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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

First Capitol rioter to face trial gets 7 years, longest sentence so far

In an image provided by the Department of Justice shows, Guy Wesley Reffitt during the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A federal judge on Monday sentenced Reffitt, the first defendant to go on trial in the Justice Department’s sprawling criminal inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack, to more than seven years in prison, the longest sentence to date in a case stemming from the Capitol riot.

By Zach Montague

A federal judge earlier this week sentenced Guy Wesley Reffitt, the first defendant to go on trial in the Justice Department’s sprawling criminal inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack, to more than seven years in prison, the longest sentence to date in a case stemming from the Capitol riot.

After a six-hour hearing, Judge Dabney Friedrich handed down a sentence at the low end of the guideline range. She noted that was still significantly longer than any given so far to any of the more than 800 people arrested in connection with the riot, many of whom have struck plea bargains.

Prosecutors had asked that Reffitt be given 15 years after adding a sentencing enhancement used in cases of domestic terrorism. But Friedrich rejected those terms, sentencing him to seven years and three months in prison with three years of probation, and ordering him to pay $2,000 in restitution and receive mental health treatment.

A jury found Reffitt guilty on five felony charges in March, including obstructing Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election, carrying a .40-caliber pistol during the riot, and two counts of civil disorder. Unlike others who breached the building, Reffitt did not go inside.

The sentencing capped a trial that was seen as an important test for the Justice Department, which is only beginning the marathon process of trying what could be scores of rioters. In particular, prosecutors and defense lawyers had been watching to see how the obstruction charge, a rarely used count central to many of the cases yet to reach trial, would hold up in court.

But Friedrich described Reffitt’s case as unusual on account of threats of violence he made against his children when he discovered he might be swept up in the federal investigation following the riot. In March, Reffitt’s son, Jackson Reffitt, took the stand to testify that his father had become radicalized in the months leading up to the attack, and had threatened both him and his sister in an attempt to dissuade them from speaking to authorities, telling them that “traitors get shot.”

Before Monday, the longest sentence in a case related to the attack on the Capitol was just more than five years, given last year to a man who had pleaded guilty to assaulting an officer with a fire extinguisher. But because Reffitt did not plead guilty like hundreds of others arrested in connection with the attack and went to trial, Friedrich said, the sentencing guidelines for his case were two years more than if he had reached a plea deal.

The sentence comes as a parallel investigation being carried out by the House Jan. 6 committee has been gaining momentum. As courts slowly process the hundreds of cases related to the riot, speculation has grown as to how the Justice Department will respond to the committee’s findings about former President Donald Trump and those in his inner circle who helped instigate it, and whether the committee will formally recommend criminal charges.

After briefly appearing hesitant to address the court Monday, Reffitt, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with his hair pulled back into a thin ponytail, offered an apology for his actions.

“I did want to definitely make an apology,” he said. “In 2020, I was a little crazy, everything went a little stupid.”

But Friedrich said that although she appreciated his sentiment, she doubted his sincerity, given that while in jail awaiting sentencing, he apparently had raised funds off his incarceration, releasing politically charged statements “doubling down” on his claims and a “manifesto” he had dictated to his family by phone.

Reffitt conceded that he had often resorted to “hyperbole,” but said that any inflammatory claims he had made were intended to draw donations to support his family financially.

In the months before and after the 2020 election, Reffitt got involved with the Texas Three Percenters, a loosely organized militia movement, and sent messages recruiting others in the group to accompany him to Washington on Jan. 6.

As part of his sentence, Friedrich instructed him not to contact any members of the Three Percenters or other militia groups while on probation.

In final remarks, Friedrich made a point to stress that while Reffitt’s actions were not as violent as many others who had attacked police officers Jan. 6, they nonetheless put hundreds of people in danger.

While Reffitt repeatedly described himself and other rioters who stormed the Capitol as “patriots” in statements from jail, Friedrich called their behavior the “antithesis of patriotism.”

“Not only are they not patriots, they are a direct threat to our democracy and will be prosecuted as such,” she said.

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