WASHINGTON (AP) — An armed Texas militia member led a “vigilante mob” that overwhelmed police officers and became the first group of rioters to breach the U.S. Capitol last year, a federal prosecutor said Monday at the close of the first criminal trial over the riot.
A 12-member jury is scheduled to begin deliberating on Tuesday for Guy Wesley Reffitt’s trial on charges that he stormed the Capitol with a holstered handgun strapped to his waist and interfered with police officers guarding the Senate doors. He also is charged with threatening his teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the attack on Jan. 6, 2021.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors that Reffitt drove to Washington, D.C., intending to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory, to “overthrow Congress” and to drag lawmakers out of the building. Reffitt proudly “lit the fire” that allowed others in the mob to overwhelm Capitol police officers, the prosecutor said during the trial’s closing arguments.
“They were in an impossible situation — outnumbered and, they feared, outgunned,” Berkower said of police.
Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, didn’t testify at his trial, which started last Wednesday. Defense attorney William Welch didn’t call any defense witnesses after prosecutors rested their case.
Welch urged jurors to acquit Reffitt of all charges but one. He said they should convict him of a misdemeanor charge that he entered and remained in a restricted area.
“That is what proof beyond a reasonable doubt looks like, but it ends there,” Welch said.
Reffitt faces five felony counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder, and obstructing justice. The obstructing justice charge relates to his alleged threats against his children.
Welch denied that Reffitt had a gun at the Capitol and said there is no evidence that he engaged in any violence or destructive behavior on Jan. 6.
“Guy does brag a lot,” Welch said. “He embellishes and he exaggerates.”
“Yes, Guy Reffitt brags,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler countered. “And you know what he brags about? The truth.”
Reffitt was arrested less than a week after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. He has remained jailed in Washington, D.C., for months.
Reffitt is a member of the “Texas Three Percenters” and bragged about his involvement in the riot to other members of the group, according to prosecutors. The Three Percenters militia movement refers to the myth that only 3% of American colonists fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.
On Friday, jurors heard testimony from a self-described Texas Three Percenters member who drove from Texas to Washington, D.C., with Reffitt. The witness, Rocky Hardie, said he and Reffitt both had holstered handguns strapped to their bodies when they attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally just before the riot erupted.
On Thursday, Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, testified that his father told him and his sister, then 16, that they would be traitors if they reported him to authorities and said “traitors get shot.” Jackson Reffitt’s younger sister, Peyton, was listed as a possible government witness but didn’t testify.
On Jan. 6, Reffitt had the holstered gun under his jacket, was carrying zip-tie handcuffs and was wearing body armor when he and other rioters advanced on police officers on the west side of the Capitol, according to prosecutors.
“Every step he took up the railing, the crowd came with him,” Berkhower said. “The crowd was energized and cheered him on.”
Reffitt is not accused of entering the building. He retreated after an officer pepper-sprayed him in the face, prosecutors said.
Berkower played surveillance video of the rioters who poured into the building while then-Vice President Mike Pence was presiding over the Senate. She said it was a dark day in American history, but not for Reffitt.
“He was ecstatic about what he did, about what the mob did,” she added. “What the defendant did was not just bragging or hype.”
Welch accused prosecutors of rushing to judgment. “Be the grownups in the courtroom. Separate the facts from the hype,” he told jurors.
More than 750 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. A verdict in his case could have an enormous impact on many others. A conviction could give prosecutors more leverage over defendants facing the most serious charges. An acquittal could embolden other defendants to seek more favorable plea deals or gamble on trials of their own.
Over 220 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. and over 110 of them have been sentenced. Approximately 90 others have trial dates.
Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press