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. closes probe of Capitol Police shooting of woman killed in Jan. 6 riot

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has closed its investigation into the death of Ashli Babbitt, a participant in a Jan. 6 riot shot by U.S. Capitol Police, saying there was no evidence to prove the officer who shot her had violated her civil rights.

Federal and local investigators have determined “there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution,” the Justice Department said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that her family had been informed of the decision.

Babbitt, 35, was an Air Force veteran and ardent supporter of former Republican President Donald Trump.

She was among a large mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, in a failed bid to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory and one of five people to die that day.

Her shooting was captured on video and posted widely on social media. In it, she can be seen climbing through a doorway with a smashed window, when a Capitol Police officer on the other side fires his gun.

Prosecutors have filed charges so far against more than 400 defendants in the Capitol riots, with some facing allegations they conspired to storm the building in advance.

The focus of the investigation into Babbitt’s death, however, entailed whether the officer had deprived her of her constitutional Fourth Amendment right not to be subjected to an unreasonable seizure.

To prove such a case in court, the department would have needed to show not only that the officer used constitutionally unreasonable force, but that he did so “willfully.”

“The investigation revealed no evidence to establish that, at the time the officer fired a single shot at Ms. Babbitt, the officer did not reasonably believe that it was necessary to do so in self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress,” the department said.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chris Reese and Howard Goller)

Capitol Police ask National Guard to stay for two more months: defense official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Capitol Police have asked the Pentagon to extend the National Guard’s mission to protect the U.S. Capitol for an additional two months, a defense official told Reuters on Thursday.

National Guard troops were dispatched to the Capitol grounds after the Jan. 6 attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump, and tall fencing has been erected to extend the security perimeter.

There are currently about 5,200 National Guard troops around the building. The mission was set to end on March 12.

“We should have them here as long as they are needed,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference.

She also said retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré has submitted draft recommendations for long-term security improvements to the Capitol complex.

She did not provide details but said Congress will have to review them and make decisions “about what is feasible.” Congress would have to approve emergency funding to implement such plans, she said.

The defense official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Capitol Police’s request had been received by the Pentagon and would be examined, and said it was highly likely that it would be approved.

Security around the Capitol was tight on Thursday after police warned that a militia group might try to attack it to mark a key date on the calendar of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

A bulletin issued on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said an unidentified group of “militia violent extremists” discussed plans in February to “take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4.”

March 4 is the day when QAnon adherents believe that Trump, who was defeated by President Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election, will be sworn in for a second term in office. Up until 1933, March 4 was the date of the inauguration.

The Capitol Police, a force of about 2,300 officers and civilian employees, is responsible for protecting the Capitol grounds, lawmakers, visitors and those working there. The National Guard in Washington, D.C., is under the control of the Pentagon, an unusual arrangement as the 50 states have authority over their own National Guard.

Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, which also responded on Jan. 6, is under the control of the city government.

Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin said that she had heard about a 60-day extension request and that the National Guard was asking states for troop contributions.

“No one likes seeing the fortress-like security around the Capitol. And no one wants to again have a security problem in and around this symbolic place,” Slotkin said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

Protestors, lawmaker arrested in Senate building sit-in over immigration

Immigration activists wrapped in silver blankets, symbolising immigrant children that were seen in similar blankets at a U.S.-Mexico border detention facility in Texas, protest inside the Hart Senate Office Building after marching to Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some 600 protesters were arrested during a clangorous occupation of a U.S. Senate office building in Washington on Thursday, where they decried U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero- tolerance” stance on illegal immigration.

The protesters, mostly women dressed in white, sat on the Hart Senate Office Building’s marbled floors and wrapped themselves in metallic silver blankets similar to those given to migrant children separated from their families by U.S. immigration officials.

Their chant “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here” echoed through the building, drawing scores of Senate staff to upper mezzanine floors from where they watched the commotion.

Capitol Police warned protestors that if they did not leave the building they would be arrested. Soon after, protesters were lined against a wall in small groups and police confiscated their blankets and signs.

U.S. Capitol Police direct U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to stand for arrest as she joined demonstrators calling for "an end to family detention" and in opposition to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Capitol Police direct U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to stand for arrest as she joined demonstrators calling for “an end to family detention” and in opposition to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

It took police about 90 minutes to arrest them and end the demonstration. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, sat with the protesters and was also arrested.

Capitol Police said in a statement that about 575 people were charged with unlawfully demonstrating and they would be processed at the scene and released. They said people who were charged and fined could pay 24 hours after their arrests, but it was not clear who had been fined and how much.

Democratic senators Mazie Hirono, Tammy Duckworth, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeff Merkley, who have been critical of Trump’s immigration policies, spoke with some of the protesters. Gillibrand held a sign that read: “End Detentions Now.”

Women’s March, a movement that began in the United States when Trump was inaugurated in 2017 and spread around the world, had called on women to risk arrest at Thursday’s protest.

Organizers said in a statement that 630 women were arrested during the protest.

“We are rising up to demand an end to the criminalization of immigrants,” Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, said in the statement.

Before arriving at Capitol Hill, the protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, pausing to chant “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the Trump International Hotel.

The Women’s March demonstration is part of a wave of actions against Trump, whose administration began seeking in May to prosecute all adults who cross the border without authorization.

More than 2,000 children who arrived illegally in the United States with adult relatives were separated from them and placed in detention facilities or with foster families around the United States.

The policy led to intense criticism in the United States and abroad, and Trump signed an executive order that would let children stay with their parents as they moved through the legal system, drawing renewed criticism.

Loretta Fudoli took a bus to Washington from Conway, Arkansas, to join Thursday’s protest. She said she had been arrested at demonstrations three or four times since she became politically active after Trump’s election.

“Their parents shouldn’t even be locked up,” Fudoli said. “This is not a bad enough crime to lock them up and take their children away.”

Most of the children separated from their families before the order was signed have not yet been reunited with them.

The White House has said that the order was not a long-term solution and has called for Congress to pass immigration reform.

Larger protests are being planned for Saturday in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country under the banner of #FamiliesBelongTogether.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio, Toni Reinhold)