Armed Militia Member Who Led Capitol Rioters Gets 87 Months
Guy Reffitt, a member of the extremist militia known as the Three Percenters and the very first person to stand trial for crimes connected to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, was sentenced to 87 months or just over seven years in prison on Monday.
He will be under supervision for three years following his eventual release.
Although he did not physically enter the Capitol itself, the armed Wylie, Texas, man breached police barriers and advanced against officers even as they tried desperately to repel him with dozens of pepper balls. Reffitt was found guilty this spring of multiple felony charges following a four-day jury trial. His charges included transporting a firearm, obstruction of an official proceeding, being in a restricted area unlawfully while armed, interfering with law enforcement during a civil disorder, and obstructing justice.
The last charge stemmed from Reffitt’s violent intimidation of his own family members, including his son Jackson and daughter Peyton, after he returned to Texas from Washington, D.C., last year. Jackson Reffitt was visibly anguished in court as he told jurors how his father warned him if he ratted him out to the police, he would be a “traitor.”
“And traitors get shot,” he recalled his father saying.
At his trial in Washington, jurors watched video Reffitt shot on January 6, where, courtesy of a camera mounted to his helmet-clad head, he is heard excitedly vowing to drag lawmakers out of the Capitol by their hair.
“I’m not here to play games,” Reffitt said in one clip. “I just want to see [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi’s head hit every fucking stair on the way out—and Mitch McConnell, too.”
Reffitt was also heard saying, “We have the numbers to make it happen,” and was confident the mob could overcome police without “firing a single shot.”
His attorney, F. Clinton Broden—who did not represent Reffitt at trial but signed onto the case later—sought a much lighter sentence than the 15 years initially requested by the Department of Justice. Reffitt was originally represented by William Welch.
Prosecutors argued that Reffitt was a catalyst-type figure on January 6 and urged the court to view him as the “match that started the fire,” since he was one of the very first people to breach police barriers and wave others on.
Reffitt, at the time, would seem to agree. At trial, prosecutors unearthed a Telegram message sent by Reffitt that bragged: “I was the first person to light the fire on the Capitol steps.”
Broden said despite the rhetoric, the suggestion that he started the riot was off-base. According to WUSA9, Broden told the judge Monday that the mob “would have gone up those stairs regardless, without Mr. Reffitt, I think we all know that.”
He argued his client was unlike other January 6 defendants—who had physically assaulted police, too—and therefore deserved no more than two years in prison.
Prosecutors sought what is known as an “upward departure” from the recommended federal sentencing guidelines of 9 to 11 years. Instead, they asked Reffitt to serve 15 years. His conduct warranted enhancements because of his extended planning in the run-up to January 6 and his agitation of the crowd when he started waving to people to come up the Capitol steps, prosecutors said.
In a presentencing report, prosecutors defined the 49-year-old recruiter for the Three Percenters as a “quintessential example of an intent to both influence and retaliate against government conduct through intimidation or coercion,”
Reffitt traveled more than a thousand miles from Texas to attend former President Donald Trump’s “wild” rally at the Ellipse with fellow Three Percenter Rocky Hardie. They came toting weapons, including two AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles, and Reffitt carried a .40 caliber handgun. The handgun stayed holstered at his hip when he was at the Capitol. Hardie and Reffitt left the assault rifles at their hotel in downtown D.C., but when Reffitt marched on the Capitol, he donned the .40 caliber gun, body armor, a tactical helmet, and carried flexicuffs.
The sentence enhancement was necessary for numerous reasons but was especially important because it would serve as a significant deterrent, prosecutors said.
“The need to deter others is especially strong because Reffitt engaged in acts of violence that were intended to influence the government through intimidation or coercion—acts that have been defined, by statute, as domestic terrorism,” assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Nestler wrote this month to presiding U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump-appointee. “Moreover, the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was calculated to interfere, and did interfere, with one of the most important democratic processes we have: the peaceful transfer of power.”
In court Monday, Nestler reiterated this point, noting the history of Reffit’s violent remarks and, in particular, his bringing flexicuffs to the Capitol. Reffitt, he said, intended to detain lawmakers.
“He was trying to take over our government. He wasn’t just trying to stop the vote,” Nestler said.
Friedrich was not inclined to uphold the recommended sentencing enhancements for “advanced planning” or for Reffit’s role in “aggravating” events on January 6. Nor was she willing to uphold the domestic terror enhancement. Politico reported Monday that Friedrich felt it would be unfair and would prompt an “unwarranted sentencing disparity” among other Jan. 6 defendants.
