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Fire starter, or full of hot air? First Capitol riot trial goes to jury

After four days of testimony, the Justice Department rested its case against Guy Reffitt. The jury will begin deliberations Tuesday morning.

WASHINGTON — The government rested its case against Guy Wesley Reffitt on Monday morning, leaving it up to a jury to decide if the first Capitol riot defendant to go to trial was an insurrectionist intent on disrupting Congress, or, as his attorney argued, a blowhard who backed down as soon as he was hit with pepper spray.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said the evidence — and his own words — left nothing ambiguous about what Reffitt wanted to do in D.C.

"He told anyone within ear shot he planned to storm the Capitol that afternoon," assistant U.S. attorney Risa Berkower said. "He said it over and over again.

Through testimony from 12 witnesses over more than three days, prosecutors laid out their case. They told a panel of D.C. jurors Reffitt drove more than 1,300 miles from his home in Wylie, Texas, to Washington, D.C. Rocky Hardie, a fellow member of the Texas Three Percenters militia, testified under an immunity agreement that he and Reffitt chose to drive so they could bring weapons and body armor with them.

During the drive, Hardie said, he and Reffitt discussed their plans for D.C.

“We talked about the need for corrupt people to be removed and replaced by people who were not corrupt,” Hardie said, adding Reffitt told him legislators “need to be dragged out and replaced by people who are patriotic to the country.”

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Thanks to a helmet-mounted camera, Telegram messages and a conversation recorded by his son, Jackson, jurors heard Reffitt himself describe what he did once he reached the front of the mob on the Capitol steps.

“I’m not trying to be arrogant, but nobody was moving forward until I took that banister,” Reffitt told the leader of the Texas Three Percenters in a recorded Zoom call. “I just kept yelling, ‘Go forward! Go forward! Take the House!”

To his family, Reffitt was more blunt: “I lit the fire.”

As jurors watched the encounter from multiple camera angles, former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Shauni Kerkhoff testified that Reffitt continued advancing on her at the front of the mob. Kerkhoff said dozens of rounds of pepperball munitions didn’t stop him – partly because he was wearing level 3 ballistic plates – and another officer using an FN-303 projectile launcher had no effect either.

Kerkhoff said she repeatedly told him to back down and leave the restricted area. Reffitt, in a recorded conversation, bragged he told Kerkhoff, “Stand aside of you’re going to get tried for treason. And, he told his militia leader, had had been “almost close enough to dive for her and take the gun away” when another officer finally stopped him with a 46 oz. can of pepper spray.

But the most tense moments in the trial came when Reffitt’s only son, Jackson, testified about turning him in to the FBI. Jackson, who has been estranged from his family since his father’s arrest last January, told jurors his father had threatened him and his younger sister after returning from the riot in D.C.

“He said, ‘If you turn me in, you’ll be traitors. And traitors get shot,’” Jackson said.

Reffitt's attorney, William Welch, called no witnesses in his client's defense. Instead, he banked the case on cross-examination of witnesses and his closing argument — which he delivered in under 15 minutes.

In it, Welch urged the jury to find his client guilty of one charge: entering and remaining in a restricted building. He said the rest of the government's case against Reffitt was a "rush to judgment."

"I would like to speak to you about why my client is guilty of Count 3(a), and not the others," Welch said. "My client never put his hands on anyone else... Guy Reffitt never disarmed an officer, never tried to and did not help anyone else disarm an officer."

As to all the "bragging," as Welch called it — the repeated statements jurors heard about Reffitt bringing a gun, wanting to drag lawmakers out by their hair, being close enough to "dive" for an officer and disarm her — that, he said, was all an attempt to massage a bruised ego.

"He was not going to say, 'I drove four days, drove two thousand miles, to be incapacitated in five minutes without doing anything," Welch said.

He also told the jury they should doubt two of the government's key witnesses. Hardie, he said, was offering self-serving testimony to avoid his own prosecution. And Jackson has raised more than $150,000 from a GoFundMe account started after he did multiple high-profile media interviews.

"This case has been a rush to judgment. Most of the case is based on bragging, a lot of hype," Welch said. "Be the grownups in the court. Separate the facts from the hype. Find Mr. Reffitt guilty of Count 3(a). Not the other charges."

On rebuttal, assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Nestler took Welch's bragging defense head on. 

"Yes, Guy Reffitt brags," he said. "But you know what he brags about? The truth."

Nestler walked jurors shot-for-shot through each claim Reffitt made in a Zoom call with the leader of the Texas Three Percenters, Russ Teer. Each statement was followed by a video of Reffitt at the riot doing what he told Teer he'd done.

"He thinks he is above the law," Nestler finished. "He thinks what he did was justified. It is your job to tell him he was wrong."

After closing arguments, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich dismissed jurors for the day with an admonishment not to view any media coverage or do their own legal research. Deliberations were expected to begin Tuesday morning.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

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