The New York Times reports that, as prosecutors continue to widen their investigations into the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, the first guilty verdict came down on a Texas man (a member of a far-right nationalist group).
The guilty verdict is considered a significant win for the Justice Department, which is geared up to go after many of the other people who are alleged to have stormed the nation's Capitol on January 6 or to have attacked the police who were outside protecting it.
If you are facing a criminal charge of any kind – whether state or federal – you should not delay reaching out to an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney for the legal guidance you need.
The First Rioter to Go on Trial
The first of the accused January 6 rioters to go to trial, Guy Wesley Reffitt, was quickly convicted by a federal jury in early March of this year. This was as the Department of Justice announced its intention to widen its prosecutorial scope by indicting a man who is identified as being the Proud Boys’ former leader.
The Proud Boys is a nationalist group with far-right leanings that is alleged to have played a pivotal role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The jury took only three hours to find Reffitt guilty of five criminal charges, including obstructing Congress’s certification of the 2020 presidential election by leading a mob (in advance of the police) to violently breach the Capitol building. Additional convictions include:
Wearing an illegal gun on his hip during the January 6 attack
Threatening his teenage children in an attempt to stop them from turning him in
For the count of obstruction alone, Reffitt faces 20 years in federal prison. This is the first step in the Justice Department’s endeavor to put dozens – and perhaps hundreds – of rioters on trial for the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The first hurdle in the DOJ’s efforts was ensuring that the obstruction charge, which is rarely enforced, would hold up in court. This is the essence of most of the cases the Justice Department (DOJ) will be bringing in relation to the January 6 attack. The charge has been vehemently fought by many defendants in Reffett’s shoes, but his conviction may be a window into how their cases are likely to proceed.
Mr. Reffitt’s Trial
Reffitt is an oil-field worker who hails from Wylie, Texas, and his trial offers a bird’s eye view of just how deep the DOJ is willing to go in its efforts to procure evidence and to bring a strong prosecutorial case.
The evidence against Reffitt was nothing short of exhaustive, and other defendants should probably expect the same. Reffitt’s trial lasted a week, and the jury heard testimony from all the following:
A Secret Service agent
A member of the far-right group – the Texas Three Percenters militia – that Reffitt belonged to
Mr. Reffitt’s own son
The DOJ, however, had much more than just testimony, including:
Private Telegram messages between Reffitt and other members of his group prior to the attack on the Capitol
A Zoom call recording from right after the January 6 attack
A video spanning 30 minutes that Reffitt made of himself (by mounting a camera on his helmet) prior to leading a mob to confront the police in front of the Senate chamber.
In other words, Reffitt documented his own participation in the melee quite thoroughly.
Drag Them Out
In the video taken by Reffitt’s helmet cam, he can be heard emphatically urging other rioters to storm the Capitol and drag lawmakers out by their ankles or hair. According to officers at the scene, Reffitt wore a .40-caliber pistol on his hip as he led a group of rioters up the building’s staircase – pushing through a spray of pepper balls and more – before succumbing to a chemical spray launched by the police.
The Testimony of Mr. Reffitt’s Son
The testimony of Reffitt’s 19-year-old son was deemed the most dramatic aspect of the case. The young man spoke about how recent toxic politics had torn his family apart – becoming unbearable when Reffitt returned home after the January 6 attack and entreated his children not to give him up to the police.
The son quoted his father as saying, "If you turn me in, you’re a traitor. And traitors get shot." The young man testified while his father, who sat just across the courtroom, was unable to meet his eyes.
Prior to the Jury’s Verdict
Right before the jury came back with the verdict in this case, the DOJ, whose expansive investigation demonstrated that it would not be going away – or even slowing down – any time soon, proceeded to arrest Enrique Tarrio (former leader of the Proud Boys).
Tarrio was indicted on charges of conspiring with top Proud Boys lieutenants in the planning and launching of the attack on the Capitol. In other words, the DOJ is not in the mood to back down.
The New York Times describes Reffitt’s lawyer’s defense strategy – such as it is – as "muted and abbreviated." The gist of it includes the following:
The charges against his client were rushed by the prosecution.
His client had not assaulted the police physically.
All told, the defense’s opening statement barely cleared three minutes, and Reffitt’s defense attorney neither presented evidence nor called witnesses.
Fleshing Out the Storyline
While Tarrio’s indictment did not change the narrative regarding what happened on January 6, it did help fill in some gaps, including how the Proud Boys planned and took part in the spectacle. Because the Proud Boys are one of the best-known and most extreme nationalist groups involved in that day’s events, the indictment is notable.
