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Guy Reffitt guilty on all counts in first Capitol riot trial

Guy Reffitt, left, with his lawyer William L. Welch in federal court in Washington. (Dana Verkourteren/AP)
10 min

The first trial in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach ended with a guilty verdict on all counts, a victory for federal prosecutors handling one of the largest investigations in U.S. history.

After three days of testimony and two hours of deliberation, jurors found Guy Reffitt guilty of five felonies — obstruction of an official proceeding, interfering with police in a riot, transporting a firearm for that purpose, armed trespassing and witness tampering.

Reffitt, a petroleum industry rig manager and recruiter for the extremist Texas Three Percenters movement, was not seen entering the Capitol building or physically assaulting police. But jurors agreed with prosecutors that in confronting officers at a key choke point outside the building, Reffitt helped the mob behind him to overrun them, break in by force and halt the confirmation of President Biden’s election victory.

They also concluded that Reffitt — convicted of charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison — brought a handgun with him for use in the riot, and threatened two of his children not to expose him.

Reffitt, 49, traveled to D.C. from his home in Wylie, Tex., with an AR-15-style rifle and semiautomatic handgun, and went to the Capitol in what he called “full battle rattle,” including a handgun, a helmet, body armor, radio and flex cuffs.

“On January 6th, 2021, Guy Reffitt challenged the police at the head of a vigilante mob determined to break into the United States Capitol. He did this because he wanted to take out Congress, and an angry, energized crowd gave him his best shot,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told a jury of six men and six women in closing arguments Monday.

Reffitt “lighted that crowd into an unstoppable force” that pushed through officers making a “last stand” defending the Senate wing doors, the prosecutor said. The riot forced the evacuation of Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers as boxes holding the electoral college election results were shuttled to safety.

In conversations recorded before and after the riot played for the jury, Reffitt said he was ready to overthrow “constitutionally corrupt” lawmakers.

“I’m taking the Capitol with everyone else. … I think we have the numbers to make it happen,” Reffitt said in an allegedly self-recorded video at the Jan. 6 rally led by President Donald Trump at the Ellipse. Referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the defendant said in several expletive-laden variations that the group would drag lawmakers “out kicking and screaming” and that he wanted to see her head hit every stair on the way down.

Video, geolocation data from his phone and police testimony showed that Reffitt breached the Capitol’s barricaded grounds after 1 p.m., then confronted officers guarding a key north staircase from the Lower West Terrace to the Senate wing level at 1:47 p.m. Undeterred by pepper balls and fired plastic projectiles, Reffitt advanced step by step up a banister, using his megaphone and waving his arms to encourage those behind him over the next eight minutes.

At 2:09 p.m., members of that crowd breached police lines and broke into the building, Berkower said. Reffitt’s “decision to step forward and take on police officers allowed the crowd behind not just to advance but to adapt,” she said. The group tore down tarp to protect themselves and climbed up exposed inauguration stage scaffolding to flank officers.

Reffitt later told fellow Three Percenters in a Zoom call played in court that police “stopped me but fired up the crowd. They couldn’t be stopped after that. … We all had weapons but never fired a single round.”

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He also showed his family video of his actions at the Capitol, bragging in a conversation recorded by his son, “I did bring a weapon on property we own, federal property or not. … This gun right here was loaded.”

Defense attorney William L. Welch emphasized that despite his rough words, Reffitt did not enter the Capitol, commit any violence or damage any property.

Although Reffitt repeatedly asserted that he was armed during the riot, Welch said an FBI case agent testified that he could see from video only that the defendant was carrying a “silver, metallic linear object” in a hip holster. The agent said an FBI search recovered a holstered .40-caliber pistol from Reffitt’s nightstand, which Reffitt and Reffitt’s son said he always carried.

“Guy Reffitt never put his hands on anyone. Never threw anything at anyone. Never hit anyone with anything,” Welch argued to jurors Monday. He did not help assault any officer or impede any arrest, the defense attorney said.

Instead, Welch said that Reffitt was guilty only of trespassing on Capitol grounds — a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison.

Police radio communications synchronized with hours of footage show how failures of planning and preparation left police at the Capitol severely disadvantaged. (Video: The Washington Post)

He suggested that Reffitt’s own videos showing self-incriminating statements could have been digitally doctored or “deep-faked.” Testimony against him was self-serving or politically motivated, Welch said, and Reffitt’s other statements were similar to “outrageous” political speech by Trump and his attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani that morning.

“Guy Reffitt exaggerates,” Welch told jurors. “A lot.”

Reffitt’s case marked the first time police officers who defended the Capitol 14 months ago testified publicly against one of the rioters.

