The band has officially disbanded as a result of John Schaffer's extremist antics, but a look back shows that the warning signs were in plain view all along.
Jon Schaffer, the sole remaining original member of ICED EARTH, had been the glue that held the band together for the last 37 years.
As the band's main guitarist, songwriter, and producer, he crafted all of the group's biggest hits, including "Watching Over Me" and "I Died for You," and was even cited at one moment as being one of North America's great metal guitarists. He was also the one member that stuck it out with the group through countless line-up and name changes, and at one point he even built his own studio and office space to make recording sessions with the band more comfortable and relaxed.
A musical renaissance man bursting with talent, Schaffer's far-right political ideology over the years would ultimately be his downfall, as well as that of his band. In a now-viral photo, Schaffer was spotted storming the Capitol Building on January 6th and later turned himself in to the FBI after his face was plastered on wanted posters around his home state of Indiana.
In the weeks that have followed, his headstrong band that survived over 30 lineup changes has now entirely disintegrated, with the group's lead singer and bassist both quitting as of yesterday.
Jon Schaffer on January 6th
"Well there are times and events when you have to take stock and re-evaluate your life, work, and trajectory for the future," wrote lead singer Stu Block in a Facebook post. "Time to move on, heal and prosper."
But after closer inspection, Schaffer's participation in the insurrection should come as a surprise to no one. Over the years he'd often sport a Confederate Flag bandana at live shows, and in 2009 he formed a hyper-political side project called Sons of Liberty, which was solely devoted to critiquing and rebelling against the Federal Reserve.
In 2011, Schaffer sat down for an incendiary interview with Alex Jones, where he went into detail about how conspiracy theories perforated his beliefs and how he "broke free of the Matrix" by realizing that the Federal Reserve was operated by a dark shadow government composed of bankers and killers.
"People out there can call us kooks all they want," he said. "But the fact is the research is there."
But his beliefs took a more sinister turn after Trump's election in 2016. He said, contrary to the facts, that he believes Trump actually won the popular vote and that Hillary's popular vote victory was due to votes cast by illegal immigrants.
"I think the American people spoke volumes against the rigged system, against a system where they did try to steal an election," he said. "At least five states were stolen."
A few years later in 2018, Schaffer said he believed teachers should also be armed. "When they founded the country, everybody was hunting for food. You didn't go into Walmart and buy packets of baloney, you went out and killed your food and you ate it," he said.
"That's how it worked...but the whole point of it is to protect themselves against an out-of-control government...Who's gonna go into a school where people are trained and armed to do that kind of stuff?"
About a year or so after that, Schaffer allegedly joined the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that believes a "shadowy globalist cabal is plotting to take away American rights." Schaffer was seen storming the Capitol in an Oath Keepers hat, but the organization has since said that he is not an actual member.
Then, in 2020, Schaffer made a pivot many far-right ideologists took as a result of the pandemic. "I believe this is a psychological warfare campaign on the people more than it is a serious pandemic," he said in a podcast interview last July.
An anti-masker, he said he would never get vaccinated. He went on to say the COVID death toll numbers were inflated and that it was a "plandemic" rather than an actual pandemic. "I read their game plan. I've read their battle plan, I've read their books so I know what they're up to."
Now, as ICED EARTH dissolves into nothing more than a political spectacle, the question remains: Are we all complicit in enabling Schaffer's extremism? With years of problematic behavior to cite, it seems that Schaffer's incendiary beliefs were disregarded in favor of his music.
The "Art vs. the Artist" argument surely applies, but to some extent, ICED EARTH's uncomfortable background — as well as those of other artists like Ariel Pink —calls into question whether we can continue to actively keep artists separate from their art. Schaffer's problematic views were laid out bare in the very art he was creating, making the "Art vs. Artist" argument murkier than ever.
Did our decisions to ignore the warning signs ultimately contribute to Schaffer spraying bear mace at a police officer? Where can art exist if the very art being created is hostile and harmful? What is our responsibility as consumers?
As 2021 forces us to reconcile with questions like these, stories like John Schaffer's are likely to have bigger implications in the way we view and consume art as a whole.