(WASHINGTON) — Opening statements got underway Wednesday in the case of a Texas man charged with participating in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol and later threatening his family members if they reported him to law enforcement.
Guy Reffitt, 49, a self-proclaimed member of the far-right anti-government “Three Percenter” militia group, is the first alleged participant in the Jan. 6 insurrection to bring his case to trial. He faces five felony charges that carry maximum sentences of between five and 20 years each.
“The evidence in this case will show that the defendant attacked the Capitol on the afternoon of January 6 precisely because Congress was meeting in a joint session,” assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told the court. “At that time, he planned to light a match that would start the fire. He wanted to stop Congress from doing its job.”
“The defendant was the tip of this mob’s spear,” Nestler said.
Reffitt’s case presents a major test for the Justice Department, as the result could impact hundreds of other alleged rioters who are weighing whether to similarly take their cases to trial or enter into plea deals with the government.
Nestler said in his opening statement that the government plans to play audio recorded prior to the attack of Reffitt talking about what he planned to do to lawmakers upon storming the Capitol.
“We’re taking the Capitol before the day is over, ripping them out by their f***ing hair, every f***ing one of them,” Reffitt says in one of the audio clips. “I just want to see Pelosi’s head hitting every f****ing stair on the way out, and Mitch McConnell too … I’m packing heat and I’m going to get more heat and I am going to that building and I am dragging them out.”
In his brief opening statement, Reffitt’s attorney, William Welch III, said there was no evidence showing Reffitt assaulted anyone and that Reffitt’s statements to his family and others amounted to little more than hyperbole.
“Guy does brag, he exaggerates, and he rants — he uses a lot of hyperbole and that upsets people,” Welch said. “The evidence will show that this case was a rush to judgment.”
“Guy Reffitt did not enter the Capitol,” Welch said. “He did not break anything, he did not take anything.”
Following two days of jury selection and one-on-one question-and-answer sessions with more than four dozen Washington, D.C., residents, 12 jurors and four alternates were selected for the trial, including nine men and seven women. Their backgrounds range from a NASA employee and a natural-gas industry lobbyist to an analyst with the Pentagon and a wood crafter who works with the federal agency that maintains the Capitol complex.
Judge Dabney Friedrich acknowledged that “virtually every juror” would have some view of the assault on the Capitol, but said the goal of the jury selection was to find residents who could legitimately separate their personal feelings about the attack from the question of Reffitt’s guilt or innocence.
In a recent filing, prosecutors said they expect to call 13 witnesses in Reffitt’s trial, including representatives from Capitol Police, the FBI and the Secret Service, as well as a counsel to the Secretary of the Senate, Reffitt’s son and daughter, and a fellow member of the Three-Percenter militia who traveled with Reffitt to D.C. and has been granted immunity for his testimony.
Reffitt spoke to ABC News from jail in December, saying, “This has been disastrous for me and my family, especially for my girls, my son — actually, all of my family.”
He also said he believes he’ll be exonerated at trial.
“It’s not that hard to prove that I didn’t do anything,” Reffitt said. “It should be pretty easy.”
After nearly 14 months of evidence-gathering, more than 750 people have been arrested on federal charges connected to the riot, and investigators say they are continuing to seek hundreds more who are suspected of participating in the violence that occurred that day.
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