WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is seeking to add years to a Jan. 6 defendant’s sentence, arguing for the first time that one of the rioters committed an act of domestic terrorism and, thus should get a heavier sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
Guy Reffitt, the Texas III%er extremist who was found guilty on all five counts in March, will be sentenced on August 1. He was the first Jan. 6 defendant to go to trial.
Reffitt tried to storm the U.S. Capitol with a gun and zip ties and planned to target House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, prosecutors said, but he was pepper sprayed before he was able to enter the building. Prosecutors used Reffitt’s own words against him at trial, as well as testimony from the son who turned him in, arguing he “lit the match“ on the west side of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
In a court filing on Friday, federal prosecutors indicated they would seek a terrorism sentencing enhancement in Reffitt’s case, arguing that the need “to deter others is especially strong because Reffitt engaged in acts of violence that were intended to influence the government through intimidation or coercion — acts that have been defined, by statute, as domestic terrorism.”
Domestic terrorism — meaning terrorism that is carried out on behalf of a “domestic” ideology, rather than a “foreign” ideology — isn’t a crime in and of itself, so prosecutors typically formally label an individual as a domestic terrorist during the sentencing process.
While officials have repeatedly referred to the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol as an act of domestic terrorism, the filing marked the first time that the Justice Department sought a terrorism enhancement in any specific Jan. 6 case.
“The department is very judicious about deploying the term in the first instance, and typically will only do so in the backend of litigation when the facts and circumstances are going to be clear,” a Justice Department official explained in 2018.
Prosecutors wrote Friday that those circumstances were especially clear in Reffitt’s case. “Clearly, attacking the United States Capitol — the legislative seat of our government — while the entire complement of legislators and the Vice President of the United States are inside performing their constitutional and statutory duties is a strong indication of intent to influence or retaliate against the government,” prosecutors wrotee
“It is clear from Reffitt’s conduct, including his express and implied intent, that Reffitt sought not just to stop Congress, but also to physically attack, remove, and replace the legislators who were serving in Congress,” they wrote. “This is a quintessential example of an intent to both influence and retaliate against government conduct through intimidation or coercion.”
Reffitt’s defense attorney, in a separate sentencing memo, sought no more than 24 months in federal prison.
If a judge sends Reffitt to prison for anywhere near the term that prosecutors are seeking, his sentence would be the longest in a Jan. 6 case so far. The longest sentence to date was against Robert Scott Palmer, a Florida man who was identified by online sleuths after he emptied a fire extinguisher into police and then chucked it at officers, all while wearing an American flag jacket emblazoned with Donald Trump’s name. He was sentenced to 63 months in December.
Ryan J. Reilly is a justice reporter for NBC News.