WASHINGTON (AP) — An armed Texas militia member led a “vigilante mob” that overwhelmed police and became the first group of rioters to breaching the United States Capitol last yeara federal prosecutor said Monday following the first criminal trial for the riot.
A 12-member jury is due to begin deliberating Tuesday for the trial of Guy Wesley Reffitt, accused of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun strapped to his waist and interfering with police officers guarding the Senate doors. He is also accused of threatening his teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement after the January 6, 2021 attack.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors Reffitt traveled to Washington, D.C., with the intention of preventing Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory, ‘overturning Congress’ and dragging legislators out of the building. Reffitt proudly “lit the fire” that allowed other members of the crowd to overwhelm the Capitol police, the prosecutor said during the trial’s closing arguments.
“They were in an impossible situation – outnumbered and, they feared, outgunned,” Berkower said of the police.
Reffitt, 49, of Wylie, Texas, did not testify at his trial, which began last Wednesday. Defense attorney William Welch did not call any defense witnesses after prosecutors closed their case.
Welch urged jurors to acquit Reffitt of all but one charge. He said they should convict him on a misdemeanor charge that he entered and remained in a restricted area.
“That’s what proof beyond a reasonable doubt looks like, but it stops there,” Welch said.
Reffitt faces five counts: obstructing official process, unlawfully being on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disturbance, interfering with law enforcement during civil unrest and obstruction of justice. The obstruction of justice charge relates to his alleged threats against his children.
Welch denied Reffitt had a gun on Capitol Hill and said there was no evidence he engaged in any violence or destructive behavior on Jan. 6.
“Guy brags a lot,” Welch said. “He embellishes and he exaggerates.”
“Yes, Guy Reffitt is bragging,” replied Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler. “And you know what he’s bragging about? The truth.”
Reffitt was arrested less than a week after the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol. He remained imprisoned in Washington, DC, 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, prosecutors say. The Three Percenters militia movement refers to the myth that only 3% of American colonists fought against the British during the Revolutionary War.
Friday, jurors heard testimony from a self-proclaimed member of the Texas Three Percenters who drove from Texas to Washington, DC, with Reffitt. Witness, Rocky Hardie, said he and Reffitt both had holstered handguns strapped to their bodies when they attended President Donald Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally just before the riot broke out. bursts.
Thusday, Reffitt’s 19-year-old son Jackson testified that his father had told him and his then 16-year-old sister that they would be traitors if they reported him to the authorities and said “traitors get shot”. Jackson Reffitt’s younger sister, Peyton, was listed as a possible government witness but did not testify.
On Jan. 6, Reffitt had the gun holstered under his jacket, was wearing zippered handcuffs, and was wearing a body armor when he and other rioters advanced on officers on the west side of the Capitol, prosecutors say.
“Every step he took on the railing, the crowd went with him,” Berkhower said. “The crowd was full of energy and cheered him on.”
Reffitt is not accused of entering the building. He pulled out after an officer pepper sprayed him in the face, prosecutors said.
Berkower released surveillance video of rioters who stormed 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 thrilled with what he did, what the crowd did,” she added. “What the defendant did was not just bragging or hype.”
Welch accused prosecutors of rushing to judgment. “Be the adults 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 a huge impact on many others. A conviction could give prosecutors more leverage over the defendants facing the most serious charges. An acquittal could encourage other defendants to seek more favorable plea deals or gamble on their own trials.
More than 220 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. and more than 110 of them have been convicted. About 90 others have trial dates.