Member of Oath Keepers to plead guilty to role in U.S. Capitol attack

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A member of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group is due to plead guilty on Wednesday to charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

The man, Graydon Young, is one of 14 members of the Oath Keepers group charged with crimes including conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding for taking part in the assault on Congress, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

A court filing said a “plea agreement hearing” is scheduled for Wednesday, but did not specify to which charges the 54-year-old resident of Engelwood, Florida, will plead. Young is the brother of Laura Steele, 52, of Thomasville, North Carolina, who also faces charges in the case.

More than 480 people have been arrested and charged with taking part in the unrest, which saw rioters smash windows, battle police inside and outside the Capitol and sent lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence into hiding.

Another defendant, Robert Reeder, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

A judge on Wednesday is also scheduled to hand down the first criminal sentence to one of the Capitol rioters. Anna Morgan-Lloyd, 49, of Bloomfield, Indiana, agreed last month to plead guilty to a single charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. Federal prosecutors have recommended three years of probation, a $500 fine, and 40 hours of community service.

“There is no evidence that the defendant poses a continuing threat to the public or that she will engage in similar conduct in the future,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memo, adding that a three-year probationary term will place her under government supervision “for a significant period of time.”

Federal prosecutors said in court papers that Young on Dec. 22 made plans to fly from Florida to North Carolina on Jan. 4, with a return trip on Jan. 8. On Dec. 26, prosecutors said, he wrote to a Florida company engaged in firearms and combat training: “I have joined Oath Keepers. I recommended your training to the team. To that effect, four of us would like to train with you.”

The indictment says Young and eight other indicted Oath Keepers pushed their way in a “stack” up the steps on the east side of the Capitol building.

His plea hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) on Wednesday.

The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of activists who believe that the federal government is encroaching on their rights, and “explicitly focus” on recruiting current and former police, emergency services and military members.

Reeder, a 55-year-old Maryland resident, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. He faces a maximum of six months in prison.

During a court hearing, Reeder’s attorney stressed that his client “didn’t touch anything” or “destroy anything” or “physically engage in any kind of resistance” while he was inside the Capitol.

Reeder told the judge he used to work for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, but since he was charged, he was not been able to work and has been forced to rely on random “odd-jobs” such as painting a friend’s house. “My security clearance was revoked,” Reeder said.

He is due to be sentenced on Aug. 18.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

Oath Keepers founding member is first to plead guilty in U.S. Capitol riot

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A founding member of the right-wing Oath Keepers on Friday became the first person to plead guilty to taking part in the U.S. Capitol riot, signaling a new stage in the investigation of the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the seat of American democracy.

Jon Schaffer, a native of Indiana and founder of the band Iced Earth, entered a guilty plea to two felony charges of obstructing the certification of the 2020 election and breaching a restricted building.

During a hearing in Washington D.C. federal court, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said Schaffer, 52, had no previous criminal record and voluntarily contacted authorities shortly after the Capitol riot. The judge indicated that Schaffer was involved in discussions about cooperating with government investigators and agreed to release him from custody on his own recognizance, with another hearing scheduled for mid-June.

Schaffer 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.

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

Prosecutors said Schaffer wore a tactical vest and carried bear spray repellant when he joined the attack on the Capitol 100 days ago.

A lawyer for Schaffer agreed at Friday’s hearing 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.”

More than 400 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.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone, Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler)

U.S. charges another Oath Keepers associate in Capitol riot probe

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department this week charged another associate of the anti-government Oath Keepers militia over his alleged role in storming the U.S. Capitol.

Joshua A. James, 33, of Arab, Alabama, is at least the 11th person associated with the far-right militia to face charges in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 siege.

Nine of the group’s alleged associates are charged in a superseding indictment with conspiring to storm the Capitol as far back as November.

James is at least the second Oath Keepers associate who was captured in photographs providing security for Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime friend and ally, who spoke at political rallies leading up to the attack.

Earlier this week, Roberto Minuta, 36, was also identified as providing security to Stone before he allegedly stormed the Capitol. He is also facing criminal charges.

The photographs of Stone’s Oath Keepers security detail were published in the New York Times last month, and the article is referenced in the charging documents for both Minuta and James.

Stone, in a statement earlier this week, denied knowing Minuta, and said he had no advanced knowledge the Capitol would be attacked.

According to the charging documents, James was captured in photographs on Jan. 6 wearing tactical gear with Oath Keepers insignia.

“Publicly-available video also captured James inside the Capitol building,” the complaint says.

James is due to appear in a federal court in Alabama on Thursday for a detention hearing. His public defender declined to comment.

More than 300 people have been charged so far in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the FBI has been increasingly focused on suspects with ties to right-wing extremist groups.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Oath Keepers militia members accused of conspiracy for roles in U.S. Capitol siege

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Tuesday accused three people affiliated with a far-right militia group with conspiring to breach the U.S. Capitol, the first time they have directly accused people of organizing the violent uprising that left five people dead.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia, whom investigators said has a leadership role in the Oath Keepers group, was named in a criminal complaint as having participated in the Capitol riots. His fellow members Jessica Watkins, 38, of Champaign County, Ohio, and Donovan Ray Crowl, also of Ohio, were also charged.

Caldwell, Watkins and Crowl are accused of conspiring against the United States and conspiring to prevent the government from discharging its duties, among other offenses.

Caldwell, who told a federal judge on Tuesday he is on disability after retiring from the U.S. Navy, said he looks forward to proving at trial that “every single charge is false.”

Jon Schaffer, a guitarist for the Indiana heavy metal band Iced Earth who was photographed during the riot wearing an Oath Keepers cap, also stands accused of using bear spray on police officers as the crowd tried to force its way past them, but was not named in the conspiracy.

Investigators said Caldwell used Facebook to communicate with fellow members of the Oath Keepers and helped make hotel arrangements for their stay in the Washington, D.C. area. He later posted photos from the siege, saying: “Us storming the castle. Please share… I am such an instigator!”

Watkins and Crowl appeared in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on Tuesday. Asked by a federal judge if she understood the charges against her, Watkins said: “I understand what you said. I don’t understand how I got them.”

A federal prosecutor told a judge in Caldwell’s case it was “likely” additional charges could be on the table, including rioting and seditious conspiracy.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, and Brad Heath and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)