Unlike several other January 6 defendants, Reffitt failed to enter into any sort of cooperation agreement with prosecutors. Regardless of who the defendant is, cooperation almost always translates to a more lenient sentence.
Friedrich said in court Monday that she worried about Reffitt receiving a “dramatically different sentence” because he opted to go to trial instead of striking a plea deal.
The Trump-appointed judge raised comparisons between Reffitt and other January 6 defendants like Lonnie Coffman of Alabama. Coffman, she noted, pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm, but prosecutors did not seek to increase his sentence for that.
When authorities arrested Coffman as he was walking to his vehicle on January 6, they discovered almost a dozen Molotov cocktails in his car, a rifle, shotgun, machetes, a 9mm handgun, a crossbow, and other tactical gear, like smoke bombs. On his person, he had yet another 9mm handgun and a revolver. He was sentenced in April to 46 months or a little under four years.
Nestler reminded Judge Friedrich Monday that Coffman also did not receive the upward departure because he did not go to the Capitol on January 6. Reffitt did.
Friedrich also raised the case of Mark Ponder, a 56-year-old D.C. resident charged with a single felony of assaulting police with a deadly weapon. Ponder, who had a criminal background prior to January 6, assaulted no less than three cops during the Capitol attack, including U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell.
In court last week before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, Gonell offered a victim impact statement describing that life-altering day. Ponder used a thin metal pole to strike down at Gonell’s riot shield, cracking it. That pole became damaged, so Ponder picked up another thicker pole just nearby to strike at Gonell again. This one was colored red, white, and blue, The Washington Post reported. Gonell, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, suffered severe and sustained physical and mental injuries as a result of January 6 and has taken early retirement.
Ponder was sentenced to five years in prison, just below a recommended six-year sentence. This leniency was the product of his cooperation, Judge Chutkan said.
As for Reffitt, Judge Friedrich said she did not support the proposed enhancements to his sentencing though told prosecutors it was a “close call.”
Were Reffitt joined at the Capitol steps by his fellow Three-Percenter Rocky Hardie on January 6, that would have made the decision to add the enhancements a “slam dunk.”
Judge Friedrich says it's a "very close call" whether there's enough evidence to support BOTH the extensive planning adjustment AND the aggravated role adjustment. Would be a "slam dunk," she says, if Guy Reffitt's fellow militia member Rocky Hardie had joined at the stairs.— Jordan Fischer (@JordanOnRecord) August 1, 2022
Hardie, of Round Rock, Texas, testified against Reffitt at trial in exchange for immunity and did not face any charges. Hardie and Reffitt drove to Washington, D.C. together, a trip that took over 20 hours.
Hardie disclosed how he and Reffitt joked gleefully about the sound Pelosi’s head would make thudding downstairs as she was dragged out of the Capitol during the Joint Session.
After Reffitt was found guilty, Hardie told CBS they did not really believe they would harm lawmakers because they did not think it would be possible to actually access them. Hardie defended bringing weapons to Washington, too, saying they were for “self-defense” purposes. When he saw Reffitt carrying the zip ties on January 6, he told CBS that was a precautionary measure. Reffitt told him they would need them “just in case” there was anyone around that needed to be detained.
In an interview last December with ABC, Reffitt said he regretted his actions because they tore his family apart. His son was not at sentencing on Monday.
Last month, Reffitt’s wife and daughter advocated on his behalf. His son did not. Reffitt himself has said before that their relationship was strained because his son leaned more left than he did.
Writing to Judge Friedrich in hopes that she would grant a more lenient sentence, Reffitt’s wife Jodi said tensions in their family were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Guy had lost his job as an oil rig manager, and their children’s schooling was disrupted. Stress levels were high. It didn’t help matters either, she said, that her husband’s brash personality stemmed from a rough upbringing where he had been “on his own since 15.”
Jodi Reffitt begged Judge Friedrich for leniency because, she said, being together would be the only way for their family to “fully heal.”
Reffit’s daughter Peyton defended her father’s behavior and said he fell down a “rabbit hole of political news and online banter.”
In her estimation, it seemed like her father believed Trump was talking right to him and his grievances. Social media just kept “radicalizing” him, she added.
