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The 1st trial connected to the assault on the Capitol has begun


Jury selection is underway in the first trial connected to the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. A Texas man who allegedly belongs to an anti-government militia is being prosecuted, and his case could help set the course for hundreds of others.

NPR's Carrie Johnson spent the day in the courthouse, and she's here now to talk more about it. Hi, Carrie.


PFEIFFER: Tell us more about this defendant and what he's accused of.

JOHNSON: His name is Guy Reffitt. He's in his late 40s, from a suburb of Dallas, Texas, and he used to work on oil rigs. Prosecutors say he was at the front of a group that stormed the Capitol, wearing tactical gear on January 6. They say he was actually hit by pepper balls and chemically sprayed by police officers, but he just kept on charging that day.

He's accused of five crimes, including obstruction of an official proceeding, weapons charges and another obstruction count for allegedly threatening his kids after the riot. Reffitt's pleaded not guilty. He's been detained since early last year. And even from jail, he's been pretty outspoken. He wrote a letter last year, saying there was no conspiracy, no sinister plan. And just last week, he said he was prepared to stare down the barrel of tyranny and receive the bullet of freedom.

His defense attorney, Bill Welch, says Reffitt's a big talker, but that's all - it's all bragging. And in court today, Reffitt was polite. He listened quietly. He actually wore a tan sport coat, and he pulled his hair back into a short, dark ponytail that looked a little bit like a pigtail.

PFEIFFER: Carrie, this trial is taking place at the federal courthouse in D.C., which is down the street from the Capitol building, which is the scene of the crime. How is that affecting the jury selection process?

JOHNSON: Judge Dabney Friedrich says there is no way to find jurors who didn't follow any of what happened during the Capitol riot. She says the critical question is whether the juror has such fixed opinions about what happened on January 6 that he or she can't impartially judge Guy Reffitt. So she asked potential jurors how closely they follow news coverage, whether they had ties to any of the investigators who worked on the case. A lot of them remembered the guy known as the QAnon shaman, the one with the horns. But not many of these potential jurors knew who Guy Reffitt was.

Reffitt and some of the other people charged in connection with January 6 have urged judges to move these trials out of Washington. But so far, the judges have resisted that idea. They think they can weed out any bias by asking questions - detailed questions - of these individual potential jurors.

PFEIFFER: Give us a brief preview of what we might see and hear during this trial.

JOHNSON: Sure. We're expecting lots of witnesses from the Capitol Police, the Secret Service and the FBI. The jury is going to see videos and photos of the assault on the Capitol. They're going to see images of Guy Reffitt that day and read his text messages.

And interestingly, they're going to hear from two of Reffitt's children. That includes his son, Jackson, who tried to tip off the FBI about Guy Reffitt before January 6. Then, the son recorded Reffitt in at least five conversations after the attack. The jury's also going to hear from Reffitt's daughter, who told a judge last year her dad had threatened her about posting on social media after January 6.

And the Justice Department has also granted immunity to a member of the Three Percenters. That's a Texas militia group. This person traveled with Reffitt from Texas to D.C. last year. He kept in touch with him afterwards. He's going to testify, too.

PFEIFFER: Carrie, hope to hear more from you on this later this week. Thank you so much.

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

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.