Nestler drew on the jarring pictures of Reffitt standing amid the mob approaching the doorways of the Capitol earlier than confronting police. Reffitt is charged with trying to impede Congress’ effort to certify the 2020 election, carrying a firearm on Capitol grounds, illegally transporting a firearm and interfering with legislation enforcement officers. He’s additionally charged with obstructing justice by threatening his kids to stop them from reporting him to the FBI.
The trial is among the most vital checks of the federal government’s year-long investigation into the Capitol assault, one the Justice Division calls probably the most complicated investigation in U.S. historical past. Almost 800 individuals have been arrested for taking part within the mob assault, some dealing with fees starting from seditious conspiracy and obstruction to misdemeanor offenses like trespassing and picketing.
However Reffitt’s case stands out for his menacing actions on the foot of the Capitol and his incendiary exhortations to associates and different members of the mob to inflict punishment and ache on members of Congress. He helped lead an early cost in opposition to Capitol Law enforcement officials, which prosecutors say impressed the mob behind him to press ahead.
“We’re taking the Capitol earlier than the day is over, ripping them out by their hair—each fucking one in all them,” Reffitt stated on his personal video as he attended former President Donald Trump’s speech earlier than the storming of the Capitol, the prosecutor declared after apologizing for utilizing profanity in entrance of the jury.
“I simply wish to see Pelosi’s head hitting each fucking stair on the best way out — and Mitch McConnell, too,” Reffitt added, in line with Nestler, who strode forwards and backwards in entrance of jurors as he learn Reffitt’s remarks.
Whereas Nestler’s opening prolonged to greater than a half-hour, Reffitt’s lawyer William Welch responded with a surprisingly brief preliminary argument that lasted solely three minutes.
“Man Reffitt didn’t go within the Capitol. He didn’t break something. He didn’t take something,” Welch stated. “Man does brag. He exaggerates and he rants. He makes use of plenty of hyperbole and that upsets individuals. The proof will present that this case has been a rush to judgment.”
Welch insisted that Reffitt “was not armed,” didn’t impede any arrests and that he fell again as quickly as he was pepper sprayed by police throughout a confrontation that lasted solely 5 minutes. “He by no means assaulted anybody. He by no means assaulted anybody. He didn’t assist anybody else commit an assault,” stated the protection lawyer, a solo practitioner primarily based in Columbia, Md.
Nonetheless, Nestler promised jurors a collection of witnesses would assist show Reffitt’s guilt, together with a fellow member of Reffitt’s Three Percenters militia, who will testify with immunity about touring to Washington with Reffitt and the feedback he made alongside the best way.
“Like many individuals in our nation, these Three Percenters had been indignant about the results of the 2020 presidential election. What makes this defendant stand out are the actions that he took,” Nestler stated.
Jurors additionally started listening to what is anticipated to be searing testimony from Capitol Law enforcement officials who tried to repel Reffitt’s advance, in addition to from not less than one Secret Service official who helped shield then-Vice President Mike Pence because the mob breached the constructing and closed in on the Senate chamber, the place he was presiding. A former Senate aide who was there that day can be slated to testify concerning the ambiance within the chamber because the doorways had been locked and the mob neared.
The primary witness — former Capitol Police Officer Shauni Kerkhoff —testified about her efforts to repel Reffitt from a banister on the west facet of the Capitol, the place he was making an attempt to guide a crowd up a staircase to an entrance within the preliminary phases of the riot.
Kerkhoff recalled arriving on the scene on Jan. 6, and observing what she referred to as a big and ”violent” crowd.
“I noticed a sea of individuals,” the previous officer stated, as Nestler performed movies of the defendant standing close to the entrance of the group and seeming to wave it ahead. “We had been outnumbered… we had been the one factor standing between these hundreds of individuals and Congress.”
Kerkhoff stated she repeatedly ordered Reffitt to retreat however he saved advancing and stirring up the group. “It was turning into a dire scenario,” she stated. “They had been calling us traitors… that they supported us and now we had been betraying them.
Kerkhoff stated she felt “indignant” when Reffitt referred to as to the officers to let the group by means of.
“Why?” Nestler requested.
“As a result of it’s my job to face of their approach,” she stated, including that she was involved if the group bought previous them, they might attain members of Congress.
Kerkhoff stated she wound up firing 40 to 50 pepperballs at Reffitt earlier than officers turned to different methods to attempt to repel him.
Kerkhoff’s demeanor within the courtroom was steely and scientific, however, when requested to explain her tone as she referred to as for backup that day, she described her tone as “panicked.”
Prosecutors made the scene extra vivid for jurors by displaying them precise pepperball and tear fuel launchers just like these deployed that day. In addition they performed radio visitors through which Kerkhoff was desperately asking for assist.
