We’re not even a month into 2021, and already, a metal musician has made history.
Unfortunately, that musician is Iced Earth guitarist and founder Jon Schaffer, and the way he made history was by participating in the seditious pro-Trump siege of the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. The attack resulted in multiple deaths, including one police officer (so much for “Back the Blue”).
Schaffer, who may or may not be part of a right-wing militia called the Oath Keepers, was identified within hours of the riot when a photo clearly showing his face started making the rounds. On January 17, the guitarist turned himself in to authorities in his native Indiana. He has since been extradited to Washington, D.C., and now faces the following six charges:
- “Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority”
- “Disrupting the Orderly Conduct of Government Business”
- “Knowingly Engages in an Act of Physical Violence Against any Person or Property in any Restricted Building or Grounds”
- “Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building”
- “Engage in an Act of Physical Violence in a Capitol Building”
- “Parade, Demonstrate, or Picket in a Capitol Building”
Meanwhile, his bandmates in Iced Earth remain mostly quiet, presumably either because they approve of Schaffer’s actions or because Schaffer is their boss and they wanna keep their jobs.
Similarly, Iced Earth’s longtime label, Century Media, has removed them (as well one of Schaffer’s other projects, Demons & Wizards) from both their current and former artist roster webpages. But when MetalSucks asked the label to comment, they declined to make any sort of official statement confirming that they’re no longer working with Schaffer. (If Schaffer had tweeted something offensive, the label would’ve dropped him faster; if he was credibly accused of certain crimes without photographic evidence, they’d have dropped him faster.) So either they haven’t formally dropped Schaffer from the label, or they don’t wanna alienate Schaffer’s supporters.
As far as motivations for being on the wrong side of history go, none of those are great for the band or the label. But they are thought-provoking, because they pre-suppose that Jon Schaffer’s recent actions aren’t actually going to end his career.
Before I continue, let me address the idea of “cancel culture.” I think the entire concept is a little hazy, but I get that there are a lot of people who believe MetalSucks is in favor of “canceling” those we find ethically noxious.
My retort is that we’ve always said that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s how they handle those mistakes that truly defines their character. The problem is that for every musician who owns up to what they did and demonstrates growth in the time that follows, there’s one who refuses to acknowledge that they did anything wrong.
Point being, Jon Schaffer could come out of this whole experience a changed and contrite man. I wouldn’t put money on it — I suspect when you’re at the point of attacking people with bear spray, you’ve convinced yourself history will remember you as a freedom fighter, not a terrorist — but it could happen. Then we’d have to have a discussion about whether or not there’s a “point of no return” when someone’s actions are simply too severe to overlook.
That’s honestly the best case scenario here: Schaffer atones and fans have to decide how they feel about that atonement.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that what happens is what I think will happen: Schaffer is convicted of at least one of the charges, carries out his penalty, and goes on with his life, insisting all the while that his actions were patriotic, not treasonous.
I think a lot of fans will let him off the hook. There may be an asterisk next to his name, but it will be just an asterisk.
Will Iced Earth still be able to headline 1,000-2,000 person rooms? I believe it’s entirely possible. As of this writing, the band still has nearly 500,000 followers on Facebook. And while the comments section of the Kickstarter campaign for Wicked Words & Epic Tales, “a collection of Jon Schaffer’s lyrics, interviews and a chronicle of the artwork that they inspired,” has its share of backers who want their money refunded in light of recent events, there are also a LOT of people who have left messages of support for the guitarist:
Like many, if not most, Trump/MAGA/QAnon/Fox News/OAN/etc. supporters, these people are misinformed and/or poorly educated; they don’t actually understand what freedom of speech means, and have never read the Constitution they think they hold so dear. They fail to see the fundamental difference between carrying out a peaceful protest (a right to which every American is certainly entitled) and what Schaffer and the other rioters did at the Capitol; they’re incapable of acknowledging the gross discrepancy between how the Capitol “protesters” were received by law enforcement and how legitimately peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters were received by law enforcement.
And they’re just a small sampling of people who sincerely do not get why other people are pissed at Schaffer. I would wager there are folks out there who never heard of Iced Earth before January 6 and will now become fans specifically because Schaffer participated in the “patriotic” attempted coup d’etat. Like that poor schmuck Gary above, they will view Jon as a hero.
Point being, as of January 28, 2021 — more than three weeks after he first stormed the Capitol — Jon Schaffer’s career is in better shape than most death metal, black metal, hardcore, and grindcore bands.
We’ve already seen a metalcore musician bounce back from doing time for attempted murder, and almost thirty years after he stabbed Euronymous 23 times, the metal world is still rife with Varg Vikernes fans. Jon Schaffer probably has a bunch of things he needs to worry about right now — but being shamed by the metal community may not be one of those things.