A Washington jury on Tuesday found Guy Wesley Reffitt guilty on all five counts relating to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, verdicts that could land him in prison for decades.
The jury reached its decision less than four hours after being sent the case. The guilty verdicts are a major victory for the federal prosecutors who tried Reffitt, the first Jan. 6 defendant to go to trial, and are seen as likely to influence how other defendants may seek to handle their own cases going forward.
Reffitt is an alleged antigovernment militia member from Texas who prosecutors said went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 armed with a handgun, wearing body armor and carrying flex cuffs, and sought to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election. He led the way for other members of the mob who ultimately stormed the building, prosecutors said, then later threatened his own children to try to keep them from turning him in to law enforcement.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, Reffitt’s wife, Nicole, vowed that her family would “continue to fight together” to appeal her husband’s convictions, and urged other Jan. 6 defendants not to be intimidated by the verdicts in his case.
“Guy was used as an example today to make all the 1/6ers take a plea,” she said in reference to those charged in connection with the riot at the Capitol. “Do not take a plea, 1/6ers.”
Reffitt had been charged with four counts relating to his activities on Jan. 6: obstructing an official proceeding; interfering with law enforcement during a civil disorder; transporting firearms to Washington, D.C., for a civil disorder; and being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm. Prosecutors also charged him with obstruction of justice based on threats he allegedly made to his teenage son and daughter upon returning to his Texas home from Washington, telling them to “choose a side or die” and that they would be traitors if they reported him to law enforcement. He had pleaded not guilty to all five charges.
As the first of more than 700 Jan. 6 defendants to face a jury, Reffitt provided the public with its first real peek behind the curtain at the Justice Department’s strategy in its sprawling effort to track down and prosecute all those responsible for the insurrection.
It also offered a window into the life of one of the hundreds of people who went to the Capitol on Jan. 6, and the far-right beliefs that drove him there.
The trial got off to a slow start last week with two full days of jury selection and a number of technical difficulties, prompting U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to urge prosecutors to pick up the pace, repeatedly admonishing them for repetitive questioning. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Nestler and Risa Berkower moved quickly, resting the government’s case after just three and a half days of evidence and witness testimony. The defense followed closely behind, not calling any witnesses or Reffitt himself to testify.
Prosecutors sought to portray Reffitt as a key instigator of the “worst assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812.”
“The defendant was the tip of this mob’s spear,” Nestler told jurors during his opening statement last week. “He lit the match that started the fire.”
Prosecutors sought to use Reffitt’s own words against him, pairing witness testimony with text messages he allegedly sent and recordings of alleged statements he made before and after the Jan. 6 attack.
William Welch, Reffett’s court-appointed defense attorney, made a minimal effort to counter the government’s claims by portraying his client as a hyperbolic blowhard who is prone to alcohol-fueled rants. He emphasized that Reffitt “did not go in the Capitol,” and claimed Reffitt “was not armed” and that he “never assaulted anyone.” Reffitt was not charged with assault.
“Guy does brag. He exaggerates and he rants,” Welch told the jury during his conspicuously brief opening statement, which clocked in at around three minutes. “The trial is a rush to judgment, and it’s based on bragging.”
In his closing argument on Monday, Welch suggested that neither his client nor any of the government’s other witnesses or evidence could be trusted, and urged jurors to “find Mr. Reffitt guilty of count 3a,” being in a restricted area outside the Capitol, but nothing else. If found guilty for being in a restricted area, without the weapons enhancement, Reffitt would have faced only a maximum penalty of one year in prison, which he has already served in pretrial detention. The maximum penalty for unlawfully carrying a firearm in a restricted area is 10 years.
But while Reffitt may not have been among those who eventually forced their way inside the building, prosecutors argued that he cleared the way for others to do so by positioning himself at the front of the angry mob and facing off with U.S. Capitol Police on one of the building’s exterior staircases.
In one of the final and most compelling testimonies of the trial, Sgt. Adam DesCamp, one of the Capitol Police officers who confronted Reffitt on Jan. 6, presented a direct link between that interaction with Reffitt and the chaos that allowed some of the most high-profile rioters to push their way into the Capitol.