Prosecutors asked the judge not to give this too much credence, pointing to at least two incidents in which Guy allegedly put a gun to his wife’s head. On one of those occasions, he fired the gun near her head. An illegal silencer was also found on Reffitt’s property.
Judge Friedrich acknowledged Reffitt’s behavior was “unhinged at times,” but according to CBS, the judge also “couched her concern saying Reffitt ‘clearly’ loves his wife.”
Peyton Reffitt was originally meant to testify against her father at trial along with her brother Jackson, but she did not. When Reffitt returned from D.C. after the insurrection, Peyton told prosecutors her father had become increasingly paranoid. Once, he told her if she was recording him with her cell phone, he would “put a bullet” through it.
This and the “traitors get shot” comment deeply disturbed her brother. But Peyton said she didn’t see this as a threat to her life, just more of her father’s overheated rhetoric.
In court Monday, she put the blame for her father’s actions squarely on Trump’s shoulders without calling Trump by name.
“My father’s name wasn’t on all the flags,” she said Monday. “It was another man’s name. He was not the leader.”
At his trial, prosecutors shared video footage of Reffitt. In one clip, he is seen taking chemical irritants head-on, rubbing his eye. He had only barely slowed his advance because of this, and even still, he is seen waving more rioters up the stairs. The glint of his gun in his holster was visible in this footage too.
In other footage, a portion of a Zoom call Reffitt participated in with fellow Three Percenters, jurors heard Guy Reffitt boldly gloat.
“Nobody was moving forward until I climbed up that banister. I couldn’t even see, but I kept screaming, ‘Take the House,’” he said.
At sentencing, the former U.S. Capitol Police officer who testified against Reffitt, Shauni Kerkhoff, called for a harsher sentence.
Kerkhoff agreed with U.S. Attorney Nestler, who said Reffitt was more domestic terrorist than so-called patriot.
The former police officer recalled “watching in horror” as Reffitt kept advancing towards her at the Capitol, encouraging others around him to push past barriers and other police. Kerkhoff recalled how he assaulted her and other officers as he tried to push his way past them.
Reffitt has been held in a D.C. jail for more than a year already.
In a jailhouse letter first published this May by ProPublica, Reffitt defended the violence of January 6 and the activities of the extremist Three Percenters militia. The letter was signed “The 1/6ers,” but ProPublica was able to determine through interviews with members of Reffitt’s family that he wrote the screed.
“January 6th was nothing short of a satirical way to overthrow a government,” the letter stated. “If overthrow was the quest, it would have no doubt been overthrown. Ask the Capitol police for their opinion of how it could have been. They are grateful it wasn’t a real insurrection complete with mind, body, and soul.”
Before he was sentenced Monday, Judge Friedrich expressed concern about this letter and noted that it did not disavow January 6 but drew troubling comparisons between January 6 and 1776.
Reffitt offered a statement of his own before he was sentenced. According to WUSA9, Reffitt said he wanted to offer “multiple apologies.”
“I was, to put it colorfully, a fucking idiot,” he said.
The 49-year-old also vowed not to have “anything to do with militia groups or any stupid shit like that.”
He apologized to U.S. Capitol Police and members of Congress as well as the court.
Reffitt then told the judge that his family would be unable to support themselves financially while he was jailed if he “didn’t say something to garner money for them.”
When the judge asked him if it was true that everything he had said at trial was to raise money for his family, including his outward statements about rebelling against tyrannical governments, Reffitt said it was.
He also claimed that his previous attorney, William Welch, did not show him a plea bargain and instructed him that a trial was the only viable path forward.
Welch did not return an immediate request for comment on Monday. In court, Nestler said prosecutors offered Reffitt a 50-month sentence if he would cooperate, but Welch rejected the deal.
Judge Friedrich appeared skeptical at Reffitt’s remarks, pushing back against the notion that his attorney did not offer him insights on how a plea deal might change his fate. Reffitt’s own sense of self-importance may have clouded his judgment, she said: He wanted to be the first to go to trial.
Prosecutors rejected Reffitt’s last-minute mea culpa, noting how he still described January 6 as if it were a false flag event during an interview in The New Yorker this June.
In the end, Friedrich found Reffitt’s pleas unconvincing, telling him his actions posed a “direct threat” to democracy and an equal punishment was warranted.
Minutes after Guy Reffitt was sentenced to 7 years in Capitol riot case... his daughter calls for "life in prison" for Donald Trump pic.twitter.com/01pw2uBsP8
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) August 1, 2022
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.
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