JON SCHAFFER's Ex-DEMONS & WIZARDS Bandmate HANSI KÜRSCH Says ICED EARTH Guitarist 'Deserves A Second Chance'

May 30, 2024

Hansi Kürsch says that ICED EARTH's Jon Schaffer "deserves a second chance", more than three years after the BLIND GUARDIAN frontman quit their collaborative side project, DEMONS & WIZARDS.

Kürsch announced his departure from DEMONS & WIZARDS two weeks after Schaffer was arrested for his involvement in the January 6, 2021 insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol. The now-56-year-old ICED EARTH guitarist has since pleaded guilty to his role in the Capitol riot and is continuing to cooperate with authorities while on pre-sentencing release.

During an appearance on a recent episode of "The Jasta Show", the podcast hosted by HATEBREED frontman Jamey Jasta, Hansi was asked if he has heard from Jon in recent months, with Jasta opining that "everybody deserves a second chance." Hansi said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Well, I agree. He certainly deserves a second chance. That is the main message which should be spread out in general. And other than that, he's facing his trials. So, it's a very open situation he's in. And, yeah, let him express himself first before anyone else is saying anything about it. That's my opinion, and this is how I treat it."

Asked if he thinks there's a road back for Schaffer in terms of ICED EARTH's ability to secure tours in the future and whether European promoters will be willing to book him, Hansi said: "Um, I have no idea. I really have no idea. I haven't spoken to anyone, and that basically is not my business."

When Hansi announced his exit from DEMONS & WIZARDS in February 2021, he said in a statement: "I notified Jon and Century Media [DEMONS & WIZARDS' then-record label] on Monday that I was leaving the DEMONS & WIZARDS project with immediate effect. My collaboration with Jon in DEMONS & WIZARDS is over."

Back in December 2022, Hansi declined to discuss DEMONS & WIZARDS while speaking to Metal Hammer magazine, saying: "It's an open case. I believe [Jon] deserves the right to express himself, to explain his side, and we wouldn't want to interfere with that."

DEMONS & WIZARDS released its third studio album, "III", in February 2020 via Century Media Records. The LP marked the band's first collection of new material in 15 years.

In a 2019 interview with The Greene Room Magazine, Hansi stated about how DEMONS & WIZARDS was formed: "It started with a friendship. [Jon and I] met each other for the first time in 1991 when we toured together with ICED EARTH and BLIND GUARDIAN, and an immediate friendship came to happen because we were alike — in many ways, spiritual brothers from the beginning. And that goes for the two of us, but also for the two bands in general. We had a blast, and ever since, we established a very close friendship. We were not even talking about making music together. By whatsoever reason, more or less seven years later, Jon came to visit me, and we had a hangover morning he started playing guitar. I started humming to it, and we thought, 'Well, that might be the creepy melody to work on. Let's go to the BLIND GUARDIAN rehearsal room and try to do something with it.' Then we called it a song within a short amount of time; it was maybe three, four hours. That song was 'My Last Sunrise' which ended up on the very first album. When doing this song, we just recognized that there's not only a friendship, but a strong spiritual, creative chemistry between the two of us. We said, 'We may want to use that later on for whatever reason or purpose.' We thought about it for a while, and then we said, 'Well, let's use that creativity and do an album.' Then we started working on DEMONS & WIZARDS."

Schaffer talked about his collaboration with Kürsch in a 2020 interview with Myglobalmind. He said: "This is an exercise in brotherhood first and foremost. Hansi and I were very dear friends before we realized that we could write songs together. Writing together actually happened by accident. When it happened, the next question was, what are we going to do with it? The first song we wrote was 'My Last Sunrise' and it was the last song on the first DEMONS album. Initially, we talked about BLIND GUARDIAN and ICED EARTH, each doing a version, but at some point, I just said to Hansi, 'Let's just do our own thing and write a bunch more together.' It has always been about having fun and spending time together, but we do hold the pressure to ourselves in delivering something we are happy with. Nine times out of ten, the fans will be right on board. It's all about satisfying yourself as an artist first; then we let the dice roll."

