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FBI moves on alleged members of extremist groups Oath Keepers, Three Percenters

  • Author: Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu, The Washington Post
  • Updated: January 18
  • Published January 18

WASHINGTON - A metal guitarist and the alleged leader of a Colorado paramilitary training group have been charged with allegedly taking part in the riot at the Capitol last week, as the FBI ratchets up its investigation into the role extremist groups played in storming the building.

Jon Schaffer, an Indiana musician, turned himself in to the FBI on Sunday afternoon, officials said. On Jan. 6, Schaffer was photographed inside the Capitol, wearing a hat that said “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member.” Schaffer founded Iced Earth, a metal band, and music fans quickly recognized him as the FBI circulated posters with his face on them.

Schaffer, 52, was charged with six counts, including engaging in an act of physical violence. Authorities said Schaffer was among the rioters who targeted Capitol Police with bear spray.

Also charged in a court filing made public Sunday was Robert Gieswein, 24, of Cripple Creek, Colo. Court papers say he is affiliated with an Oath Keepers-related group called Three Percenters, and that Gieswein “assaulted federal officers outside the Capitol; observed and encouraged other rioters as they broke a window of the Capitol building; entered the building through that broken window; and then charged through the Capitol building.”

Court papers say Gieswein runs a private paramilitary training group called the Woodland Wild Dogs, and a patch for that group was visible on a tactical vest he wore during the attack on Congress.

According to the FBI affidavit filed against him, Gieswein gave a media interview in which he echoed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and said his message to Congress was “that they need to get the corrupt politicians out of office. Pelosi, the Clintons . . . every single one of them, Biden, Kamala . . . they have completely destroyed our country.”

Court records did not indicate that Gieswein was in custody, and it’s not immediately clear why his documents were publicly available. Lawyers for Schaffer and Gieswein could not immediately be identified.

The Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist group with ties to white nationalism, have drawn particular attention from the FBI agents investigating the attack on Congress as they work to determine whether those groups organized or directed the violence. Officials have said the Proud Boys in particular are an important focus of the FBI investigation.

“All these extremist groups are being looked at in terms of their participation at the Capitol,” Acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin said Friday.

Oath Keepers patches and logos were prominently displayed by a number of those in the mob that day. It is one of the largest militant groups in the United States, claiming tens of thousands of members. The group’s founder has argued that current and former U.S. military and law enforcement members can adhere to their oath to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” while refusing orders or fighting to resist tyranny.

Oath Keepers gained a measure of notoriety last summer when members showed up around Black Lives Matters protests in military gear and carrying weapons as a kind of self-declared vigilante force to prevent vandalism, and before that at the 2014 standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada and the Ferguson, Mo., protests.

The Justice Department has charged about 100 individuals, with hundreds more expected to follow, but many of those arrested have been what one senior law enforcement official characterized as “low-hanging fruit” - people who revealed themselves as participating in the riot on Jan. 6 through social media boasts.

Federal investigators are accelerating efforts to determine whether the assault was planned, coordinated or led by groups of people - rather than an impulsive outburst of violence - particularly because some of the men shown on video laying siege to the building were equipped with handheld radios and at times appeared to work in unison on particular objectives, investigators said.

“There are breadcrumbs of organization of maybe what was taking place outside the Capitol went inside, with perhaps some type of communication with core groups of people,” Sherwin said.

He said prosecutors have made it a priority to determine “whether there was this overarching command and control and whether there were these organized teams that were organized to breach the Capitol, and then perhaps try to accomplish some type of a mission inside the Capitol.” But he said it could be weeks or months before the FBI settles on an answer “to find out the actual motivations of some of those groups.”

Gieswein is recognizable in a YouTube video of the riot assaulting officers with bear spray, baseball bat and temporary barriers, the FBI said. He is seen wearing a distinctive military-style helmet marked with orange tape and patches, armored vest, goggles and black-patterned backpack, the FBI said.

Gieswein also was recorded watching a helmeted group break a Capitol window with a 2x4 plank and riot shield, climb through the opening and helping others enter, the FBI said.

