WASHINGTON — Jury selection began Monday in the first trial of a defendant accused of attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a process that put on display the strong views many residents of the national's capital have about last year's riot.
Inside a federal courthouse with a view of the Capitol dome, only steps from where the riot unfolded, defense attorneys, federal prosecutors and a judge questioned dozens of Washington residents about their feelings about Jan. 6 and the defendants.
The first trial to test the justice system's handling of the riot is that of Guy Reffitt, a Texas man who was arrested thanks in part to his son’s flagging him to the FBI before the attack. Reffitt was indicted on a charge of unlawfully transporting a gun in Washington, D.C., in support of civil disorder, as well as other charges, like obstruction of an official proceeding.
The potential jurors called the attack "crazy," "reprehensible" and "atrocious." They said they were viscerally affected by it. They talked about how they knew people who were "freaked out” by Jan. 6. Some said they had formed very strong opinions about Jan. 6, some telling the court that they would have difficulty overcoming their views.
“I think everybody that went in there was already guilty,” said a potential juror, who was quickly dismissed. “I think everyone should be prosecuted to the max.”
“I thought it was crazy,” a young man said. “I never seen that before.”
"The Capitol should not have been invaded, or whatever the word is you want to use," an older man said.
Washington is, in local parlance, a small town, and many of its residents are connected to the government and the attack itself.
There was a longtime resident whose daughter works for the Department of Homeland Security. There was a former Capitol page and congressional staffer who talked to his former boss, Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., about the attack. There was a man whose stepmother was former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Canada and the United Nations. There was a public relations professional who worked with journalists who covered the attack and knew people who were inside the Capitol during it. And there were plenty of lawyers.
Many potential jurors talked about their experiences on Jan. 6 or about people they knew who worked at the Capitol or were affected by the attack. One woman, an employee at the Library of Congress, recalled that employees she had assigned to go into work that day were forced to evacuate or shelter in place.
“It would be difficult for me to be neutral,” said a potential juror, who added that the riot felt like “an attack on my home, in a sense.” The judge struck the juror from the panel out of an abundance of caution.Washington, home to nearly 700,000 people who lack full congressional representation, is overwhelmingly Democratic; more than 92 percent of voters cast their ballots for President Joe Biden. But the potential jurors were not all united politically.
An elderly woman said she listened to podcasts by a right-wing conspiracy theorist, who has spread a false-flag narrative suggesting that the attack was an FBI setup.
The trial, which is expected to last about a week, will feature testimony from Reffitt's son and police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The FBI has arrested more than 740 people in connection with the attack, and more than 200 have pleaded guilty. There are hundreds of more potential cases to go, including hundreds that have been identified by online sleuths.