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Prosecutors opened arguments in the 1st trial tied to the Jan. 6 insurrection


Prosecutors opened their case today against the first defendant tied to the January 6 attack, which was the worst assault on the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812. The Justice Department says Guy Reffitt helped lead that attack, and they say they'll use his own words against him. But Reffitt's defense lawyer says he's just a big talker. NPR's Carrie Johnson watched the case today, and she's with us now from the federal courthouse. Hi, Carrie.


PFEIFFER: What did you learn about the government's case against this man?

JOHNSON: The Justice Department says Guy Reffitt helped lead the charge on January 6. They say he wanted to stop Congress from doing its job and target leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell. He allegedly drove from Texas with a rifle and a pistol and literally stood out from the rest of that crowd that day. He climbed up on a banister at the Capitol and forged ahead, the government says, even after police aimed pepper spray at him. One of the men who drove to D.C. with him has been granted immunity. He's going to testify.

And once Reffitt got back home to Dallas, the Dallas area in Texas, he convened a Zoom meeting out of a militia group called the Three Percenters. Prosecutor Jeffry Nestler says the jury's going to hear that Zoom recording and other recordings made by Reffitt's teenage son, Jackson. This case is something of a family tragedy. Reffitt faces an obstruction charge for allegedly threatening Jackson and one of his daughters to keep quiet after the January 6 attack.

PFEIFFER: So if that's the heart of the prosecution's case, what is the defense strategy?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Defense attorney William Welch spoke to the jury for just three minutes, Sacha. He says Guy Reffitt didn't assault anyone that day, didn't interfere with anyone in law enforcement. He says Reffitt did not bring a gun to the Capitol riot. And he says once police sprayed Reffitt with really strong orange chemical spray, he stopped in his tracks, and everything ended there. Basically, this defense lawyer says Reffitt exaggerates and rants all the time, he uses a lot of hyperbole that upsets people, but that the government case against him is built on bragging and a lot of hype.

PFEIFFER: What is the mood like inside the courthouse?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The lawyers and jurors are wearing masks. And because of COVID restrictions, the jury's spread out in the audience where the spectators usually sit. Guy Reffitt is pretty quiet, and he's paying attention. He usually wears a sport coat and jeans with his hair in a little ponytail. Our NPR colleague Tom Dreisbach sat in the courtroom this morning. He says Reffitt's wife Nicole had a poker face - no reaction, even at the mention of her children testifying for the prosecution.

PFEIFFER: Today was just the first day of testimony in this case, but as you know, Carrie, this is the first of hundreds of January 6 cases to go to trial. So what's expected in this case in coming days and also in other cases?

JOHNSON: The jury's going to hear from several more law enforcement witnesses, and even Reffitt's son and daughter before this trial ends. And now we've got new action happening in other, probably bigger case stemming from the riot. There's a guilty plea in the courthouse involving a member of the Oath Keepers, an Alabama man named Joshua James. James is charged, alongside the Oath Keepers' founder, Stewart Rhodes, and they both face the very serious charge of seditious conspiracy. Now James has pleaded guilty to that charge, and he's agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and even testify at trial.

PFEIFFER: Thanks. That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more from you as these cases keep unfolding.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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