First Jan. 6 rioter convicted at trial sentenced to more than 7 years in prison

Guy Reffitt, an associate of the far-right Three Percenters militia, was sentenced Monday to 87 months, or more than seven years, in federal prison for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, the longest prison term handed down thus far in connection with the violent insurrection.

In March, a jury found Reffitt, a former oil industry worker from Wylie, Texas, guilty of five felony counts, including obstruction of Congress, interfering with police and transporting firearms to Washington, D.C., for a riot, and threatening his teenage son upon returning to Texas. Reffitt was the first Jan. 6 defendant to be convicted at trial.

Artist sketch depicts Guy Reffitt, joined by his lawyer William Welch, right, in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28, 2022.
An artist's sketch depicts Guy Reffitt, left, joined by his lawyer William Welch, in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 28. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File) (AP)

Last month, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich to sentence Reffitt to 15 years in prison — more than the nine to 11 years recommended under federal sentencing guidelines, and about three times as long as the longest sentence handed down to date in a Jan. 6 case. The sentencing request also marked the first time that federal prosecutors sought to apply a terrorism enhancement for a convicted Jan. 6 rioter.

Defense attorney F. Clinton Broden had asked the judge to sentence his client to just two years in prison, arguing in a court filing that Reffitt did not commit any violence and has no criminal history. Before Monday’s sentencing hearing, the defense submitted letters to the court from a variety of Reffitt’s friends and relatives, including his 18-year-old daughter, Peyton. The letters, Broden wrote, “describe a depressed man who believed he was unable to adequately provide for his family (his life’s mission), and a man who felt cast aside and marginalized.”

Nicole Reffitt, center, walks out of federal court in Washington on March 8, 2022. Her husband, Guy, was convicted on charges stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Nicole Reffitt, center, the wife of Guy Reffitt, walks out of federal court in Washington on March 8. (Susan Walsh/AP) (AP)

Though Reffitt did not actually enter the Capitol on Jan. 6, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Nestler and Risa Berkower sought to portray him as a key instigator in the attack, arguing at trial that Reffitt — armed with a handgun, body armor and zip ties — had cleared the way for others to breach the building by positioning himself at the front of the angry mob and facing off with U.S. Capitol Police.

“Reffitt sought not just to stop Congress, but also to physically attack, remove, and replace the legislators who were serving in Congress,” Nestler and Berkower wrote in their 58-page sentencing memo. His conduct, they argued, “is a quintessential example of an intent to both influence and retaliate against government conduct through intimidation or coercion,” which is the definition of a federal crime of terrorism and is subject to harsher penalties.

Friedrich, however, denied the government’s request for a terrorism enhancement to Reffitt’s sentence, saying that such a move would result in an “unwarranted sentencing disparity” with other Jan. 6 cases.

“There are a lot of cases where defendants possessed weapons or committed very violent assaults,” Friedrich said Monday, pointing out that the most severe sentences that have been handed down in relation to Jan. 6 so far were 63 months, or just over five years in prison, for defendants convicted of assaulting police officers. “The government is asking for a sentence that is three times as long as any other defendant, and the defendant did not assault an officer.”

Reffitt, who has been detained since he was arrested in January 2021, addressed the court before receiving his sentence on Monday, saying, "I did want to definitely make an apology, multiple apologies really, and accept my responsibility because I do hate what I did."

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they try to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they try to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

Reffitt is one of more than 850 people who have been charged so far in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, which resulted in five deaths, left more than 150 police officers injured and disrupted the joint session of Congress that had convened to certify the electoral vote count in the 2020 presidential election.

More than 200 Jan. 6 defendants have already pleaded guilty to a variety of mostly misdemeanor charges, while roughly 330 are still awaiting trial on felony charges. In addition to Reffitt, eight others have been convicted at trial so far.

Reffitt was charged with four counts relating to his activities on Jan. 6: obstructing an official proceeding; interfering with law enforcement during a civil disorder; transporting firearms to Washington, D.C., for a civil disorder; and being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm. Prosecutors also charged him with obstruction of justice based on threats he allegedly made to his teenage son and daughter upon returning to his Texas home from Washington, telling them to “choose a side or die” and that they would be traitors if they reported him to law enforcement. He pleaded not guilty to all five charges.

Among the witnesses called to testify against Reffitt at trial included a former member of the Texas Three Percenters, who said he drove with Reffitt from Texas to Washington with their rifles and handguns in tow, and Reffitt’s 19-year-old son, Jackson, who described his father’s radicalization from moderate conservative to “far-right extreme militia” member in the months leading up to the insurrection.

Prosecutors also played several clips of Reffitt’s own video footage from Jan. 6, which had been shot with a 360-degree camera attached to the front of his helmet and recovered from an external hard drive the FBI seized during a search of his house. In one of the self-recorded videos, apparently taken at President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally at the Ellipse, a voice that prosecutors said was Reffitt’s could be heard saying he planned to go to the Capitol “before the day is over.”

“I just want to see [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s head hit every f***ing stair on the way out ... and [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell too,” the voice said at one point. At another: “I’m packing heat, and I’m going to get more heat.”

Those comments echoed messages that prosecutors say Reffitt sent involving his plans for Jan. 6 in a family text chain, and to a Texas Three Percenters Telegram chat where he went by the username “Call to Arms.”

In a conversation secretly recorded by his son after he returned home from Washington, Reffitt could be heard bragging to his family about bringing a gun to the Capitol.

Jackson said his father’s antigovernment rhetoric took on a more explicit tone in the weeks after the 2020 presidential election, prompting him to report his concerns to the FBI on Christmas Eve 2020. However, Jackson said he didn’t get a response until two weeks later, on Jan. 6. The younger Reffitt ultimately met with an FBI agent days after the riot, following a heated conversation in which Jackson said his dad threatened to shoot him and his sister if they reported him to authorities.

Reffitt did not testify or present any defense during his criminal trial. His attempt at an apology Monday was a stark contrast from previous statements he made from jail, in which he denied wrongdoing and expressed no remorse for his actions on Jan. 6.

"I can't help but wonder, whether like many other Jan. 6 defendants, I'm hearing what I'd like to hear from you as opposed to what you really believe,” Friedrich reportedly remarked to Reffitt in court Monday.

Asked whether he agreed that he’d violated the law with respect to the five counts against him, Reffitt told the judge, “I clearly f***ed up.”

The rioters got within two doors of Vice President Mike Pence's office. See how in this 3D explainer from Yahoo Immersive.