By Eric Neugeboren, The Texas Tribune
“Texan who prosecutors say “lit the match” of Jan. 6 riot sentenced to more than 7 years in prison” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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WASHINGTON — Guy Reffitt, a Texan who prosecutors said “lit the match” of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, was sentenced to 7 1/4 years in prison on Monday, the longest sentence of any rioter to date but less than what the Justice Department had pushed for.
Reffitt, a 49-year-old from Wylie, was the first rioter to to be convicted at trial in March when a jury found him guilty on five counts: two counts of civil disorder and one count each of obstruction of an official proceeding, entering and remaining on restricted grounds with a firearm and obstruction of justice.
Reffitt, who was a recruiter for the antigovernment movement The Three Percenters, never entered the Capitol but helped ignite the crowd “into an unstoppable force” against police officers who were attempting to protect the Senate wing doors, a prosecutor at the trial said. He was equipped with a handgun, body armor, a helmet, radio and flex cuffs.
“Reffitt sought not just to stop Congress, but also to physically attack, remove, and replace the legislators who were serving in Congress. This is a quintessential example of an intent to both influence and retaliate against government conduct through intimidation or coercion,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.
Prosecutors sought to enhance his sentence to 15 years using a provision in federal law that allows for harsher punishment in terrorism cases, though Reffitt was not convicted of a terrorism charge. Reffitt’s case is the first time prosecutors have sought a terrorism enhancement sentencing for a Jan. 6 rioter.
The longest sentence of all Jan. 6 rioters was previously 5 1/4 years, which was given to two defendants. Prosecutors claimed that because Reffitt was armed with a firearm, chose to go to trial and was a primary instigator in the riots, he deserved the longest sentence to date.
F. Clinton Broden, a Texas-based lawyer whom Reffitt retained after his conviction, called for a sentencing of 24 months, claiming the case is different than other Jan. 6 rioters because Reffitt never entered the building, did not assault police and did not remove the handgun from his holster. Reffitt never conceded at the trial that he had a loaded weapon but bragged to fellow Three Percenters after the insurrection that “we all had weapons but never fired a single round.” Reffitt has already been held for 19 months in a Washington, D.C., jail.
After hours of going through the prosecution’s arguments for enhancing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied the terrorism enhancement and other arguments by the prosecution to increase the sentence. She said the terrorism enhancement would cause “an unwanted sentencing disparity” between Reffitt and other Jan. 6 defendants since prosecutors did not seek the increased sentencing in other cases.
Friedrich, a judge appointed by former President Donald Trump, also rebuked Broden’s push for a lighter sentence and criticized Reffitt over a letter he wrote that did not show remorse for all of his actions on Jan. 6.
“All of these illegal actions, not his words, justify the sentence,” Friedrich said when announcing the sentencing on Monday.
In a statement after the sentencing, Broden commended Friedrich for not accepting the prosecution’s recommended sentence.
“While we had hoped for a lesser sentence, we were pleased that she rejected the draconian terrorism enhancement sought by the government and that she ultimately imposed a sentence of imprisonment of less than half the sentence sought by the government,” the statement said.
In a recording played during Reffitt’s trial, he is shown on Jan. 6 saying he wanted to drag lawmakers outside of the Capitol “kicking and screaming” and that he wanted to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head hit every stair on the way down.
Reffitt breached the Capitol grounds after 1 p.m. on Jan. 6. Within an hour, he was clashing with officers who were desperately protecting a staircase that led up to the Senate wing of the building. Just over 20 minutes after Reffitt’s confrontation with officers, members of the crowd that Reffitt was a part of breached the building.
“I witnessed him lead an angry, motivated mob of armed individuals whose sole intent was to push past officers,” Shauni Kerkhoff, a former U.S. Capitol Police officer who confronted Reffitt on Jan. 6, said at Monday’s sentencing hearing. “His actions weren’t acts of patriotism. They were acts of domestic terrorism.”
The obstruction of justice charge refers to threats Reffitt made to his son. Jackson Reffitt submitted a tip to the FBI on Christmas Eve, warning that his father planned to do “some serious damage.” No one responded to the tip.
After the riot, Reffitt told his daughter and son that “if you turn me in, you’re a traitor, and traitors get shot,” his son testified during the trial.
The same day of the threat, Jackson Reffitt met with an FBI agent and turned over images and recordings of his father.
Reffitt’s lawyer downplayed the threats.
“While Mr. Reffitt’s paranoid statements to two of his children are not to be condoned, he never gave any indication he would actually harm his children,”’ Broden wrote in his sentencing request of 24 months. “Indeed, his wife has stated that, while she was understandably ‘disturbed’ by her husband’s ‘extreme’ statements to his children, she did not believe that he would ever act on those statements.”
Reffitt’s wife wrote in a letter to Freidrich that the family needs “Guy home to fully heal.”
Jackson Reffitt has since moved out of the home. In a statement read at Monday’s hearing, he called for the maximum sentence for his father and hoped for mental health treatment to be a part of his sentence.
Jackson Reffitt said in his statement that his father had “slowly lost himself” over the years and got involved with “a horrible community.” Family members said Reffitt became obsessed with Trump.
“I could really see how my father[’]s ego and personality fell to his knees when President Trump spoke, you could tell he listened to Trump’s words as if he was really truly speaking to him,” his daughter said in a letter to the court.
Reffitt said at Monday’s hearing that he wanted to apologize to “everyone that was affected by my actions” and claimed he never planned to go to the Capitol, even though he was armed and wearing body armor.
Reffitt is one of several members of the Three Percenters to have been charged with roles in the insurrection. The antigovernment movement started in 2008 and gets its name from the unproven claim that only 3% of colonists fought back against the British in the American Revolution. They believe a small group of armed people can overthrow a tyrannical government.
The Justice Department has charged 72 Texans for their roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a USA TODAY database. Eleven Texans other than Reffitt have been sentenced, with five sentenced to jail time. The longest prison sentence for a Texan was previously 14 months.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/01/guy-reffitt-jan-6-riot/.
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