Prosecutors Open Arguments Towards Defendant in First Jan. 6 Trial
Man Reffitt recorded himself as he entered the Capitol with zip ties and a pistol. “We’re taking the Capitol earlier than the day is over, ripping them out by their hair,” he mentioned.
WASHINGTON — On the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, a person believed by the authorities to be a member of a Texas militia walked from the Ellipse in Washington, the place President Donald J. Trump had been talking about election fraud, to the Capitol. He was carrying what he described as his “full battle rattle”: physique armor, a helmet mounted with a digital camera, a set of plastic hand ties and a .40-caliber pistol at his hip.
Over the subsequent a number of minutes, prosecutors mentioned, the armed man, Man Wesley Reffitt, not solely helped lead a mob up a staircase of the constructing, but in addition recorded himself narrating his position within the advance.
“We’re taking the Capitol earlier than the day is over, ripping them out by their hair,” Mr. Reffitt mentioned on digital camera. Then he made a selected menace towards the Speaker of the Home: “I simply wish to see Nancy Pelosi’s head hitting each step on the best way out.”
With a replay of this dramatic scene, prosecutors on Wednesday opened the first criminal trial stemming from the Capitol attack, saying that Mr. Reffitt was on the forefront of the pro-Trump crowd that stormed into the constructing as lawmakers have been certifying the outcomes of the 2020 election.
“He deliberate to gentle the match that will begin the fireplace,” Jeffrey S. Nestler, a federal prosecutor, mentioned in a gap assertion. “He wished to cease Congress from doing its job.”
Because the trial unfolds over the subsequent a number of days, the federal government intends to supply proof that Mr. Reffitt, 41, had a standoff with the police exterior the Capitol after touring to Washington from his residence in Wylie, Texas. Prosecutors say Mr. Reffitt got here to Washington with a fellow member of the Texas Three Percenters, a loosely organized militia motion that takes its identify from the supposed three % of the U.S. colonial inhabitants that fought towards the British.
Mr. Nestler mentioned that prosecutors would introduce messages that Mr. Reffitt had despatched to different members of the group prematurely of the assault, saying that “the gas is ready” and that he deliberate to “strike the match in DC on Jan. 6.” The Three Percenter who traveled with him to Washington, Rocky Hardy, is ready to testify underneath an immunity cope with the federal government.
Prosecutors additionally plan to elicit testimony from two of Mr. Reffitt’s kids, Jackson and Peyton, who have been youngsters on the time of the assault. The kids plan to say their father threatened them after he returned to Texas in an effort to hold them from turning him in to the authorities.
A big man with a barrel chest and a pigtail, Mr. Reffitt sat with out exhibiting a lot emotion as Mr. Nestler instructed the jury how he had led a big group of rioters up a staircase on the Capitol, simply exterior the Senate chamber, disregarding makes an attempt by the police to cease him with pepper balls and heavier projectiles. Even after he was lastly subdued with a canister of pepper spray, Mr. Reffitt urged the group round him to push on, Mr. Nestler mentioned.
In his personal transient opening assertion, Mr. Reffitt’s lawyer, William L. Welch, performed down the confrontation with police, saying that his consumer had by no means assaulted any officers or helped anybody assault them. Whereas Mr. Welch admitted that Mr. Reffitt was vulnerable to “rants” and “hyperbole,” he insisted that he was not aggressive.
“This case has been a rush to judgment,” Mr. Welch mentioned, “based mostly on bragging, based mostly on a variety of hype.”
The primary witness within the trial, Shauni Kerkhoff, a former Capitol Police officer, appeared to contradict Mr. Welch’s description of Mr. Reffitt. Whereas watching a surveillance digital camera video of her standoff with Mr. Reffitt, Ms. Kerkhoff instructed the jury that after he moved towards her up the staircase, disobeying her instructions, she used a Tippmann PepperBall Launcher to fireplace 40 to 50 projectiles.
That did little to gradual him down, she recalled. Mr. Reffitt was additionally undeterred by bigger projectiles fired by her companion and by pepper spray utilized by a 3rd officer.
At that time, Ms. Kerkhoff made a panicked name for assistance on her radio.
“We now have a person breaching the west terrace, breaching the west terrace up the steps,” she referred to as out in a breathless message performed for the jury. “We want backup.”
After greater than 200 responsible pleas in Jan. 6-related circumstances, Mr. Reffitt’s is the primary to achieve a courtroom and marks the primary time a jury will contemplate the authorized principle underneath which the federal government has charged lots of of defendants. His case is considered one of a number of to incorporate defendants with ties to far-right extremist or militia teams just like the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers.
Shortly after Mr. Reffitt’s trial ended for the day, a member of the Oath Keepers pleaded responsible in a separate case to fees of seditious conspiracy — essentially the most critical allegations to have been introduced to date towards any of the greater than 750 individuals charged within the Capitol assault.
Capitol Riot’s Aftermath: Key Developments
The potential case towards Trump. In a court docket submitting, the Home committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault mentioned there was sufficient proof to conclude that former President Donald J. Trump and a few of his allies may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy as he fought to stay in workplace.
In court docket papers, the Oath Keeper who pleaded responsible, Joshua James, instructed the federal government that the group’s chief, Stewart Rhodes, had instructed him and his compatriots to make use of “deadly pressure” towards anybody who tried to take away President Trump from workplace, together with the Nationwide Guard or “different authorities actors.”
On the coronary heart of Mr. Reffitt’s case is the accusation that he obstructed the work of Congress throughout the assault by serving to chase lawmakers from the constructing whereas they have been overseeing the certification of the Electoral School vote. The obstruction cost — considered one of 5 counts lodged towards him — has been utilized in lieu of different crimes like sedition or revolt in scores of Capitol riot circumstances to explain the disruption that occurred when the mob pressured lawmakers to flee.
Within the months main as much as the trial, a number of protection legal professionals — together with Mr. Reffitt’s — challenged using the regulation, arguing that prosecutors had stretched it far past its authentic design as a technique to curb actions like shredding paperwork or tampering with witnesses in congressional inquiries. However 10 federal judges — together with Decide Dabney L. Friedrich, who’s overseeing the Reffitt trial — have upheld using the regulation. Mr. Reffitt’s case would be the first time a jury will get to determine whether or not the cost suits the crime.
There’s one wrinkle, nonetheless: Decide Friedrich dominated earlier than the trial that she may toss the obstruction cost on her personal if she doesn’t imagine the proof helps the declare that Mr. Reffitt acted “corruptly” in disrupting Congress’s work, as required by the statute. Prosecutors will search to persuade her — and the jury — that Mr. Reffitt did act corruptly by claiming that he meant to assault the police and, maybe, by way of how he deliberate for violence that day.
To that finish, Mr. Nestler instructed the jury in his opening assertion that Mr. Reffitt had began to arrange for the storming of the Capitol effectively earlier than Jan. 6. In late December, he despatched a message to members of his household saying that “tyranny” was coming and that “what’s about to occur will shock the world.”
Mr. Reffitt’s son Jackson was sufficiently involved that he referred to as the F.B.I. on Christmas Eve 2020 to warn brokers about his father — “a wrenching resolution,” as Mr. Nestler put it.
Lower than two weeks later, Mr. Reffitt and Mr. Hardy set out from Texas and drove 2,000 miles throughout the nation to Washington. They took a automobile, Mr. Nestler, mentioned, in order that they might convey a cache of weapons — amongst them, the pistol Mr. Reffitt wore and an assault rifle.