ANALYSIS: Problems Abound As Trump Appointed Judge Refuses DOJ’s Terrorism Statute for 1/6 Defendant And Sentences Him To Just 7+ Years
On Monday, Judge Dabney Friedrich declined to allow the DOJ enhanced sentencing under the terrorism statute for January 6th defendant Guy Reffitt, 49 of Wylie, Texas who was affiliated with the Texas Three Percenters, and sentenced him to half of the time in prison that the DOJ requested.
New: In the sentencing hearing of Jan 6 defendant Guy Reffitt, federal judge DENIES prosecutors’ attempts to enhance the sentence under a terrorism statute.
Judge Friedrich says she is doing so in part bc of other serious Jan 6 cases in which the gov did not seek the increase.
— Rob Legare (@RobLegare) August 1, 2022
The Judge expressed concern that because the government had not previously sought to add enhancement of sentencing under the terrorism statute, it could cause “unwarranted sentencing disparity.”
This ignores the testimony of police being physically assaulted by a mob encouraged by Reffitt, as well as the fact that he had a handgun on his person while at the Capitol attack. Not all of the January 6th defendants committed the same level of attack on the government, so this “reasoning” seems specious and ill-judged.
The prosecution noted, “‘We believe the defendant brought more gear than almost anybody else’ who’s going to sentencing, AUSA Jeffrey Nestler says,” according to WUSA9’s Jordan Fisher. Fisher added later that Guy Reffitt told multiple people he “lit the match” on January 6th and bragged that no one else was going up the stairs until he did…. AUSA Nestler: ‘He was trying to take over our government. He wasn’t just trying to stop the vote… the terrorism enhancement is warranted by all of those factors. Not just the defendant’s conduct on Jan. 6, but afterward.’”
The Judge seemed to work overtime as the defense, even positing that while Reffitt wanted to be first to charge, that doesn’t make him a “leader.”
Prosecutor: “He needed the crowd behind him … and he got it”
Judge: Reffitt wants to be the first to storm the Capitol and the first to go to trial… “but does that make him a leader?”
Prosecutors show photo of mob with Reffitt out in front of crowds of “100s if not 1000s”
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) August 1, 2022
MacFarlane continued, “Prosecutor: Reffitt later bragged of his role in front of mob. ‘Controlling, causing, inducing other people to do what he wanted them to do’.”
While Reffitt came to DC with an AR-15 and a loaded pistol, the defense argued that he left his AK-47 in a car in Georgetown. We are supposed to feel grateful for this?
The DOJ sought a fifteen-year sentence for Reffitt. Reffitt was found guilty of multiple felonies, as the government said he carried a loaded gun onto Capitol grounds, led the charge against law enforcement, and sought to obstruct justice later.
Domestic terrorism is defined as the “under 18 U.S. Code § 2331 as “acts dangerous to human life” that occur primarily within U.S. territory and are intended “(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
On March 8, 2022 Reffitt was found guilty by a federal jury “of civil disorder, obstruction of justice, and other felony charges for his actions before, during, and after the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. His and others’ actions disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress convened to ascertain and count the electoral votes related to the presidential election.”
Note the important language about his disruption of the joint session of Congress convened to count the electoral votes for the 2020 election.
Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, sought to place accountability for Reffitt’s actions on “mental health” issues in spite of the fact that while people with mental health issues do enact violence, it is relatively uncommon.
CBS News Congressional Correspondent Scott MacFarlane shared:
Prosecutor, under questioning from judge, refers to Jan 6 cases as cases “about the attack on our democracy”
Important framing for this case… and the overall investigation of Jan 6
Prosecutor mentions “illegal gun silencer” at Reffitt home after Jan 6. And prosecutor mentions allegation I referenced atop thread: Reffitt allegedly fired a gun near his wife after brandishing it in 2020
Judge calls it “insane” incident toward a wife Reffitt “clearly loves
Judge Dabney Friedrich says there are clearly mental health issues in Reffitt’s case. “Arguably his mental health condition contributed to this offense.”
Prosecutor responds: “we don’t believe the defendant’s mental health contributed to the offense”
This is a wedge between prosecutors and judge at this moment.
Prosecutor: “He would benefit from mental health treatment.”
Judge: “His actions appear unhinged at times”
The American Psychological Association seeks to educate people about this mental health misconception:
… (P)eople often believe that people with mental illness are largely responsible for incidents of mass violence and that people with mental illness are responsible for a large share of community violence. Yet both views have been roundly debunked by research, says Swanson.
