by Julie Kelly
Well, this is a bummer for the sedition-baiting crowd.
The Biden Justice Department last week announced its first plea deal related to the January 6 protest on Capitol Hill: Jon Ryan Schaffer pleaded guilty to two charges—obstruction of an official proceeding and entering the Capitol with a dangerous or deadly weapon.
Schaffer, who has no criminal record, faced six counts of various trespassing and disorderly conduct offenses. (He did not plead guilty to any of the initial charges.)
He turned himself in to law enforcement on January 18 and has remained behind bars ever since; like many Capitol defendants, Schaffer was transported to Washington, D.C. to await trial. Schaffer’s arrest was part of the “shock and awe” manhunt the Justice Department unleashed immediately following the unrest to deter people from protesting Joe Biden’s inauguration.
In an April 15 press release, the Justice Department patted itself on the back for a job well done. “On this 100th day since the horrific January 6 assault on the United States Capitol, Oath Keepers member Jon Schaffer has pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, including for breaching the Capitol while wearing a tactical vest and armed with bear spray, with the intent to interfere with Congress’ certification of the Electoral College results,” Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin said in the statement. “The FBI has made an average of more than four arrests a day, seven days a week since January 6th.”
Carlin, a top deputy in the Obama Justice Department, worked for the same shop that prepared the bogus FISA application against Carter Page. An outspoken Trump critic and onetime chief of staff to ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller, Carlin clearly thrills at the idea of using his government authority against Americans on the Right.
FBI investigators, it appears, had their hands full building a case against this dangerous criminal. (Even though the Justice Department claimed Schaffer is a “founding member” of Oath Keepers, there’s some disagreement as to whether that’s accurate.)
The nation’s top cops concluded Schaffer traveled from his Indiana home to the nation’s capital that day “to protest the results of the presidential election, which he believed were fraudulent. Schaffer wore a tactical vest and carried bear spray, a dangerous weapon and chemical irritant used to ward off bears.” Thanks for clearing that up.
A Major Letdown
But that isn’t the full extent of the FBI’s courageous and clever sleuthing. In charging documents, a special agent discovered Schaffer had attended the “Million MAGA March” in Washington last November and even gave a media interview where “he made numerous statements indicating his intent to join others in fighting the election results with violence if necessary.”
Here is part of Schaffer’s incriminating statement to the reporter a week after the election: “We’re not going to merge into some globalist, communist system. There will be a lot of bloodshed if it comes down to that, trust me. The American people will not go for that bullshit once they understand what’s actually happening. Nobody wants this, but they’re pushing us to a point where we have no choice.”
His comments, the Justice Department concluded, demonstrated Schaffer’s intent to disturb Congress while “wearing a tactical vest and armed with bear repellent” on that fateful January day. Schaffer reportedly is cooperating with authorities to uncover more skullduggery and incorrect opinions harbored by members of the random group of veterans and cops.
Although federal prosecutors boasted about their first official scalp of a Donald Trump supporter, Schaffer’s plea deal must be a major letdown to those insisting the events of January 6 amounted to an attempted coup executed by Trump-loving domestic terrorists.
Despite repeatedly referring to the “insurrection” in court filings, Biden’s Justice Department seems to be prosecuting a temporary interruption of Congress instead of an armed insurrection to overthrow the U.S. government. (Bear spray? Seriously?)
Several defendants face serious charges for assaulting cops and vandalizing the building but most of the nearly 400 people caught up in the Justice Department’s “unprecedented” investigation have been indicted on glorified trespassing, disorderly conduct, and protesting offenses. Even the unofficial scribe of the Democratic Party acknowledges the government’s uphill battle. “It was clear almost immediately that not everyone who broke into the building would be charged with identical offenses,” the New York Times recently admitted. “Some attacked the police with flagpoles, hockey sticks, crutches and bear spray. But many simply walked into the building, breaking nothing, hurting no one and giving no sign that they had planned anything.”
Misapplying the Law
Prosecutors, however, are loading up repetitive charges to build impressive-looking cases against nonviolent protesters.
For example, more than 200 people have been charged with both “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building” and “disruptive” conduct in either the Capitol or in a restricted building. Another common charge is “entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.” All three are misdemeanors punishable by a fine or up to six months in jail.
Not exactly the high-powered sedition trials Americans were promised.
One offense Jon Schaffer copped to—obstruction of an official proceeding—has been applied to more than 130 defendants so far; the feds desperately need the charge to stick because it represents the sole felony among mostly misdemeanor cases. The 10 alleged Oath Keepers accused of “conspiracy” each face one count of obstruction of an official proceeding. (None faces a weapons or assault charge.) So getting a guilty plea on one of the Justice Department’s favorite January 6 crimes is big—for now.
But one Capitol defendant is fighting the vague law enacted in 2002 in response to the Enron scandal, as I explained here. Christopher Grider was arrested in January and indicted on seven counts including obstruction of an official proceeding.
In March, his lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charge against his client. “No court has ever interpreted an ‘official proceeding’ as that term is used . . . to apply to a legislative or ceremonial function such as the certification of the electoral college vote,” T. Brent Mayr wrote. “Let there be no question that the Government is asking this Court to go well beyond the plain meaning of the term ‘proceeding.’”
Grider’s next court appearance is in June—the government is fighting the request, of course—but other defendants likely will challenge the obstruction charge in the interim.
In the aftermath of the chaos on January 6, Democrats, the news media, and lots of Republicans vowed to stop at nothing to hold accountable every “insurrectionist” involved in the protest. Yet more than 100 days later, most defendants are accused of acting as “interruptionists”—Americans who may have acted recklessly but no more criminally, for the most part, than violent protests against Trump’s first inauguration in 2017 or Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation in 2018.
This might explain why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is backing off a 9/11-style commission to expose the truth of what happened before, during, and after January 6. After all, an “armed insurrection” tribunal would titlate her base and gratify the news media, but a public vetting about bothering Congress for a few hours? Not so much.
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Julie Kelly is a political commentator and senior contributor to American Greatness. She is the author of Disloyal Opposition: How the NeverTrump Right Tried―And Failed―To Take Down the President. Her past work can be found at The Federalist and National Review. She also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, and Genetic Literacy Project. After college graduation, she served as a policy and communications consultant for several Republican candidates and elected officials in suburban Chicago. She also volunteered for her local GOP organization. After staying home for more than 10 years to raise her two daughters, Julie began teaching cooking classes out of her home. She then started writing about food policy, agriculture, and biotechnology, as well as climate change and other scientific issues. She graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 1990 with a degree in communications and minor degrees in political science and journalism. Julie lives in suburban Chicago with her husband, two daughters, and (unfortunately) three dogs.
Photo “Capitol Riot” by Tyler Merbler CC 2.0.