It has been more than a year since the attack on the U.S. Capitol and on Monday, finally, prosecutors kicked off the very first trial for a defendant charged with crimes related to the insurrection incited by former President Donald Trump.
Appearing in Washington, D.C before Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich is Guy Wesley Reffitt, a 49-year-old with alleged ties to a militia group known as the Texas Three Percenters. Reffitt is facing multiple felony counts including two civil disorder charges, obstruction of justice, obstruction of an official proceeding, and entering a restricted area with a firearm. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each charge.
Reffitt’s charges are far from the most severe among the over 750 defendants presently charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack. But as first in line for trial, his case could serve as a bellwether moving forward for prosecutors who aim to convince juries that Jan. 6 involved sweeping, organized, and multifaceted attempts to subvert the peaceful transition of power.
Reffitt’s trial begins Monday with jury selection. A pool of 80 prospective jurors will be presented over two panels. Attorneys for the Department of Justice as well as for Reffitt will have a chance to question jurors before selections are locked in. Judge Friedrich can also pose questions and the screening process is expected to include inquiries about things like jurors’ residence, their opinions on the U.S. government or police generally, their political views, their social media use, and even their views on handguns.
Once seated, prosecutors intend on introducing witness testimony from a variety of sources including, and perhaps most jarringly, Reffitt’s own son and daughter. His children, Jackson and Peyton, told authorities their father threatened them after he returned from the Capitol.
When Reffitt pulled into the driveway of his Texas home on Jan. 8, 2021, his son alleged that Reffitt spent the next few days telling his wife Nicole, and their family that he “stormed the Capitol” to “protect the country.”
By Jan. 11, Reffitt’s paranoia had fully set in. He suspected he was being surveilled by the FBI and subsequently warned his children that if they put their family “in jeopardy” by talking to police about his trip to the Capitol, he would “do what he had to do.”
According to Reffitt’s wife, he told his son: “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors… traitors get shot.”
Reffitt also threatened his daughter about posting anything about him on social media, saying if she shared recordings or information about him, he would “put a bullet through” her phone.
It was those remarks in particular that generated the obstruction of justice charge though Reffitt’s daughter last March defended the comments at her father’s bail hearing.
She maintained that the words “crossed the line” but that sort of rhetoric was typical of her father.
“I didn’t feel threatened at all,” she said.
Reffitt’s son told ABC News he thought his father was effectively brainwashed by extremist groups and that prompted the violent language and behavior.
Members of the U.S. Capitol Police force who worked to repel Reffitt from the building on Jan. 6 with pepper balls and mace will also come forward. Further, prosecutors will call on FBI and Secret Service agents including those who conducted a forensic review of his cell phone and home after his arrest.
Authorities found guns and tactical gear at his Wylie, Texas home. One of the rifles found was the same assault rifle Reffitt brought to Washington on Jan. 6. Reffitt claims he disassembled it and did not bring it to the Capitol.
But he was seen in photo and video footage from Jan. 6 wearing a holster at his hip and with what appears to be another .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol stowed inside it.
Reffitt is the only Jan. 6 defendant charged thus far with breaking federal firearms transport laws.
Last May, ProPublica obtained a letter written by Reffitt on behalf of Jan. 6 defendants currently held in the D.C. jail. Reffitt has been detained there since his arrest last January.
“January 6th was nothing short of a satirical way to overthrow a government. If overthrow was the quest, it would have no doubt been overthrown,” the letter states.
“There was isolated overly emotional individuals but the magority stayed focused. Ask yourself the same question the Japanese had conceded.” [Spelling, grammar errors original]
Further, Reffitt wrote:
“There was no insurrection, no conspiracy, no sinsiter plan and no reason to think otherwise.”
Reffitt Letter Court by Daily Kos on Scribd
Ahead of his trial, Reffitt posted a message on a Jan. 6 defendant’s channel housed on the right-wing social media site Telegram.
According to WUSA 9, a Washington CBS affiliate, Reffitt wrote last Thursday that he was “prepared to stare down the barrel of tyranny and receive the bullet of freedom.”
Reffitt is seen in video footage from Jan. 6 on the west side of the Capitol, donning a helmet with a GoPro-style camera attached to it. He is wearing a blue jacket and what appears to be a tactical vest. In some shots, Reffitt can be seen trying to flush pepper spray from his eyes. Court records confirmed Reffitt was carrying plastic handcuffs, as well.
Reffitt reportedly linked up with the extremist Three Percenters group after being outraged by racial justice protests and in particular, protests by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Prosecutors say he gathered intelligence on BLM activists for the hate group.
In an encrypted chat from Jan. 9, mere days after the attack, Reffitt told “recruits” he met at the Capitol he had a “new security business to circumvent the 2nd Amendment issue” and that he could get “ammo and weapons available to law enforcement.”
“The fight has only just begun,” Reffitt allegedly wrote on Jan. 9 before telling fellow Three Percenters to scrap evidence of the conversation and stow unregistered silencers in a safe place.
Before his trial, prosecutors argued Reffitt posed too great a danger to be released. They pointed to a text he allegedly sent after the insurrection.
“This has only just begun and will not end until we, the People of the Republic, have won our own country back. We had thousands of weapons and fired no rounds yet showed numbers. The next time will not be so cordial,” he wrote.
Reffitt has pleaded not guilty.