Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
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.
Guy Reffitt was found 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, 49, traveled to Washington, D.C., from his home in Wylie 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, according to government witnesses and evidence.
“On Jan. 6, 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 ballot 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 a rally led by then-President Donald Trump at the Ellipse. Referring to House Speaker Nancy A. Pelosi, D-Calif., the defendant said in several expletive-laden variations that the group would drag lawmakers “out kicking and screaming,” and 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 state 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.”
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 only testified that he could see from video that the defendant was carrying a “silver, metallic linear object” in a hip holster. The agent said an FBI search recovered a holstered, silver .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.
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 Rudy 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 alleged 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 flanked police from below and from the side. Three minutes later, rioters shoved through the line of officers, breaching the building at 2:12 p.m., video exhibits showed.
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,” Reffitt said, according to 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 Washington, 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 Washington hotel. Hardie also testified that Reffitt gave him zip-ties and told him they were “in case we need to detain anybody.”
Welch countered that Hardie, who said that his business and home were raided by the FBI days after the riot and that he quit the Three Percenters, was spared prosecution for his testimony.
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.
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 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.”