He also has posted pictures on Facebook flashing hand signs commonly used by the Three Percenters and posing with others wearing the group’s clothing and posing in front of its flag, the FBI said.

Even before the riot, Oath Keepers had garnered attention and alarmed law enforcement officials. Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper who founded the group in 2009, threatened before November’s election to deploy members to polling places, preemptively accusing Democrats of voter fraud on Alex Jones’ online conspiracy show “Infowars.”

Members also demonstrated in Washington after the election in the “Million MAGA March” in support of Donald Trump. Rhodes, who has predicted the nation’s descent into civil war, said allies would not recognize Biden’s victory as legitimate, adding in an interview with the Independent newspaper, “We’ll end up nullifying and resisting.”

Such messages have been embraced by others arrested in the Jan. 6 attack.

Larry Brock, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, who was charged after identifying himself to The New Yorker as the man photographed carrying zip ties onto the Senate floor, has described himself online as a patriot and savior, according to court documents entered in his case.

Brock, a former pilot who said he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, was fired two years ago from his job with an aviation training company for threatening to shoot “members of a particular religion and/or race,” according to a 2018 letter of termination submitted by authorities in his case.

A week before he stormed the Capitol, he wrote on Facebook that he saw no distinction among the Democrats, the Biden administration and “an invading force of Chinese communists.”

He signed off on the post: “Against all enemies foreign and domestic,” a reference to his military oath. He included hashtags mentioning the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

The Three Percenters formed in 2008, named after the bogus claim that 3% of the population fought against the British in the American Revolution. The self-described militia group espouses right-wing, libertarian ideals, and has embraced Trump and expressed its preparedness “to take back our country from the pure evil that is conspiring to steal our country away from the American people.”

The group has also provided security services for right-wing protests and movements, the FBI said.

At a court hearing Thursday where Brock was released to home confinement with limits on his access to firearms and the Internet, his attorney, Brook Antonio, noted that Brock has been charged with misdemeanors. Antonio said there was no direct evidence of Brock breaking doors or windows to get into the Capitol, or doing anything violent once he was inside.

“It’s all talk. It’s all speculation and conjecture,” said Antonio, who noted Brock’s long service in the military, including being reactivated after Sept. 11 and his four tours in Afghanistan.

Before the attacks, law enforcement agencies were increasingly concerned about the Proud Boys. The group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, had planned to attend Trump’s Jan. 6 rally but was arrested when he arrived in the District of Columbia and was charged with misdemeanor destruction of property in connection with the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a Black church during an earlier protest in Washington. He is also accused of felony possession of two extended gun magazines.

Tarrio told The Washington Post last week that his group did not organize the Capitol siege.

“If they think we were organizing going into the Capitol, they’re going to be sadly mistaken,” he said. “Our plan was to stay together as a group and just enjoy the day. We weren’t going to do a night march, anything like that. That’s it as far as our day.”

Since the attack, Proud Boys leaders have urged members to pull out of pro-Trump protests planned for Sunday and around Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

Tarrio said he’s discouraging members from attending planned armed marches and the Million Militia March next week when Biden is inaugurated. Proud Boys, he said, are on a “rally freeze and will not be organizing any events for the next month or so.”

It is unclear how many Proud Boys devotees will abide by the freeze, or whether such a shutdown might lessen the FBI’s interest in the group. Some federal law enforcement officials have privately described the group as similar to a nascent street gang that has garnered an unusual degree of national attention, in part because Trump mentioned them specifically during one of his televised debates with Biden during the campaign. Other officials have expressed concern that the group may be growing rapidly into something more dangerous and directed.

U.S. authorities on Friday arrested Dominic Pezzola, 43, of Rochester, N.Y., a former Marine and Proud Boys member seen in a widely viewed video shattering a Capitol window with a Capitol Police riot shield and climbing inside.

In court papers, the FBI cited a witness who told them that the group Pezzola was with would have killed “anyone they got their hands on,” including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and that they would have killed (Vice President) Mike Pence if given the chance.”

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The Washington Post’s Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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