DesCamp told jurors that while officers were attempting to fend Reffitt off with pepper balls and other nonlethal munitions, the crowd behind him cut through the tarp over the scaffolding that held up the inauguration stage, creating an opening through which hundreds of rioters were then able to move closer to the building. He walked the jury through video footage of the moment, showing that some of the most high-profile rioters were among those who seized on this opening created by Reffitt, including “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley and Dominic Pezzola, an alleged member of the far-right group Proud Boys who was one of the first to breach the building by smashing a police riot shield through a window of the Senate wing.
Prosecutors also played several clips of Reffitt’s own video footage from Jan. 6, which had been shot with a 360-degree camera attached to the front of his helmet and recovered from an external hard drive the FBI had seized during a search of his house. One of the videos played for the jury last week showed a crowd of people gathered at the Ellipse as songs like “Tiny Dancer” and “Gloria,” staples of former President Donald Trump’s campaign rally playlist, blared in the background. In it, a voice that the government said was Reffitt’s can be heard saying over and over to the people around him that he planned to go to the Capitol “before the day is over.”
“I just want to see [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s head hit every f***ing stair on the way out ... and [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell too,” the voice says at one point. At another: “I’m packing heat, and I’m going to get more heat.”
The comments echo messages that prosecutors say Reffitt sent involving his plans for Jan. 6 in a family text chain, and in a Texas Three Percenters far-right militia group Telegram chat, where he went by the username “Call to Arms.”
At one point, Welch indicated that he would try to accuse the government of tampering with evidence when he raised the concept of “deepfakes” in his cross-examination of the FBI special agent who testified about the videos found on Reffitt’s hard drive. The agent replied that she saw no evidence that any changes had been made to the videos.
Arguably the most emotional moment in the trial came on Thursday, when Reffitt’s 19-year-old son Jackson took the stand, eliciting tears from the otherwise composed defendant.
For roughly three hours, the soft-spoken teen with long brown hair recounted his father’s radicalization from moderate conservative to “far-right extreme militia” member during the months leading up to the insurrection, and his decision to report his father’s increasingly disturbing behavior to the FBI.
Jackson, who lived at home with his parents in Wiley, Texas, until his father’s arrest in late January 2021, said his once close relationship with his father had become strained in 2016 by their opposing political beliefs. He told jurors that they had regularly clashed over the teen’s participation in the racial justice protests that sprang up across the country in the summer of 2020, as his father became increasingly involved in the Texas Three Percenters, the state chapter of an antigovernment paramilitary group whose name is inspired by the myth that only 3 percent of Americans volunteered to fight the British during the Revolutionary War. Jackson said his father “constantly” had his handgun holstered to his hip, or on the nightstand next to his bed, and he often walked around the house wearing a bulletproof vest.
Though Jackson described his dad as “a big talker,” he said he grew increasingly alarmed as his father’s antigovernment rhetoric took on a more explicit tone in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election. After receiving a particularly ominous string of text messages from his father on Christmas Eve, in which he wrote, “What’s about to happen will shock the world,” and “We are about to rise up the way the Constitution was written,” Jackson decided to report his concerns to the FBI. He said he didn’t get a response until two weeks later, on Jan. 6.
When Reffitt returned home to Texas after Jan. 6, Jackson decided to record his father using an app on his cellphone, as he boasted to the family about his actions at the Capitol.
“I was afraid if nobody actually believed me, and if my father had done what he’s saying, it’s better his word against mine,” Jackson explained. In the recording, which was played for jurors during Jackson’s testimony, the older Reffitt can be heard describing how he’d led a crowd of rioters up the steps of the Capitol and withstood several rounds of pepper balls from Capitol Police, before being sprayed in the face with bear spray and forced to retreat.
“I didn’t make it in, but I started the fire,” Reffitt said in one part of the recording. “I was willing to die when I was there. I was willing to die.”
Reffitt also repeatedly stated that he was armed during the riot, saying, “I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress.”
Jackson was particularly disturbed when, during the recorded conversation, his father told him that Jan. 6 was just a “preface” for what was to come.
“Jan. 6 was already so bad,” he said. “That could just be the beginning — to hear my father say that was scary. It was scary.”
A few days later — after a heated conversation in which Jackson said his dad threatened to shoot him and his sister if they reported him to authorities — the younger Reffitt met with an FBI agent.
