A Texas man convicted of storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun, helmet and body armour was sentenced Monday to more than seven years in prison, the longest sentence imposed so far among hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
Prosecutors said Guy Reffitt told fellow members of the Texas Three Percenters militia group that he planned to drag House Speaker Nancy Pelosi out of the Capitol building by her ankles, “with her head hitting every step on the way down,” according to a court filing.
Reffitt’s prison sentence — seven years and three months — is two years more than the previous longest prison sentence for a Capitol riot defendant. But it’s less than half the length of the 15-year prison term requested by a federal prosecutor, who called Reffitt a domestic terrorist and said he wanted to physically remove and replace members of Congress.
Reffitt was the first person to go on trial for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, in which supporters of then-U.S. president Donald Trump halted the joint session of Congress for certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who presided over Reffitt’s jury trial, also sentenced him to three years of supervised release after his prison term and ordered him to pay US$2,000 in restitution.
Sentencing guidelines calculated by the judge called for a term of imprisonment ranging from seven years and three months to nine years.
Friedrich rejected prosecutors’ contention that an “upward departure for terrorism” — leading to a far longer sentence — was warranted in Reffitt’s case. It was the first time that prosecutors have requested that sentencing enhancement for a Jan. 6 case.
“He wanted to physically and literally remove Congress,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told the judge. “We do believe that he is a domestic terrorist.”
Friedrich, however, questioned why Reffitt would merit the terrorism enhancement when many other rioters engaged in violence and made similarly disturbing threats.
The longest sentence before Reffitt’s was five years and three months, for two men who pleaded guilty to assaulting police officers at the Capitol.
Reffitt, who already has been jailed for approximately 19 months, initially balked at speaking to the judge during Monday’s hearing. But he changed his mind during a lunch break and offered an expletive-laden apology to police officers, lawmakers and congressional staffers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Calling himself “an idiot,” Reffitt struggled to explain why he stormed the Capitol.
“It was a big blur,” he said. “It was just very chaotic and confusing.”
Friedrich questioned the sincerity of Reffitt’s apology and expressions of remorse, noting that he has been publishing statements from jail in which he portrays himself and other rioters as patriots who were justifiably rebelling against a tyrannical U.S. government.
“Not only are they not patriots, they are direct threats to our democracy and will be punished as such,” the judge said.
Reffitt suggested that his fiery rhetoric from prison was hyperbole necessary to raise money to support his family.
“I’m on the street if I don’t say something that would garner money for them,” he said.
Defence attorney Clinton Broden asked for Reffitt to be sentenced to no more than two years in prison. Broden noted that Reffitt didn’t assault any law enforcement officers or enter the Capitol building.
Videos captured the confrontation between outnumbered Capitol police officers and a mob of people, including Reffitt, who approached them on the west side of the Capitol.
Reffitt was armed with a Smith & Wesson pistol in a holster on his waist, carrying zip-tie handcuffs and wearing body armour and a helmet equipped with a video camera when he advanced on the officers, according to prosecutors. He retreated after an officer pepper sprayed him in the face, but he waved on other rioters who ultimately breached the building, prosecutors said.
Reffitt didn’t testify at his trial before jurors convicted him in March of all five counts in his indictment. The jury found him guilty of obstructing Congress’ joint session, of interfering with police officers outside the Capitol and of threatening his two teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement.
Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, testified that his father told him and his sister, then 16, that they would be traitors if they reported him to authorities and warned them that “traitors get shot.”
Guy Reffitt was a member of the Texas Three Percenters militia group, according to prosecutors. The Three Percenters movement refers to the myth that only 3% of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against the British.
Reffitt lived with his wife and children in Wylie, Texas, a Dallas suburb. He drove to Washington, D.C., with Rocky Hardie, a fellow member of the militia group.
Hardie testified that both of them were armed with holstered handguns when they attended Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally before the riot. Hardie also said Reffitt gave him two pairs of zip-tie cuffs in case they needed to detain anybody.
More than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. Over 340 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. More than 220 have been sentenced, with nearly half of them receiving terms of imprisonment. Approximately 150 others have trial dates stretching into 2023.
Reffitt is one of seven Capitol riot defendants to get a jury trial so far. Jurors have unanimously convicted all seven of them on all counts in their respective indictments.
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