Jurors are additionally anticipated to listen to from Reffitt’s son Jackson, who reported his father to the FBI weeks earlier than Jan. 6, 2021. Jackson later recorded conversations together with his father within the days after Jan. 6 and shared them with authorities. He has additionally given a collection of media interviews within the weeks and months for the reason that Capitol assault.
Nestler stated Jackson made a “a wrenching resolution” to warn the FBI about his father’s potential for violence. “On Christmas Eve of 2020, he despatched a tip to the FBI about his personal father and about what his father deliberate to do on the Capitol,” the prosecutors stated.
If convicted on all fees, Reffitt faces a most doable sentence of 60 years in jail. Nonetheless, judges often sentence defendants in accordance with federal pointers that sometimes name for punishment effectively beneath the utmost. Reffitt would additionally get credit score for the greater than 13 months he’s spent in custody awaiting trial.
The trial is the primary of what are more likely to be dozens stemming from Jan. 6. However the overwhelming majority of the just about 800 individuals charged within the Capitol Riot are more likely to enter into plea-bargain offers with prosecutors and plead responsible. Greater than 200 have already got, with most defendants receiving sentences starting from probation to some months in jail. A handful who pleaded responsible to severe assaults on law enforcement officials have acquired extra extreme sentences from eight months to over 5 years behind bars.
The Reffitt trial and a handful of others anticipated to go earlier than juries within the coming months are being intently watched by each prosecutors and protection attorneys as a result of these may function bellwethers for others.
The outcomes may set benchmarks by giving a way of whether or not juries are able to convict defendants or have doubts concerning the proof or the knowledge of prosecuting crimes that arose from a political demonstration or harbor equity considerations about making an attempt frontline offenders whereas not charging political figures who impressed the unrest.
The sequence through which Jan. 6 circumstances will attain trial is essentially exterior the federal government’s management, however the Reffitt case is a helpful lead-off bid for prosecutors, combining most of the most troubling parts that characterised the assault on the Capitol.
The claims that Reffitt introduced not less than one firearm to the Capitol, that he skirmished with Capitol Law enforcement officials, that he belonged to a fringe, right-wing militia group and talked about future violence are all among the many most regarding facets prosecutors have cited within the greater than 750-plus Jan. 6 prosecutions.
Testimony from Capitol Law enforcement officials who witnessed his actions and in some circumstances sought to beat again his advance — a lot of it caught on digicam — can be among the many most searing proof prosecutors current.
The case can be far much less complicated than the attention-grabbing conspiracy circumstances the Justice Division has introduced in opposition to alleged members and associates of militant teams such because the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — whose trials are nonetheless probably a number of months away.
Earlier this yr, a grand jury indicted 11 Oath Keepers with seditious conspiracy, together with the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes.
Most of these defendants had been charged with different offenses early final yr and have been awaiting trial, however Covid-related restrictions have difficult the planning.
The U.S. District Courtroom for Washington, D.C., has been working below strict guidelines limiting the variety of individuals in particular person courtrooms, making jury trials a logistical headache. Such trials had been suspended altogether for a few yr following the preliminary outbreak and for one more month and a half because of the Omicron variant.
Trials resumed once more final month, however with social-distancing that has courtrooms reconfigured with jurors sitting within the gallery and witnesses testifying from the jury field. Those rules were relaxed further Wednesday, because the pandemic subsides. Decide Dabney Friedrich had deliberate to bar all press and public from the courtroom, however allowed three observers on Wednesday after media organizations requested an appeals court docket to order in-person entry.
Even below regular circumstances, it could be a problem to accommodate a multi-defendant trial on the Prettyman Courthouse close to the Capitol. Just one courtroom there may readily host a trial for quite a lot of defendants without delay and staging such a trial below the anti-Covid precautions in impact in latest weeks would successfully block some other trial from getting underway in all the constructing.
The Reffitt case, whereas easy by comparability, nonetheless poses some challenges for the federal government.
Whereas jurors are anticipated to listen to that Reffitt boasted of bringing a gun to the Capitol, prosecutors have additionally stated they need jurors to deduce the presence of the gun from photographs that present a bulge below his jacket, a holster and one thing glinting in it. The protection can be anticipated to argue that the threats Reffitt is accused of creating to his kids weren’t severe. Reffitt’s daughter Peyton testified at a bail listening to final yr that her father was susceptible to excessive statements and he or she didn’t assume he would comply with by means of on his risk.
Following the opening statements, the trial was delayed for a greater than an hour attributable to technical glitches, together with an absence of a video feed of reveals to overflow courtrooms and media room.
Friedrich, an appointee of President Trump, interviewed 56 potential jurors over two days this week earlier than seating 9 males and 7 ladies as jurors to listen to proof within the case.