WASHINGTON — An armed Texas man "lit the match that started the fire" at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a federal prosecutor told jurors Wednesday during opening statements in the first riot-related case to go to trial.
Guy Reffitt, who the federal prosecutors say is a member of the Texas Three Percenters, is alleged to have been armed with a gun when he led the mob at the front of the Capitol during the assault.
“In the defendant’s own words, he lit the match that started the fire," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told the jury, calling the Jan. 6 riot the "worst assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812."
Nestler told jurors that Reffitt was "the tip of this mob's spear" on Jan. 6 and "wanted to stop Congress from doing its job." Reffitt had "two specific targets in mind," Nestler said: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who was then the majority leader of the Senate.
Lots of people were upset that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election to President Joe Biden, Nestler said, but Reffitt was different because of "the actions that he took."
Nestler quoted from messages that Reffitt is alleged to have sent and statements he is alleged to have made before and after the Jan. 6 attack, including statements about assaulting Pelosi.
“I don’t care if Pelosi’s head is hitting every stair as I drag her by her ankles, she is coming out,” Reffitt said, according to the government.
“I was the first person to light the fire on the Capitol steps,” he wrote on Telegram after the attack, according to the Justice Department. He wrote that he “laughed” when he was shot with a pepper ball gun.
“I had my .40 on my side, they’re lucky we didn’t shoot them,” he told others, according to the government.
Nestler also previewed highly anticipated testimony from Reffitt's son, who turned his father into the FBI before the Capitol attack, on Christmas Eve 2020. Nestler quoted from a text Reffitt is alleged to have sent to his family before the attack.
“What’s about to happen will shock the world, that’s why I’m going to D.C.," he is accused of writing.
William Welch, Reffitt's court-appointed attorney, told jurors that the government's case was based on “bragging and a lot of hype” and that Reffitt's standoff with police lasted only a few minutes and ended after he was hit with pepper spray.
“Guy Reffitt did not go in the Capitol,” Welch said in a short opening statement. “Guy does brag, he exaggerates, and he rants. He uses a lot of hyperbole, and that upsets people.”
The jury was seated Tuesday evening. More than 750 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on the Capitol, and hundreds more arrests are in the works. More than 2,500 people either entered the Capitol or committed crimes outside the building on Jan. 6, authorities say.