’”
The Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 by disbarred Montana lawyer Stewart Rhodes, are named for their members’ desire to uphold their oaths to protect the Constitution. Chapters are scattered around the U.S. with no central location, although the organization, which claims to have 35,000 members, has a formal structure, including bylaws and dues. Members were present at the showdown between the Bundy family and the federal government in Oregon in 2014 and as a self-anointed, armed street patrol force after the killing of a Black man in Ferguson, MO the same year, among other national events.
Messages circulated by members of the group on social media in the days and weeks leading to the riots at the Capitol encouraged participation and action with lines such as, “some of our most skilled special warfare veterans standing by armed, just outside D.C.,” and “prepare yourselves for whatever may come. Prepare your mind, body, and spirit for battle, and above all else, prepare to STAND!”
Schaffer turned himself in to the authorities in his native Indiana on Sunday, January 17 after 11 days. The FBI Indianapolis Field Office indicated he faces 6 charges, including spraying Capitol police with ‘bear spray.’ The FBI issued the following statement:
“Jon Schaffer, Columbus, IN, has been arrested in connection to Jan 6 incident at the U.S. Capitol. Schaffer faces 6 charges including engaging in an act of physical violence in a Capitol building. Schaffer was allegedly among rioters who sprayed Capitol police with ‘bear spray.’”
Schaffer was also charged with “unlawful entry into restricted buildings or grounds,” which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison that could rise to a maximum of 10 years if injuries or weapons were involved.
The full list of charges is as follows:
- “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”
When word of his involvement in the Capitol riots spread, his bandmates issued a collective statement distancing themselves from the violence but stopped short of publicly disagreeing with his political views. Vocalist Stu Block indicated he supported the protests until they turned violent, and later deleted comments and banned fans who pointed that out.
A number of folks who donated to the Kickstarter campaign for an upcoming Iced Earth book publicly renounced their fandom and demanded refunds, posting angry comments on the book’s crowdfunding page.
The guitarist 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.