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Member Of The Oath Keepers First To Plea Guilty In U.S. Capitol Attack Investigation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was exactly 100 days ago today that a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Today brought a significant development in the criminal investigation into that insurrection - the first guilty plea from a defendant charged in connection with the attack. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So tell us about the defendant who pleaded guilty. Who is he?

LUCAS: His name is Jon Schaffer. He's a songwriter and guitarist with the heavy metal band Iced Earth. But the government says he's also a founding member of the anti-government extremist group the Oath Keepers, and that's notable because the Oath Keepers has emerged as a focal point in the investigation into the Capitol riot. Schaffer was arrested back in January. He was initially charged with six counts.

Now, today he appeared in federal court in Washington, D.C., and as you noted, he became the first defendant in the Capitol investigation to plead guilty. He pleaded guilty to two counts - obstructing an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. He was carrying bear spray into the Capitol. And as part of this plea deal, Schaffer agreed to cooperate with investigators in the probe into the events of January 6.

KELLY: Interesting. Now, you mentioned he's a founding member of the Oath Keepers, which is making me wonder about the other members of the Oath Keepers and whether they may follow suit. How significant is his cooperation?

LUCAS: Well, it's significant because, yes, it may help prompt other defendants who are facing, potentially, significant prison time to cut a deal as well, but it's unclear how much Schaffer actually knows about the inner workings of the Oath Keepers or what role, if any, he actually played in the group, which is, researchers say, in essence, a pretty loose-knit organization. Now, a dozen members or associates of the group are facing conspiracy charges in connection with the Capitol attack. The group's founder is under scrutiny as well. But, again, it's unclear how much help Schaffer can provide investigators on that case or other cases linked to January 6.

KELLY: Ryan, what about another group that has been front and center, members of the Proud Boys who are facing charges as well? What's the update on them?

LUCAS: Well, two alleged Proud Boy leaders were supposed to be in court today for a hearing. That was postponed until next week. But, yes, around a dozen Proud Boys in all have been charged in various cases with conspiring to try to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6 in Congress. Prosecutors have also suggested that there might have been coordination between the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in the run up to January 6 and then on January 6 itself. Details, though, on that have been very much in short supply, but it's something that I'm certainly going to be keeping an eye on as this investigation goes forward.

KELLY: Yeah. And, you know, we mentioned today marks a hundred days since the Capitol insurrection. Are arrests still being made?

LUCAS: They are. They are. The FBI actually arrested a couple people in the past few days, so this is very much an active investigation. At this point, around 400 people have been arrested. That's an average of four people per day, seven days a week. So prosecutors and the FBI have been busy. It's been a pretty frantic pace. And the FBI, in fact, is still asking for the public's help identifying people in photos and videos from the Capitol.

One of the central questions has been whether there was advance planning to storm the Capitol on January 6. The prosecutors allege that Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and other extremists plotted to disrupt the Electoral College count. We still don't have a clear picture, though, of the full extent of any planning and coordination. And then there's the question of the two pipe bombs that were discovered on Capitol Hill that day. Those devices did not explode, but the FBI is still trying to figure out who left them and why.

KELLY: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.