“Clearly he wasn’t just talking at this point,” Jackson told jurors. “He had proven that he was willing to act.”
Jackson, a community college student, said he moved out of the family home after his father’s arrest and has had little communication with his family since. In cross-examination, defense attorney Welch questioned his motives, noting that the teen chose not to notify his mother and sisters before conducting several national media interviews last year, including an appearance on CNN in which he revealed that he’d turned his father in, nor has he shared with his family any of the $158,000 he’s raised through a GoFundMe page he created after going public.
Jackson said he felt guilty about the money, which he has used to pay for school and living expenses and dental work, and said he’s offered to share it with his family. He explained that he’d agreed to the interviews in the hope that speaking out could help other families.
“There were hundreds of people on Jan. 6, and they all have families,” he said.
Guy Reffitt’s words also took on new meaning after Jan. 6 for Rocky Hardie, a former member of the Texas Three Percenters who drove with him from Texas to Washington last year with their rifles and handguns in tow.
Hardie testified on Friday under an agreement with the federal government that prohibits prosecutors from using his testimony to bring a criminal case against him, though it does not guarantee that Hardie won’t face charges for his own activities on Jan. 6.
Hardie told jurors that he and Reffitt both believed the unproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen and had decided to go to Washington in late December, after Trump urged his supporters to show up for a “wild” protest when Congress met to certify the vote on Jan. 6. In the days before their departure, Hardie said he and Reffitt joked about dragging Pelosi — who they both agreed was “evil incarnate”— down the front steps of the U.S. Capitol, and researched reciprocity laws for the states they’d be traveling through, concluding that it was worth the risk to bring their guns to the Capitol even though their concealed-carry permits would likely be invalid under D.C.’s strict firearm laws.
“We decided it's better to be tried by a jury of 12 than carried by six,” Hardie told jurors. “That means, if you violate a handgun law ... you’ll probably go to jail, [but] at some point you'll get out. But if you die, you’re not coming back.”
Hardie said that on the morning of Jan. 6, he and Reffitt reassembled their rifles in their hotel room — for easy access in case of violence from antifa activists — and strapped on their handguns and body armor before heading to Trump’s rally at the Ellipse. He said Reffitt also gave him zip ties — “the real big heavy ones you use as handcuffs” — and said Reffitt told him they were “in case we need to detain anybody.”
While Hardie told jurors that he perceived Reffitt as a man of action, he insisted that he never imagined anyone would actually try to break into the Capitol on Jan. 6, even as he admitted that the goal that day was to stop Congress from certifying the vote.
But that impression changed when Hardie and Reffitt, who’d gotten separated in the crowd on the National Mall before they reached the Capitol, met back up at their hotel that evening, and Reffitt told him about how he’d charged to the front of the crowd and “made it possible for other people to continue” into the building.
“I guess he was serious,” said Hardie, who claimed he got close enough to touch the Capitol but didn’t climb the steps or try to enter. “I was pretty impressed that he did what he did. I felt like he had more courage than I did. I wasn’t going to go up there.”
Since his arrest in late January of last year, Reffitt has been in custody at a Washington, D.C., jail. In court he wore jeans, a dark sport coat and boots, his hair pulled back in a short ponytail, and often took notes during witness testimony.
Though he chose not to take the stand, or present any defense in his criminal trial, Reffitt has stood by his conduct at the Capitol in other settings. In a jailhouse letter obtained by ProPublica last May, he wrote, “There was no insurrection, no conspiracy, no sinister plan and no reason to think otherwise.”
“January 6th was nothing short of a satirical way to overthrow a government,” read the handwritten letter. “If overthrow was the quest, it would have no doubt been overthrown.”
Before the start of his trial late last month, a statement attributed to Reffitt was posted on a Telegram channel called J6 Patriot News that read: “I am prepared to stare down the barrel of tyranny to receive the bullet of freedom.”
On Friday evening, another message purportedly written by Reffitt appeared in the same Telegram channel, referring to evidence that had been presented in the trial that week.
“My deepest apologies to everyone, most of all my family, for the atrocious language in those audio and video clips,” read the post. “If I can be convicted for having a foul mouth, I was never truly a free man.”