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First trial of a US Capitol riot defendant begins amid high drama

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of then-President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. (Reuters Photo)

More than a year after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, federal prosecutors in the US are set to make opening statements in first of what could be hundreds of criminal trials of people involved in the deadly insurrection.

Guy Reffitt from Texas, the first of some 750 people accused of involvement in the Jan. 6 riot, will face trial in Washington.

Reffitt, who authorities say is part of the self-styled Three Percenter militia movement, has been slapped with charges including obstruction, civil disorder, and entering the Capitol grounds with a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty.

Around 200 people have already admitted to their involvement in the attack and almost 750 people have been charged. Reffitt's trial comes as the US Justice Department looks to convict hundreds of defendants who have not taken plea deals.

The defendants face charges ranging from unlawful picketing to seditious conspiracy, under which 11 people belonging to the right-wing Oath Keepers were charged in January.

According to prosecutors, Reffitt drove from his home in Texas to Washington on Jan. 6 and brought an AR-15 rifle and a Smith & Wesson pistol with him.

Reffitt allegedly played a "significant and dangerous role" by leading a group of rioters to the Capitol to challenge police protecting the complex, according to government papers.

He left the scene only after being hit with pepper spray, according to prosecutors.

Reports said the verdict against Reffitt could motivate defendants to accept plea deals offered by prosecutors. But a verdict in his favor could prompt others to go for trial.

Reffitt also faces charges of obstruction for allegedly threatening his children if they handed him over to authorities. His 19-year-old son Jackson, who turned him in to the FBI, is expected to testify against him.

The Justice Department says when Reffitt returned home after the events of Jan. 6, he warned his wife, son, and daughter that "they would be traitors" if they reported him to the authorities.

If the most serious charges are pressed against him, Reffitt could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though maximum penalties are very rare for defendants.

Thousands of people stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, following an inflammatory speech by Trump in which he claimed his election defeat was the result of rigging and fraud.

Protestors broke into the US Capitol building to prevent the certification of the results of the Electoral College votes. Five people, including one police officer, died during the riot.

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