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The first Jan. 6 defendant goes on trial

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The first January 6 defendant goes on trial tomorrow, that more than a year after armed and, in many cases, well-coordinated Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attack on Congress and the vice president as they certified the 2020 election. NPR Justice Correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: Who is this first defendant, and what's he charged with in this case?

LUCAS: So the defendant is a man named Guy Reffitt. He's from Wylie, Texas. And the government says he's a member of the Three Percenter, a self-styled militia group. As for the charges against him, he faces five counts in all. Those include obstruction, civil disorder, transporting firearms during a civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement and entering Capitol grounds with a firearm. He was arrested more than a year ago in January of 2021. He's been detained on court orders since then. It is important to say that Reffitt has pleaded not guilty and is fighting the charges.

MCCAMMON: So Reffitt says he's not guilty. Ryan, what specifically is the government saying that Reffitt did as it relates to January 6?

LUCAS: Well, prosecutors say that Reffitt drove from Texas to Washington, D.C., for the 6, and that he brought in a AR-15 rifle and a handgun with him. Prosecutors say that Reffitt played a significant role, a dangerous role, on the day itself. They say he led a group of rioters up the steps of the Capitol and that he only retreated after being hit with pepper spray. There are videos that the government has that show a man that they say is Reffitt on the steps of the Capitol on January 6, dressed in a blue coat, has a black tactical style vest underneath and a helmet with a GoPro-style camera on it. And you can see this man using water to flush his eyes. But some of Reffitt's problems also stem from what happened after he returned home to Texas after the 6.

MCCAMMON: OK, so what happened then?

LUCAS: Well, prosecutors say that Reffitt, when he got home, he told his wife, his son and his daughter that they would be, quote, unquote, "traitors" if they informed the authorities about where he'd been and what he'd done. And he allegedly warned them, quote, "traitors get shot." One of the charges that he faces, obstructing justice, is based on these statements that he allegedly made to his family. And one really interesting thing to watch for in this trial is that Reffitt's son and daughter, who were both in their late teens, are expected to testify for the government in this trial. The government is also expected to call U.S. Capitol Police officers who engaged with Reffitt on the Capitol steps on January 6. And we'll also likely hear from FBI agents and Secret Service agents who are expected to take the stand as well.

MCCAMMON: And this is the first actual trial to come out of the Department of Justice investigation into the January 6 attack, and I'm putting it that way just to distinguish it from the investigation happening in Congress that we've heard so much about. What's your take on where things stand regarding the DOJ's efforts here?

LUCAS: Well, look; this trial is certainly a milepost in this marathon and massive investigation. Around 750 people have been charged so far. More than 200 have pleaded guilty. And of those, just over 100 have been sentenced. And this is a unique investigation in many ways. There are thousands of hours of video footage from January 6. The rioters filmed themselves. The rioters filmed each other, so that sort of evidence is very hard to refute.

A lot of the defendants who have pleaded guilty so far have done so to misdemeanor charges. Some have pleaded guilty to felony counts. But, yes, Reffitt is the first January 6 defendant to take his case to trial. It's notable for that reason. Certainly, investigators continue to arrest people every week in connection with January 6. But we're going to see more trials in the months ahead.

The big one everyone is going to be paying attention to is scheduled for July. That's the case against the founder of the Oath Keepers extremist group and 10 others on charges of seditious conspiracy. First, though, we have Reffitt's trial. It opens with jury selection Monday. That will be in federal court here in Washington, D.C., just down the street from the U.S. Capitol.

MCCAMMON: All right. That's NPR Justice Correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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