Tarrio’s indictment marks the second in the last several months in which a far-right leader faces criminal charges for his primary role in the January 6 attack. The other was Stewart Rhodes, who is both the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers militia, and his charge is a seditious conspiracy for a plot to violently interfere with Congress’s work.
Unlike Rhodes, Tarrio was not in Washington for the January 6 attack, which makes his case more complicated.
Tarrio was arrested on January 4 for vandalizing a Black church’s Black Lives Matter banner in Washington a month prior – in conjunction with another charge for being in possession of two high-capacity rifle magazines. Part of his release agreement with the court required him to leave Washington.
Federal prosecutors, however, were not swayed and said that, even though he did not storm the Capitol physically on January 6, he had led Proud Boys’ advance planning and was in contact with them in real-time – as the attack played out.
We the People
Because you just cannot make this stuff up, Tarrio had allegedly received a document from an unnamed person that was titled 1776 Returns, which provided him with a plan to occupy a small number of critical buildings on January 6. Specifically, the House and Senate office buildings around the Capitol were mentioned. The document entreated Tarrio to gather "as many people as possible" in order to "show our politicians We the People are in charge."
Tarrio’s indictment also referenced what it considered an odd meeting between Tarrio, Rhodes, and others on January 5 that took place in an underground parking structure. While those in attendance said the meeting was intended to ensure that Tarrio had the legal representation he needed in relation to his pending charges, the prosecution was not having it and made it clear that one of the meeting’s participants rather presciently referenced the Capitol.
The Criminal Inquiry
This inquiry by the DOJ is now more than a year old, and it represents one of the department’s most complex and largest undertakings to date. So far, upwards of 750 rioters are facing criminal charges that range from trespassing to the seditious conspiracy charge faced by Rhodes. Of those charged, more than 200 have pleaded guilty already.
The DOJ’s investigation continues to evolve, but it is not the only federal inquiry in town. There is a House select committee that is knee-deep in a separate investigation – interviewing more than 550 witnesses and issuing more than 100 subpoenas.
This select committee doesn’t have the legal power to levy criminal charges against anyone, but it maintains that it has gathered evidence sufficient to conclude that the former president and several allies may have conspired to commit fraud and obstruction (by spreading misinformation about the outcome of the 2020 election to the people).
Will the Charge of Obstruction Hold?
There is some question regarding whether the judge in Reffitt’s case will toss out the obstruction charge against him, which is the pillar of his case – and hundreds of others like it. Obstruction is far less politically charged than some of the other charges involved, such as sedition and insurrection.
Prior to the trial, many defense attorneys, including Reffitt’s, challenged the DOJ’s use of the obstruction charge – saying they had twisted it beyond its original boundaries, which were meant to apply to illegal activities like shredding documents relevant to congressional inquiries and tampering with witnesses.
Judge Friedrich Weighs In
A total of 10 federal judges have gone on the record as saying the obstruction statute can be used, including the judge in Reffitt’s case, Judge Friedrich. Judge Friedrich, however, ruled prior to Reffitt’s trial that the charge could be tossed out if the available evidence failed to support the prosecution’s claim that Reffitt acted corruptly in his efforts to disrupt the work of Congress (as the law requires). As such, the prosecution was careful to highlight Reffitt’s corrupt actions in the following ways:
Presenting evidence that he confronted officers who were protecting the Capitol
Presenting evidence that, even after he had been subdued by the police, he had incited other rioters to move forward with their attack on the Capitol
The concurrent indictment of the former Proud Boys leader, Mr. Tarrio, shines a light on the DOJ’s commitment to ongoing investigations and on its laser focus on other groups with similar far-right leanings.
A Dissenting View
It should be noted that there is one federal judge in Washington who disagrees with the application of the obstruction charge in the January 6 attack. In fact, another case against another rioter from Texas was dismissed one day prior to Reffitt’s conviction.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
The above is an interesting but completely novel legal situation, but even if the criminal charges you face are far more mundane, bringing your strongest defense is paramount. The consequences of a conviction can be life-altering. A dedicated criminal defense attorney can help in all the following ways:
Gathering relevant evidence that bolsters your position
Strategizing a defense that supports your legal rights and your case’s most favorable resolution
Communicating with the prosecution to ensure that you have all the information you are entitled to, including any exculpatory evidence (evidence that tends to support your innocence)
Negotiating with the prosecution for an advantageous plea deal or reduced sentence (as applicable and advantageous)
Carefully preparing to take your case to trial, including gathering testimony in support of your defense
Helping you make the right decisions for you throughout the legal process
Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today
While few criminal charges are as politically charged and unique as those related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, every criminal charge is significant, and a conviction can do real damage.
If you’re facing a criminal charge, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a practiced criminal defense attorney who is well equipped to skillfully advocate for your case’s optimal outcome.