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Oath Keepers ‘Lifetime Member’ Cooperating With Prosecutors On Insurrection Conspiracy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A self-described "lifetime member" of the Oath Keepers has become the first defendant in the January 6 insurrection cases to enter a guilty plea as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, following a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Friday morning.

The plea bargain for Jon Schaffer, 53, a heavy-metal guitarist from Indiana who was photographed assaulting officers with bear spray and entering the U.S. Capitol, was approved by Judge Ahmit Mehta. Schaffer engaged in a long conversation with Mehta acknowledging that the deal requires him to "cooperate fully with the United States," which includes providing evidence of known crimes and sitting for interviews with investigators.

Schaffer's guilty plea to two charges—obstructing an official proceeding and illegally entering the Capitol grounds—makes him the first participant in the insurrection to agree to provide evidence against his fellow rioters. Schaffer, who originally faced six felony charges, will enter the government's witness protection program as part of the deal.

According to an earlier filing, which was mistakenly made public, Schaffer in March began engaging in "debrief interviews." As The Washington Post notes, the plea bargain marks a critical step forward in the prosecution of the cases, as other defendants face similar choices in terms of providing evidence for prosecutors, particularly when it comes to the activities of the two key paramilitary organizations involved in the insurrection, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

"Whenever you have a large group of people arrested," criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it's common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. "They're going to start talking. They're going to start sharing information."

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was present in Washington on January 6 but did not enter the Capitol, is one of the key figures being drawn into the net prosecutors are creating with conspiracy charges involving other members of his group. Though federal indictments handed down against his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys cohorts have not named him personally, he is referenced in several of them as "Person 1," a central player in what prosecutors are describing as a conspiracy to "stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote."

"I may go to jail soon," Rhodes recently told a right-wing rally in Texas. "Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you're found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don't like their political views."

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola's attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called "cooperating witness" was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that "anyone they got their hands on they would have killed," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence "if given the chance." The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that "they plan to kill every single 'm-fer' they can." That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.

New Capitol Riot Indictment Describes Chaotic Assault Led By Oath Keepers

Between careering around the streets of Washington, D.C., in commandeered golf carts and exchanging nearly 20 phone calls, the Oath Keepers and their leaders were very busy fellows in the hours and minutes leading up to the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 -- in which they played leading roles, according to a filing this week by federal prosecutors.

The new indictment filed Thursday adds two Oath Keepers who acted as bodyguards for former Donald Trump aide Roger Stone at the pro-Trump rally that day, Robert Minuta and Joshua James, to the conspiracy case that now includes 12 Oath Keepers—but so far, not the paramilitary organization's founder, Stewart Rhodes. However, the new filing lays out the central role Rhodes (identified only as "Person 1") in coordinating his members as they created a "stack" formation that overwhelmed police barricades.

The document describes a harrowing ride by Minuta, James, and others in a group of golf carts they took to get to the Capitol through D.C. traffic. Minuta, dressed in "battle apparel"—hard-knuckle tactical gloves, ballistic goggles, a radio with an earpiece and bear spray— apparently texted a running commentary as the passenger.

"Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there's violence against patriots by the D.C. police; so we're en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now . . . it's going down, guys; it's literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building . . ." Minuta allegedly stated during the drive.

The addition brings to 12 the total number of Oath Keepers indicted for conspiracy to "stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote." So far, Rhodes has not been indicted, though prosecutors have been circling, and in each filing appear to be getting closing to charging him alongside the others.

The indictment says Rhodes and his team—including an unnamed communications chief designated as "Person 10," and three Oath Keepers who guarded Stone—engaged in "frequent and consistent communication leading up to the attack." Overall, they exchanged 19 phone calls over three hours that day:

  • At about 1 p.m., Minuta and Rhodes exchanged two calls totaling about three minutes at roughly the same time that a mob of Trump supporters first surged through police barricades onto Capitol grounds.
  • From 1:59 to 2:15 p.m., over a 17-minute span, "Person 10" spoke with Rhodes, and then exchanged five calls with James totaling about 6½ minutes, while Rhodes called Florida Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs—who led the "stack" formation—for 15 seconds. This was about the same time the doors to the Capitol were first being breached.
  • Rhodes then forwarded a message from "Person 10" telling the team that the mob had "taken ground at the capital[.] We need to regroup any members who are not on mission." "Person 10" then called Meggs for 42 seconds.
  • Between 2:24 and 2:33 p.m., Rhodes spoke with "Person 10" for nearly 5½ minutes, after which "Person 10" and Meggs spoke. After James checked back with "Person 10," he and Minuta jumped into the golf cart and headed toward the Capitol, where they began harassing officers outside the east doors of the building. At 3:15 p.m., the two men entered the building, pushing past police at the Rotunda doors.
  • Between 3:40 and 4:05 p.m., "Person 10" connected for three minutes with James, Minuta, and Rhodes for 3½ minutes. Shortly afterward, more than a dozen Oath Keepers, including many who had entered the Capitol, gathered around Rhodes just outside the building.

The communications within the team also indicated that the insurrectionists were following a previously mapped strategy. Jessica Watkins, one of the leaders of the group that entered the Capitol, texted: "We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan."

"You are executing citizen's arrest," one person responded. "Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud."

Watkins responded: "We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fticking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here."

Another person told Watkins to stay safe, then added: "Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for."

There was no indication in the indictment that the government knows the contents of the 19 calls, nor did it identify "Person 10." In interviews, Rhodes has said he had named as his on-the-ground team leader a former Army explosives expert and Blackwater contractor nicknamed "Whip."

Justice Department officials have indicated they are also considering bringing sedition charges against the insurrectionists. "I personally believe the evidence is trending toward that, and probably meets those elements," Michael Sherwin, the former team leader of the investigation, told 60 Minutes. "I believe the facts do support those charges. And I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that."

Rhodes has been portraying himself as a likely martyr. At an anti-immigration event in Texas last weekend, he told the audience: "I may go to jail soon. Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you're found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don't like their political views."

He also claimed innocence for his members. "If we actually intended to take over the Capitol, we'd have taken it, and we'd have brought guns," Rhodes said. "That's not why we were there that day. We were there to protect Trump supporters from antifa."

Militia Leader Threatens Violence In D.C. If Trump ‘Calls Us Up’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Oath Keepers militia leader Stewart Rhodes said that he has armed men on standby outside of Washington, D.C., to supposedly prevent the 2020 presidential election from being stolen from President Donald Trump. Echoing elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory during an appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' program, Rhodes said the only way to prevent his men from engaging in a "bloody fight" would be Trump declassifying information to supposedly expose pedophiles in the "deep state" and allow the president to stay in power.

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