Man who stormed Capitol with gun gets longest prison term

Capitol
This artist sketch depicts Guy Wesley Reffitt, joined by his lawyer William Welch, right, in Federal Court, in Washington, on Feb. 28, 2022.
Dana Verkouteren via AP, File

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Associated Press

A Texas man convicted of storming the U.S. Capitol with a holstered handgun, helmet and body armor was sentenced Monday to more than seven years in prison, the longest sentence imposed so far among hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

Prosecutors said Guy Reffitt told fellow members of the Texas Three Percenters militia group that he planned to drag House Speaker Nancy Pelosi out of the Capitol building by her ankles, “with her head hitting every step on the way down,” according to a court filing.

Reffitt’s prison sentence — seven years and three months — is two years more than the previous longest prison sentence for a Capitol riot defendant. But it’s less than half the length of the 15-year prison term requested by a federal prosecutor, who called Reffitt a domestic terrorist and said he wanted to physically remove and replace members of Congress.

Reffitt was the first person to go on trial for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, in which supporters of then-President Donald Trump halted the joint session of Congress for certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who presided over Reffitt’s jury trial, also sentenced him to three years of supervised release after his prison term and ordered him to pay $2,000 in restitution.

Sentencing guidelines calculated by the judge called for a term of imprisonment ranging from seven years and three months to nine years.

Friedrich rejected prosecutors’ contention that an “upward departure for terrorism” — leading to a far longer sentence — was warranted in Reffitt’s case. It was the first time that prosecutors have requested that sentencing enhancement for a Jan. 6 case.

“He wanted to physically and literally remove Congress,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told the judge. “We do believe that he is a domestic terrorist.”

Friedrich, however, questioned why Reffitt would merit the terrorism enhancement when many other rioters engaged in violence and made similarly disturbing threats.

The longest sentence before Reffitt’s was five years and three months, for two men who pleaded guilty to assaulting police officers at the Capitol.

Reffitt, who already has been jailed for approximately 19 months, initially balked at speaking to the judge during Monday’s hearing. But he changed his mind during a lunch break and offered an expletive-laden apology to police officers, lawmakers and congressional staffers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Calling himself “an idiot,” Reffitt struggled to explain why he stormed the Capitol.

“It was a big blur,” he said. “It was just very chaotic and confusing.”

Friedrich questioned the sincerity of Reffitt’s apology and expressions of remorse, noting that he has been publishing statements from jail in which he portrays himself and other rioters as patriots who were justifiably rebelling against a tyrannical U.S. government.

Reffitt suggested that his fiery rhetoric from prison was hyperbole necessary to raise money to support his family.

“I’m on the street if I don’t say something that would garner money for them,” he said.

Defense attorney Clinton Broden asked for Reffitt to be sentenced to no more than two years in prison. Broden noted that Reffitt didn’t assault any law enforcement officers or enter the Capitol building.

Videos captured the confrontation between outnumbered Capitol police officers and a mob of people, including Reffitt, who approached them on the west side of the Capitol.

Reffitt was armed with a Smith & Wesson pistol in a holster on his waist, carrying zip-tie handcuffs and wearing body armor and a helmet equipped with a video camera when he advanced on the officers, according to prosecutors. He retreated after an officer pepper sprayed him in the face, but he waved on other rioters who ultimately breached the building, prosecutors said.

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