The 19-year-old son of US Capitol riot defendant Guy Reffitt testified for more than three hours Thursday before a Washington jury, reliving painful family divisions in the courtroom that led in part to the historic first trial related to January 6.
Jackson Reffitt became a key witness for prosecutors because he reported his father’s far-right political extremism to the FBI on Christmas Eve 2020. He then followed up with law enforcement, recorded the audio of family fights and forwarded incriminating text messages from his father to the FBI after Guy Reffitt attended the rally for then-President Donald Trump in Washington on January 6, 2021, that preceded the breaching of the Capitol.
“I don’t regret it, but it’s a lot,” Jackson Reffitt said. “I don’t have the words to really describe it. I think it’s the best-case scenario,” he said at the end of his testimony.
Before the 2016 election, Jackson Reffitt said, he and his father were very close. But Guy Reffitt “snowballed into a far-right extremist,” and his son became increasingly paranoid.
On Thursday, the long-haired young man spoke at times in a near-whisper, taking long pauses as he spoke about his fears and his father’s politics. He confirmed text messages among his parents, his sisters and himself discussing the Capitol riot, and he listened to audio clips of family bantering that then turned into a discussion over guns being illegal to carry on federal property.
“You carried a weapon onto federal grounds,” Jackson Reffitt said to his father.
“OK. … Which part of that is breaking the law?” Guy Reffitt responded, saying written laws weren’t always right. “We made a point. … You’ll know your father was there when an epic historical thing happened in this country.”
Jackson Reffitt testified that he had recorded his father because “I thought no one was going to believe me,” and he met with an FBI agent at a local restaurant because “I wanted to talk to someone,” he said.
The evidence is being presented to the jury in an effort to prove that Guy Reffitt was in DC, that he took part in the Capitol riot while carrying a weapon and that he threatened his children to keep quiet afterward. Guy Reffitt’s younger daughter, Peyton – who was called “Pitter Pats” in the family’s text chain – is set to testify near the end of the trial.
Reffitt is on trial on five charges. He is accused of taking a gun to the Capitol, interfering with two police officers outside the building and threatening his children when he returned home. Reffitt has pleaded not guilty.
A Texas family home
When his son first took the stand, Guy Reffitt’s face turned red and he began crying. Nicole Reffitt watched from the gallery and motioned to her husband at one point, as she held back emotions as well, observers in the courtroom noted.
The members of the family left the courtroom separately, with Jackson Reffitt finishing his testimony for prosecutors, his father going back to jail and his mother exiting with other family members who are watching the trial.
“Today was really hard. I don’t feel like talking,” Nicole Reffitt told media organizations outside the courthouse.
Jackson Reffitt began his testimony by laying out a portrait of what appeared to be a typical family. The children and parents frequently joked with one another, both over their group text chain and in person.
But Jackson Reffitt made clear he disagreed with his father’s far-right political beliefs, explaining that his father wore a Trump hat nearly every day and wore his Smith & Wesson handgun in a holster “pretty much all the time.” It would be on his nightstand if it wasn’t on his hip, the son said.
Prosecutors are attempting to prove Guy Reffitt carried a Smith & Wesson .40 onto the Capitol grounds during the insurrection, where he was at the front of the crowd in an altercation with police as the mob pushed forward.
“That is my father’s handgun on his nightstand,” Jackson Reffitt said, without emotion, as the courtroom was shown a photo of the nightstand.
The jury was also shown photos of a gun safe in a closet adjacent to the master bedroom, and what Jackson Reffitt described as his father’s automatic rifle. Guy Reffitt’s white pickup also was shown to the jury in photos, as was Nicole Reffitt’s Blue Chevrolet Equinox. Both had stickers with the stars-and-ammo emblem of the Three Percenters on them, a right-wing anti-government group Guy Reffitt was active in and whose meetings before and after January 6 play a part in the prosecutors’ case.
Son’s first tip to the FBI
Jackson Reffitt described under oath how he had decided to report his father to the FBI for his political extremism.
The decision came just after Jackson Reffitt’s political disagreements and banter over text with his father escalated after the election in 2020.
Guy Reffitt had texted his son to “hold my beer” to watch what he would do – and that “what comes next is about tyranny.”
“The entire house of legislation has committed unthinkable acts on our people,” Guy Reffitt had texted his son. “We have had enough.”
Jackson Reffitt said his father’s talk had made him “paranoid” and increased his anxiety.
“Seeing these messages and reading them, my paranoia really blew over, so I decided to alleviate some of the anxiety on my shoulders and submit a tip to the FBI,” he told the jury.
At home in his bedroom alone, he googled the FBI tip line.
“Googling that, to report my father. Saying it aloud is pretty weird,” the son told the jury.
In the two days after January 6, Guy Reffitt bragged to his family over text messages about taking part in the Capitol riot, as he traveled home. He wrote to his family where he was in video of the attack, what he had worn and that he had been sprayed with pepper balls, his son testified. Prosecutors showed several series of text messages to the jury.
Jackson Reffitt said he had taken screenshots of some of the texts and sent them to the FBI days after January 6.
“Shot multiple times with clay balls and Pepper Sprayed heavily. We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People,” Guy Reffitt wrote on January 8 to his children and wife.
He also sent the family a clip of Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox, where he is featured in video of the attack. “That’s my starting in the blue,” the father wrote, later adding, “walking up stairs in kuwaiti blue coat.”
Earlier in the trial, the jury saw Capitol surveillance video of a man in body armor and a blue jacket far out at the front of the crowd, on a staircase on the Capitol’s Upper West Terrace, being told by police to retreat and being sprayed with chemical irritants. The massive pro-Trump crowd then was able to overwhelm police and get further into the Capitol complex.
“A hero,” Jackson Reffitt told his father in the text chain after the attack.
But the son explained on the witness stand, “It was sarcasm.”
He also spoke more soberly to his father over text message in January about Capitol riot participants being sought by law enforcement.
“I am trying to make him realize how bad the situation is,” the son testified, across the courtroom from his father.
After Guy Reffitt returned home to Texas, his son recorded the family’s conversations about the Capitol riot on his cell phone.
On audio clips heard by the jury, the family at times laughed about the father’s blip in a national news story. Guy Reffitt bragged about being caught on video in a clip that aired on the news. But it was very brief, and his wife and kids ribbed him about it.
“We have to have a moment of sadness because dad has a one-second video of him storming the Capitol,” his wife joked in the recording.
Later, however, Guy Reffitt became increasingly concerned that he would be arrested for participating in the attack. He became so concerned, his son said, that he had warned Jackson Reffitt and his younger sister that if they reported him to the FBI they would be traitors, and “traitors get shot.”
“I looked at my sister and she looked at me flabbergasted, almost confused,” Jackson told the jury. “I was pretty grossed out” and “scared, not only for myself but for my sister.”
That afternoon, Jackson said, he drove to a local high school and parked for 15 minutes, so that his family would think he was picking up friends. He then met an FBI agent at a restaurant and told the agent “everything.”
He left the family’s home after his father’s arrest in January 2021 and has had almost no contact with them since. Shortly after the arrest, Jackson Reffitt did major national TV interviews about turning in his father.