Reffitt was convicted March 8 of five felony offenses, including obstruction of Congress as it met to certify the 2020 election result, interfering with police and carrying a firearm to a riot, and threatening his teenage son, who turned him in to the FBI.
The defense for Reffitt, a 49-year-old former oil industry rig manager, asked for a below-guidelines sentence of two years in prison. Attorney F. Clinton Broden said in a filing that his client committed no violence and has no criminal history, yet prosecutors are seeking far more time for him than for defendants who have pleaded guilty to assaulting police.
Citing terrorism, US seeks 15-year prison sentence in Jan. 6 box
“It makes a mockery of the criminal justice system, the Sixth Amendment right to trial, and the victims assaulted by [others] to argue that Mr. Reffitt should be given a sentence greater than (let alone three times greater than) a defendant who assaulted police officers on at least two separate occasions, spent three hours on the Capitol grounds and who has a past history of violence, Broden wrote.
But Assistant US Attorneys Jeffrey Nestler and Risa Berkower said Reffitt’s case is exceptional.
Reffitt “played a central role” at the head of a vigilante mob that challenged and overran police at a key choke point, a stairway leading up from the Lower West Terrace, before the initial breach of windows near the Capitol’s Senate Wing Doors at 2: 1 p.m., prosecutors said. After the riot, Reffitt warned his son and 16-year-old daughter that “if you turn me in, you’re a traitor, and traitors get shot,” his son tested at the trial.
Conventional sentencing rules are of “inadequate scope” to account for the range of Reffitt’s obstruction, witness tampering and weapon offences, prosecutors wrote in a 58-page sentencing memo.
“Reffitt sought not just to stop Congress, but also to physically attack, remove, and replace the legislators who were serving in Congress,” prosecutors wrote.
They called his conduct “a quintessential example of an intent to both influence and retaliate against government conduct through intimidation or coercion” and said it reflected the statutory definition of terrorist violence that is subject to harsher punishment.
Reffitt recorded himself at a rally led by President Donald Trump at the Ellipse saying he was ready to drag lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy A. Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) “out kicking and screaming,” with “her [Pelosi’s] head hitting every step on the way down.”
A jury found that Reffitt traveled to DC from his home in Wylie, Tex., with an AR-style rifle and semiautomatic .40-caliber handgun and repeatedly stated his intention to come armed with a handgun and plastic handcuffs to drag lawmakers out of the building. After returning home from Washington, he threatened his children to ensure they did not turn him into authorities.
The request by the US attorney’s office in DC, which is overseeing prosecutions of roughly 840 Capitol siege defendants federally charged so far, is not binding on US District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich, who has gone below prosecutors’ recommendation in 22 of 24 Jan. 6 sentences to date.
The longest sentence in a Jan. 6 case so far is 63 months, given to a Florida man who pleaded guilty to attacking police with a fire extinguisher and wooden plank and a DC man who assaulted three officers and shattered a riot shield with a pole.
By comparison, Friedrich has sentenced only three defendants who have pleaded guilty to felonies so far, the longest to 27 months in prison, also for attacking police.
Nevertheless, prosecutors may be hoping to send a clear signal to the roughly 330 defendants still awaiting trial on felony charges and who may still be considering whether to accept a plea deal or gamble before a jury. About 70 people have pleaded guilty, and nine, including Reffitt, have been convicted at trial.
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Reffitt left home at 15, moved in with his older sister and began working as a KFC dishwasher after enduring years of physical abuse from his father, Broden wrote in his client’s defense. After becoming a father himself, Broden said, Reffitt was devoted to his children and to creating safe spaces for others.
Reffitt, his attorney said, was a self-made man who took his family abroad while he worked in places including Malaysia in charge of operations worth tens of millions of dollars, but was financially and emotionally devastated after a downturn in the oil and gas industry . He lost his job in November 2019, only a few months before the pandemic swept the United States.
Reffitt’s daughters noticed that “his mental health was declining” over that period, Broden wrote. Reffitt fell “down the rabbit hole of political news and online banter,” wrote one of his daughters, and he fell under the sway of Donald Trump “constantly feeding polarizing racial thought.”
“I could really see how my father[’]s ego and personality fell to his knees when President Trump spoke, you could tell he listened to Trump’s words as if he was really truly speaking to him,” one of Reffitt’s daughters said.
Letters from nine friends and relatives provided to the court by Reffitt’s defense “describe a depressed man who believed he was unable to adequately provide for his family (his life’s mission), and a man who felt cast aside and marginalized,” Broden wrote.
Reffitt started a security business and joined the Three Percenters in Texas. The right-wing anti-government group is named after the myth that only 3 percent of colonists fought in the American Revolution against the British.
In a letter to the judge, Reffitt outlined a string of family traumas since 2020 including medical and mental health emergencies and pleaded for leniency for the sake of his family.
“My regrets for what has happened is insurmountable. There’s not a day go by that I don’t regret how much this has affected [my wife and children],” Reffitt wrote. “Yes, what is happening to my family is all my fault, I would like to fix it, please. … I simply ask for a chance to prove myself again.”