Capitol Police Inspector Monique Moore, who helmed the force’s command center that day, broke down as she recalled hearing officers “screaming for help.”

Shauni Kerkhoff and two other officers described the “dire situation” they faced: a sea of “angry, loud and violent” people led by Reffitt, filling in behind him despite being hit with pepper balls and clay bullets.

In a recorded conversation, Reffitt later described Kerkhoff as a “cute … chick” who “need[ed] a bigger gun.”

Reffitt was ultimately incapacitated by chemicals sprayed by U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Matthew Flood. The crowd booed, and Reffitt continued to wave them forward as he tried to clean his eyes, Flood testified.

It was “about to turn into a hand-to-hand battle …” Flood said. “It was very dangerous. We were definitely outnumbered.”

Within five minutes, at 1:55 p.m., a police officer used a baton to strike a person who stole an officer’s shield, and a rioter responded with bear spray. By 2:06 p.m., the mob had flanked police from the side and confronted them from below. Three minutes later, rioters shoved through the line of officers, breaching the building at 2:12 p.m.

Reffitt took credit for “forcing” the police’s hand, saying in the Three Percenters Zoom call, “Nobody was moving forward until I climbed up that banister and got wrecked the hell out. … I just kept going, ‘Go forward, go forward!’ … ‘Take the House.' ”

Reffitt said he finally fell back when rioters broke through the Senate wing doors.

“My job was done then,” he said on the call.

Rocky Hardie, 64, an earphone maker from Austin, said he was the only Texas Three Percenter who accompanied Reffitt to the Capitol. He testified that they both brought firearms and ammunition to the Capitol and to D.C., and were ready to use them in self-defense, agreeing that “it’s better to be tried by a jury of 12 than carried by six” pallbearers. He said they left a pair of AR-15s in the garage of their D.C. hotel. Hardie also testified that Reffitt gave him zip ties and told him they were “in case we need to detain anybody.”

Reffitt told the Zoom call that in addition to his .40-caliber pistol and Hardie’s .45-caliber handgun, a couple he met at the Capitol were carrying five firearms, and a woman who stopped to help him after he was bear-sprayed was armed with a .22-caliber weapon — eight firearms among five people.

On Christmas Eve, Reffitt’s son Jackson had submitted an online tip to the FBI warning that his father was planning to do “some serious damage.” Their political division, he testified, had become a personal chasm as his father began voicing support for violence against government officials.

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No one responded to the tip until after the riot, by which point Reffitt had warned his son and 16-year-old daughter that “if you turn me in, you’re a traitor, and traitors get shot,” his son testified.

Jackson Reffitt, 19, told riveted jurors that he was “terrified” by that comment but nevertheless met that afternoon with an FBI agent, turning over images and recordings of his father. He has since moved out of his family’s home.

Welch told jurors that Jackson was “hyping” a family dispute to raise money for himself and because he opposed his father’s politics.

But Berkower countered that “Jackson’s instinct was right.” She recalled evidence showing that after Jan. 6, Reffitt urged Texas Three Percenters to prepare for future violence and join his new security business as a way to keep firearms in case of a federal crackdown. Their “fight had just begun,” Reffitt told them, according to court testimony.

“His father was serious,” Berkower concluded. Reffitt “thought he had gotten away with it, and he was ready for more.”

Reffitt showed little visible reaction as the verdict was read; his wife and mother watched with tears in their eyes.

Outside court, his wife condemned the prosecution, promised an appeal and urged other Jan. 6 defendants not to plead guilty.

“This fight has just begun,” Nicole Reffitt told reporters. “Do not take … a plea. They want us to take a plea. … They are making a point out of Guy and that is to intimidate the other members of the One-Sixers, and we will all fight together.”

Nicole Reffitt said it was “disgusting” to call her teenage son as a witness against his father.

“Today is a hard day for my kids, Jackson included,” she said. “Jackson is a part of our family, and I know that he is hurting along with us.”

On Twitter, Jackson Reffitt said it was “impossible to be happy” about the verdict but that it was “no surprise,” as prosecutors “proved everything.”

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, a Trump appointee, upheld the sufficiency of the evidence for the jurors’ verdict and set sentencing for June 8.

Welch said Reffitt would appeal the government’s use of the obstruction charge. He noted that another federal judge in Washington dismissed the count against a Jan. 6 defendant for the first time late Monday, ruling that prosecutors are reading the law too broadly, although seven other judges have upheld the charge.

FBI Washington Field Office head Steven M. D’Antuono said in a statement that rather than take responsibility for his actions, Reffitt “opted to put his family through a painful trial.”

The verdict “should serve as a reminder for others who committed crimes at the Capitol that day that these are serious charges and that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will do what it takes to hold them accountable.”