It was just before Christmas Eve and guilt wracked Jackson Reffitt as he searched for information online about how to submit a tip to the FBI.
After six years of drifting apart politically, the increasingly erratic behavior and frightening text messages his father, Guy Wesley Reffitt, sent to their family about plans to “rise up” and “shock the world” could no longer be ignored.
On Thursday, sitting across from each other in a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., Jackson, 19, told jurors in the first trial in connection to the attack of the U.S. Capitol, that the whole experience contacting authorities made him feel “gross” and “nervous” and “uncomfortable.”
What followed, he testified, was “scary” and “surreal.”
Jackson's firsthand testimony made for a critical day in the trial of Guy Reffitt, a 49-year-old member of the right-wing Texas Three Percenters militia who faces multiple counts for crimes connected to Jan. 6 including civil disorder charges, obstruction of an official proceeding, and entering a restricted area with a firearm.
Prosecutors also charged Guy with obstruction of justice following threats he made to his family as his paranoia about getting caught by the FBI deepened once home in Wylie.
“He said, ‘If you turn me in, you’re a traitor. And traitors get shot,’” Jackson said in court Thursday as his father looked at him.
According to The New York Times, Guy Reffitt’s gaze dropped to the floor when his son recalled the “traitors get shot” outburst.
Guy Reffitt has pleaded not guilty.
Jackson’s testimony lasted roughly three hours, his voice faint and at times, he spoke through tears. NPR reported that the young Reffitt told jurors he was less scared for himself and more scared for his sister.
“Because what he said was a threat… That’s not okay to say to your kids,” Jackson testified.
His father also threatened to “put a bullet” in his sister Peyton Reffit’s phone. Jackson described it as a “violent action” towards his younger sister.
The FBI did not contact Jackson until after the Jan. 6 attack. The elder Reffitt was arrested on Jan. 19, 2021, and indicted a week later.
During trial Thursday, prosecutors Jeffrey Nestler and Risa Berkower pored over evidence, including dozens of texts that Jackson received from his father before the siege. (Misspellings in quoted text are original.)
“Congress has made fatal mistakes this time. This isn’t about Trump, it’s much much bigger. It’s about OUR country,” one Dec. 21 text said.
Jackson replied: “I don’t think Congress makes up all 80,000,000 votes for Biden but okkk.”
His father retorted: “It’s not about Trump. Or Biden. What comes next is about tyranny. Hold my beer and I’ll show you.”
Guy boasted to his family about getting shot multiple times with clay balls and pepper-sprayed by police.
“We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People,” Guy wrote.
Prosecutors recounted Jackson’s response for jurors. He asked his father if he realized rioters were actively being tracked down, but Guy was unbothered.
“Yep, don’t care. I broke no laws,” he wrote.
Prosecutors also showed jurors footage from a camera Reffitt attached to his helmet on Jan. 6. In it, he is heard shouting and cursing, urging the crowd to storm the Capitol and drag lawmakers out by force, in particular, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The tirade continued. Reffitt was heard on video saying:
“I didn’t come here to play—I’m taking the Capitol. I just want to see Pelosi’s head hitting every fucking stair on the way out… and Mitch McConnell, too.”
“We’re taking the Capitol after this shit.”
“Pelosi’s coming out… dragging that bitch out hardcore.”
“I’m packing heat and I’m going to get more heat.”
BuzzFeed reported Thursday that jurors also saw multiple conversations from Reffitt on Telegram where he often corresponded with other members of the Texas Three Percenters. In one exchange, when someone told Reffitt the only way they could “do anything in D.C.” was if the mob dragged “traitors” out, Reffitt sounded self-assured.
“I don’t think anyone going to DC has any other agenda,” he wrote on Telegram.
On the afternoon of Jan. 6, he boasted on the conservative social media channel and described himself as the “lead” up the Capitol steps. He wrote of taking multiple clay bullets and unleashing “a battle cry like in Braveheart.”
“The insurrection began immediately after,” he wrote.
Later, in a message that prosecutors would eventually seize onto in their opening arguments, Reffitt wrote:
“I was the first person to light the fire on the Capital [sic] steps. WE TOOK THE CAPITAL…!!!”
Three days after the attack, he was still bragging online.
“We took the Capital of the United States of America and we will do it again,” Reffitt wrote on Jan. 9.
Jurors also saw evidence of Reffitt on a Zoom call with Texas Three Percenters following the Capitol assault.
Reffitt’s conversation with the militia members appeared to corroborate testimony delivered by former U.S. Capitol Police officer Shauni Kerkhoff a day before. Kerkhoff told jurors that she saw Reffitt advance relentlessly on Jan. 6.
Every time Reffitt took a step forward, the mob would advance right behind him, Kerkhoff said. Firing clay balls at the fleshy parts of his body did not stop him, she said. Reffitt was sporting a protective vest and helmet. it was not until the chemical irritants started flying that he started to slow his advance.
Video footage shows him being sprayed, rubbing his eyes, and then just as he is about to be doused in more irritants, he begins to use one arm to wave in other rioters.
William Welch, Reffitt’s attorney, has defended Reffit’s actions by chalking them up to hyperbole run amok. Welch has also argued that Reffitt was not armed on Jan. 6, though he is seen on video with a holster at his hip. What appears to be a glinting metal in that holster can also be seen in recorded footage.
Some of the evidence presented by prosecutors undercut that claim, namely the Zoom call with Reffitt’s fellow Three Percenters.
On that call, Reffitt remarked how “nobody was moving forward until I climbed up that banister. I couldn’t even see but I kept screaming, ‘Take the House.’”
During cross-examination, Welch pressed Jackson about the rift between him and his father. At a bail hearing before trial, Guy’s daughter Peyton Reffitt testified that she did not feel threatened by her father’s remarks about putting a bullet in her phone.
Welch has leaned on this and similar arguments to make the case for Guy’s innocence. Between Guy’s penchant for exaggerating and a taste for drink, plus existing medication regimens, Welch argued, the elder Reffitt was prone to hyperbole.
Politico reported that Welch also grilled Jackson about $158,000 he raised online through GoFundMe and why he had not shared it with his family. Jackson said he offered but it didn’t pan out. His father’s defense attorney also grilled him about his media appearances, including the one where he announced he contacted the FBI.
A special agent for the FBI took the stand Thursday as well and fielded questions from both Nestler and Welch. After jurors had already watched the footage from Jan. 6, Welch raised the prospect with the special agent that perhaps the footage had been doctored and it was a “deepfake.”
The agent said there was no evidence of such manipulation.
On Friday, the fifth day of Reffitt’s trial gets underway and it will continue into next week. Reffitt’s daughter Peyton is expected to testify; according to a proposed witness list, prosecutors will also call Rocky Hardie to the stand.
Hardie traveled with Reffitt to Washington on Jan. 6 and is also a member of the Texas Three Percenters militia.