A January 6 defendant goes on trial for the first time this week

A January 6 defendant goes on trial for the first time this week
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington.Brent Stirton/Getty Images
  • Jury selection begins Monday for the first trial over the January 6, 2021, attack at the US Capitol.
  • Prosecutors plan to call Capitol Police officers and the children of the defendant.

On the steps of the Capitol, Guy Reffitt stood out on January 6, 2021.

He wore a tactical vest and a black helmet with a GoPro-style camera, but his face was uncovered as he used a water bottle to flush pepper spray out of his eyes.

By January 16, a week and a half later, the FBI had matched Reffitt's driver's-license photograph with the image of him captured in news footage. The FBI arrested him that day at his home in Texas.

After more than a year behind bars, Reffitt again stands out — as the first member of the pro-Trump mob to go to trial on charges stemming from the attack on the US Capitol. Jury selection is set to begin Monday in Washington, DC, and the proceeding marks a key milestone amid more than 770 prosecutions as well as the nation's broader reckoning with the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

With many more trials expected in the coming months, this week's proceeding presents a preview of the prosecution's strategy for winning convictions against January 6 defendants who elected to go before a jury of their peers rather than plead guilty.


The coming trial is expected to feature testimony from Capitol Police officers, FBI and Secret Service agents, a former Senate lawyer, and even Reffitt's children.

For the Justice Department, the trial also provides a stage for a forceful presentation on the seriousness of the Capitol insurrection, even as former President Donald Trump and other top Republicans downplay the attack and assert it was merely a political protest protected by the First Amendment.

Trump said last month that if he were to run and be elected president again, he would consider pardoning those convicted of storming the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying the election of now-President Joe Biden.

"In a situation like this, the first trial is always important because it sets the precedent, and other defendants will be watching to see what happens and may plan their own strategies accordingly," said Randall Eliason, a professor at the George Washington University Law School who was previously a public-corruption prosecutor.

"The benefit of a good, strong result for the government here is it persuades others to possibly cooperate — not just to plead guilty but to flip," Eliason said. "If they see a solid conviction in this first case, that increases people's incentive to cut a deal in their own case, and that helps further the investigation."


Reffitt's defense lawyer, William Welch, did not respond to a request for comment.

A January 6 defendant goes on trial for the first time this week
Guy Reffitt was captured in news footage on the steps of the Capitol.FBI

A pistol and flex-cuffs

Reffitt is charged with two counts of civil disorder, one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, one count of remaining on restricted ground with a deadly weapon, and one count of obstruction of justice.

Legal experts told Insider that with Reffitt, the Justice Department had a compelling story to tell at the first January 6 trial.

In court papers, prosecutors alleged that Reffitt carried a pistol and flex-cuffs while joining the first group of rioters who charged at a police line attempting to secure the Capitol.

Prosecutors said Reffitt was "at the front of the pack" and retreated only after police officers pepper-sprayed him in the face. Prosecutors say Reffitt unlawfully entered US Capitol grounds with a deadly weapon but didn't enter the Capitol itself.


Also at issue are Reffitt's actions upon returning home to Texas, where prosecutors say the Capitol breach emboldened him. Prosecutors say he told his children that they would be traitors if they turned him in to law enforcement — and that "traitors get shot."

Prosecutors plan to call Reffitt's son, who in December 2020 told the FBI his father was "going to do some serious damage" to lawmakers in Washington, DC. After January 6, 2021, Reffitt's son is said to have secretly recorded his father saying that he was "willing to die" at the Capitol and that the riot was just the beginning. Reffitt's daughter is also expected to take the stand.

In addition to his children, prosecutors plan to call a fellow member of the Texas Three Percenters militia-style group who traveled with Reffitt to Washington — and received immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Other testimony is expected to come from Capitol Police officers said to have engaged with Reffitt, along with FBI agents. Prosecutors also plan to call a Secret Service agent to address the "emergency actions" to relocate then-Vice President Mike Pence and his family from the US Capitol.

A January 6 defendant goes on trial for the first time this week
Judge Dabney Friedrich will preside over the first trial related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.Stephen J. Boitano/AP

'It's like on Broadway'

A guilty verdict would give the Justice Department momentum and would most likely spur more January 6 defendants to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, legal experts told Insider.


Some of the testimony — namely from his children — will be specific to Reffitt, but legal experts said the trial could offer insights to other January 6 defendants weighing whether to plead guilty or go to trial.

"It will be like a road map for all the other trials," said a lawyer for a January 6 defendant who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person's case remained pending. "We can look at that and say: 'This is how they did it at the first trial. How can we poke holes in this?'"

In Reffitt's case and others, defense lawyers have argued that people charged over the Capitol attack couldn't receive a fair trial in Washington, DC. Monday's proceeding will foreshadow how prosecutors and defense lawyers will scrutinize the jury pool and suss out any bias against the suspects in an attack that rocked the nation's capital and disrupted the city for weeks after.

The case is also expected to renew a challenge to the "obstruction of an official proceeding" charge. Reffitt and more than 250 other January 6 defendants are facing that felony charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Defense lawyers have argued in Reffitt's case and others that Congress' certification of the nation's Electoral College vote was not the kind of "official proceeding" envisioned by the law.


Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee presiding over Reffitt's prosecution, declined to dismiss the charge in December. But she said she'd consider it again once the facts of the case were established at trial.

To help prove the obstruction-of-an-official-proceeding charge, prosecutors plan to call a former US Senate lawyer, Daniel Schwager, who served as counsel to the secretary of the Senate on January 6 and was on the Senate floor that day.

As the Justice Department continues to take January 6 prosecutions to trial, it will need to stay disciplined and keep itself from "allowing any of these cases to become too routine for the prosecutors," said Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan Law School professor who served as the US attorney in Detroit during the Obama administration.

"Jurors will be selected who say either they don't know anything about what happened or haven't seen so much they can't set aside any predisposition they have about the case. The Justice Department is going to have to think about telling that whole story, as repetitive as it might become," McQuade told Insider.

"It's like on Broadway: You have to give it your all every time."