This past March, a federal judge agreed to push back Schaffer's sentencing hearing to July 19 from the previously announced April 5.

U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta had previously moved the date from February 20, as the ICED EARTH guitarist was scheduled to undergo an undisclosed medical procedure "with the need for a recovery afterwards."

In January 2022, Mehta granted the U.S. government's request to share sealed materials from the case involving Schaffer's role in the U.S. Capitol riot case as discovery to the three main Oath Keepers cases.

In May 2023, Mehta handed down an 18-year prison sentence for the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election that ended with the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

As part of his April 2021 plea deal, Jon entered into a cooperation agreement with the government.

The government agreed not to oppose Schaffer's release during the sentencing phase.

Although Schaffer was initially charged with six crimes, including engaging in an act of physical violence and targeting police with bear spray, he pleaded guilty to only two charges: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress; and trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol while armed with a deadly or dangerous weapon. The first charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the second carries up to a 10-year prison term. Each of the charges carry fines of up to $250,000. The Department Of Justice said it would recommend a sentence between 41 and 51 months in prison and fines somewhere between $15,000 and $250,000.

In his plea agreement, Schaffer acknowledged that on January 6, 2021 he was in Washington to attend the "Stop The Steal" rally at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. 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. When the rally finished, Schaffer joined a large crowd that marched from the Ellipse to the Capitol, where a joint session of Congress, presided over by Vice President Michael Pence, was in session to certify the electoral college vote results. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., members of the mob forced entry into the Capitol building, disrupting the joint session and causing members of Congress and the Vice President to be evacuated from the House and Senate chambers.

In his plea agreement, Schaffer admitted that after arriving on Capitol grounds, he walked past barriers intended to restrict access to the public and to a set of locked doors on the Capitol's west side. At approximately 2:40 p.m., Schaffer positioned himself at the front of a crowd that broke open a set of doors being guarded by four U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officers wearing riot gear. Schaffer admitted to being among the first individuals to push past the damaged doors and into the Capitol building, forcing officers to retreat. Schaffer and others advanced toward five or six backpedaling USCP officers while members of the mob swelled inside of the Capitol and overwhelmed the officers. The officers ultimately deployed a chemical irritant to disperse the mob. Schaffer was among the people who were sprayed in the face, after which he exited while holding his own bear spray in his hands.

As part of the plea deal, Schaffer agreed to cooperate with investigators and potentially testify in related criminal cases, according to CNN. In return for Schaffer's assistance, the Justice Department might later urge the judge to show leniency during his sentencing.

Also as part of the agreement, the Justice Department has offered to sponsor Schaffer for the witness protection program.

The 56-year-old musician was the first Capitol riot defendant to reach a plea deal.

The Indiana chapter of the Oath Keepers distanced itself from Schaffer after his arrest, claiming he was not a member of the local group. But the national organization, which sold lifetime memberships for $1,200, had not commented on his alleged affiliation with the group.

At a November 2020 Donald Trump rally in Washington, D.C., Schaffer was videotaped walking behind a Florida couple, Kelly Meggs and Connie Meggs, who were accused of being among 10 members of the Oath Keepers to have played a leading role in the Capitol assault. In May 2023, Kelly Meggs was convicted of seditious conspiracy for his participation in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and was sentenced to spend 12 years in prison.

Following the initial reports that Schaffer was involved in the riot, his ICED EARTH bandmates distanced themselves from his actions. Singer Stu Block and bassist Luke Appleton later posted separate statements on social media announcing their resignations. The allegations also apparently affected Schaffer's relationship with his longtime record label Century Media, which had released albums from both ICED EARTH and DEMONS & WIZARDS. As of mid-January 2021, the Century Media artist roster page did not list either band.

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