WASHINGTON (CN) — “He lit the fire of the very first group of rioters“ that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, federal prosecutors told jurors on Monday, delivering closing arguments in their case against Guy Reffitt — the first Capitol riot defendant to go to trial.
Portraying Reffitt as the “tip of the mob’s spear,” U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower said he climbed onto a banister on the west terrace and charged at police, with a gun holstered on his hip, determined to break into the Capitol to overthrow Congress and remove legislators by force.
“Every mob needs leaders and this defendant was a leader that day,” Berkower told jurors during a summation that lasted about 45 minutes. “Before the defendant got there, an angry crowd was growing, but no one had stepped up to the front.”
While police were “distracted” by Reffitt, she said the crowd behind him was able “not just to advance, but to adapt” by using part of a tarp as a shield to block projectiles from officers.
And although Reffitt retreated after being hit with pepper spray and did not physically enter the Capitol building, she insisted he “showed the mob the way” inside.
“Within minutes, the mob pushed the Capitol police backward, advanced up the stairs and broke [through] the windows,” she said. “Congress was derailed for hours and the defendant proudly celebrated. For days, he bragged openly until he realized he could face consequences for these crimes.”
As more people were being arrested in connection with the riot, some of whom were turned in by their own family members, she said Reffitt was “backed into a corner” and threatened his children against turning him in.
“He had squared off with the Capitol police — and now he squared off with his own children,” Berkower said, adding that he allegedly told them “traitors get shot.”
Reffitt has been incarcerated for more than a year after being arrested at his home in Wylie, Texas, on Jan. 19, 2021.
He has pleaded not guilty to the five charges against him: obstruction of an official proceeding, being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder and obstruction of justice.
Berkower argued on Monday that Reffitt was not satisfied with the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, so he decided to “take matters into his own hands.”
She noted that Reffitt’s teenage son Jackson testified last week that he became so concerned about his father’s anti-government rhetoric that he reported him to the FBI just days before the riot.
During his three-hour testimony, Jackson recited a text message sent by his father days before Jan. 6, 2021, in which Guy Reffitt wrote to his son: “What is about to happen will shock the world,” and “we are about to rise up the way the Constitution was written.”
Jackson’s reaction to the messages, Berkower said, prove that Reffitt was not embellishing his plans.
“This wasn’t bluster, this wasn’t hype,” she said. “The messages were his action plan and he never wavered.”
She also pointed to testimony from Rocky Hardie, a former militia member who went to Washington, D.C., with Reffitt and said they talked about “dragging” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who they believe is “evil incarnate," out of the Capitol along with other lawmakers.
And she noted that Hardie said they decided to bring two handguns and two AR-15 rifles with them after agreeing that, “‘it’s better to be tried by a jury of 12, than carried by six.”
“He was itching to be judged by you — the jury of 12 — and now we’re here,” Berkower said.
During the defense’s closing argument and throughout the trial, Reffitt’s court-appointed attorney, William Welch, tried to downplay his client’s actions by painting Reffitt as someone who frequently rants, embellishes and exaggerates.
He said Reffitt is only guilty of entering or remaining in a restricted area and noted that he did not physically enter the Capitol and that the incident only lasted a few minutes.
Welch, who did not call any witnesses, told the jury that they should doubt Jackon’s claim about his father’s threat because his sister Peyton did not corroborate it. The government was expected to call Peyton to testify, but it scrapped the plan on Monday without explanation.
He also said Hardie “seemed to have trouble remembering” details while on the witness stand.
And the government’s case, he said, was largely based on “media and hype” — a point he has been trying to highlight throughout the trial.
“This case has been a rush to judgment, most of it has been based on bragging and hype,” Welch said.
He told jurors to, “be the grown ups in the courtroom” and ignore the “bragging and the hype.”
“You know what he brags about? The truth,” U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told jurors during rebuttal and proceeded to play video evidence of Reffitt describing his actions, along with videos of the alleged actions.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, is presiding over the trial. The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday morning.
Reffitt is among more than 750 people who have been charged so far in connection with the Capitol attack.
The outcome of his trial, the first of several scheduled in coming months, may signal how future Capitol riot cases will play out — a conviction could encourage more plea deals, while an acquittal could do the opposite.