WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday sentenced Guy Wesley Reffitt, the first defendant to stand trial in the Justice Department’s sweeping criminal investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, to more than seven years in prison, the longest sentence to date in a case arising from the Capitol riot.
After a six-hour hearing, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich handed down a sentence at the low end of the guidelines. She noted that was still far longer than anything given so far to any of the more than 800 people arrested in connection with the riot, many of whom have entered into plea bargains.
Prosecutors had asked for Mr. Reffitt to be sentenced to 15 years after adding a sentence increase used in domestic terrorism cases. But Judge Friedrich rejected those terms, sentencing him to seven years and three months in prison with three years probation, and ordering him to pay $2,000 in restitution and receive mental health care.
A jury found Mr. Reffitt guilty of five counts in March, including obstructing Congressional certification of the 2020 presidential election, carrying a .40 caliber pistol during the riot and two counts of civil disturbance. Unlike others who broke into the building, Mr. Reffitt did not go inside.
The sentencing capped a trial that was seen as a significant test for the Justice Department, which is just beginning the marathon process of trying what could be dozens of rioters. In particular, prosecutors and defense attorneys had watched how the obstruction charge, a rarely used charge at the heart of many cases that had yet to go to trial, would hold up in court.
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But Judge Friedrich described Mr Reffitt’s case as unusual because of the threats of violence he made against his children when he discovered he could be dragged into the federal investigation following the riot. In March, Mr Reffitt’s son, Jackson Reffitt, testified that his father had become radicalized in the months before the attack and had threatened him and his sister in an attempt to dissuade them from speaking to authorities, telling them that “traitors get shot”.
Prior to Monday, the longest sentence in a case related to the Capitol attack was just over five years, handed down last year to a man who pleaded guilty to assaulting an officer with a fire extinguisher. But because Mr. Reffitt did not plead guilty like hundreds of other people arrested in connection with the attack and was tried, Judge Friedrich said, the sentencing guidelines for his case were two years longer than if he had entered into a plea agreement.
The sentencing comes as a parallel investigation by the House committee on Jan. 6 gathers momentum. As the courts slowly process the hundreds of riot-related cases, speculation has grown as to how the Justice Department will respond to the committee’s findings regarding former President Donald J. Trump and those of his entourage who helped instigate him, and whether the committee will formally recommend criminal charges.
After briefly appearing hesitant to address the court on Monday, Mr Reffitt, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with his hair pulled back into a thin ponytail, apologized for his actions.
“I really wanted to apologize,” he said. “In 2020 I was a little crazy, everything got a little stupid.”
But Judge Friedrich said that while she appreciated his sentiment, she doubted his sincerity, given that while he was in jail awaiting sentencing, he had apparently raised funds over his incarceration, posting politically charged statements “doubling” his demands and a “manifesto” he had dictated to his family over the phone.
Mr Reffitt admitted he often resorted to ‘hyperbole’ but said any inflammatory claims he made were aimed at attracting donations to support his family financially.
In the months leading up to and following the 2020 election, Mr. Reffitt became involved with the Texas Three Percenters, a loosely organized militia movement, and sent messages recruiting other members of the group to accompany him to Washington on January 6.
As part of his sentence, Judge Friedrich ordered him not to contact any members of the Three Percenters or other militia groups while on probation.
In his closing remarks, Judge Friedrich pointed out that while Mr. Reffitt’s actions were not as violent as those of many others who attacked police officers on January 6, they nevertheless put hundreds of people at risk.
While Mr Reffitt repeatedly described himself and other rioters who stormed the capital as “patriots” in prison statements, Judge Friedrich called their behavior “antithetical patriotism”.
“Not only are they not patriots, but they are a direct threat to our democracy and will be prosecuted as such,” she said.