“We need to do some serious myth-busting around these ideas,” he says, “because people believe them, and they have real consequences.”
This attitude is concerning because it is based on myth and additionally, we do not see this “concern” or “excuse” for criminal behavior applied equally under the law for Black people. If, for example, Reffitt were a Muslim who participated in and incited a domestic terrorist attack on this country as well as threatening his wife with a gun (she corroborated this and clarified it happened twice, not once, and she is also defending him in sentencing today), I don’t think we’d be hearing about his mental health as a reason to be lenient on him.
Friedrich also demonstrated a very troubling lack of awareness about domestic violence, let alone the connection between DV and other violent attacks.
The Judge repeatedly dismissed Reffitt’s alleged threats against his children and his alleged pulling of a gun twice on his wife, including one time firing it near her head, saying that he must have mental health issues because he so clearly loves his wife.
MacFarlane’s Twitter thread continued:
Judge is repeatedly expressing concern about allegation of Reffitt firing gun near his wife’s head in 2020. But couches her concern saying Reffitt “clearly” loves wife
Judge is troubled by Reffitt’s references to “1776”
Defense: Reffitt doesn’t want to put his family thru suffering. And says his concern about family makes Reffitt less likely to offend in the future
There’s a lot of incorrect information being used by this Judge to determine how to rule in this sentencing. She should be made aware that “a woman is 400% more likely to be killed by an abuser if there is a gun in the home.”
It’s here that Judge Friedrich having not only dated Justice Brett Kavanaugh, but having dismissed a tip against him and vouched for his character comes into play. (Reminder: There were 4,500 tips against Kavanaugh that the FBI never investigated.) The accusations against Kavanaugh had more merit than we hear about and were corroborated by multiple witnesses.
There’s a connection between domestic violence and sexual assault, and the kinds of people who justify both or at the very least enable it by denying it are the kinds of people who write off domestic violence as a mental health issue and think it doesn’t make sense because the man “loves” his wife.
This defendant “traveled to Washington with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a Smith & Wesson pistol.” He clearly owns guns and has already threatened his wife with a gun. He ranted about wanting to harm Speaker Pelosi.
Guy Reffitt’s son Jackson Reffitt testified against him during the trial, and in fact he tipped the FBI off before the domestic terrorist attack. Jackson testified that he tipped the FBI off in December 2020 about his father’s January 6th plans.
There’s a relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings, which I’m extrapolating to extend to a domestic terrorist attack that involved the transportation of multiple guns because the government doesn’t make public the characteristics of domestic violence perpetrators. The desire to control an outcome shares the driving force behind intimate partner violence, however, and that is coercive control. Some forms of domestic violence are qualified as “intimate terrorism.”
we don’t have studies on domestic terrorism and domestic violence, but it would be reckless to ignore the data we do have.
“More than two-thirds of mass shootings are domestic violence incidents or are perpetrated by shooters with a history of domestic violence, according to one of the first peer-reviewed research papers exploring the links between domestic violence (DV) and mass shootings. The paper also finds that DV-related mass shootings are associated with higher fatality rates than mass shootings unrelated to DV,” a study commissioned by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence found.
Reffitt was sentenced to seven plus years:
ALERT: Judge Dabney Freidrich sentences Guy Reffitt to 87 months. (7+ years). That’s approximately half of the 15-year sentence prosecutors had requested
— Scott MacFarlane (@MacFarlaneNews) August 1, 2022
The conditions of Reffitt’s release were already discussed and it gives slap-on-the-wrist vibes. Examples include, “Learning first about some of the conditions for Guy Reffitt’s eventual supervised release. It will include an order prohibiting him from contacting or associating with any members of an extremist group, including the Texas Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and Texas Freedom Force.”
This judge is hardly the only judge to be woefully misinformed about multiple issues for which there are studies and data. However, her use of incorrect mythology surrounding mental health, domestic violence, and even domestic terrorism is noteworthy because it appears an unjust application of the law and one that stands to leave Reffitt’s wife and children at risk, as well as further harm to our democracy given his promise to continue on with his 2020 election fight.
It also harms people of color who are treated like dangerous criminals while simply walking through neighborhoods. Any failure to apply the law equally is a grave injustice and only by pointing it out can we make progress. The same compassion being shown to a white man who attacked his government and his own wife should either be extended to all or he should be treated as people with darker skin are.
The government will need to bring on mental health experts to dispel this dangerous and inaccurate myth in future court proceedings with the January 6th defendants.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.