WASHINGTON — By late 2020, Jackson Reffitt told a jury Thursday, he’d become convinced his father Guy meant it when he said he was “going to do something big.” He was so convinced, in fact, he submitted a tip to the FBI from his bedroom on Christmas Eve.
Jackson, now 19, took the witness stand for three hours Thursday. The soft-spoken college student sat behind a clear plexiglass divider in a blue blazer and white dress shirt, wavy brown hair falling below his shoulders, as he answered questions from a federal prosecutor trying his father on five felony counts connected to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Reffitt, who until then had remained quiet and composed, grew immediately emotional as he saw his son enter the room – likely for the first time in person since his arrest more than a year ago. Reffitt turned away and cried. For much of his son’s testimony, his face pointed down at his notepad.
First, Jackson’s relationship with Reffitt had to be established for the jury.
“Do you know the defendant?” assistant U.S. attorney Risa Berkower asked. Jackson responded yes, and she asked how.
“He’s my father,” Jackson said.
Under questioning from Berkower, Jackson then described a growing paranoia about his father’s political views and ties to the anti-government Three Percenters militia group. He said his father had become distant after the family returned from living abroad and had taken to “constantly” wearing a gun on his hip. Reffitt, Jackson said, would often compliment the firearm with a bulletproof vest.
In August – at the same time polls began to look dire for then-President Donald Trump and the “Stop the Steal” movement was getting its footing – Jackson said his father told him “something big” was coming. After the election, Reffitt’s rhetoric grew much more dire.
“Congress has made fatal mistakes this time,” Reffitt said in one message sent to the family’s group text. “This isn’t about Trump, its much, much bigger. This is about OUR country.”
In other messages, Reffitt said he was willing to die for his beliefs. Jackson said his father believed Congress had “failed him” and considered that tyranny. He asked him what he was going to do.
“Hold my beer and I’ll show you,” Reffitt responded.
After Jan. 6, Reffitt sent his family a photograph of him advancing on Capitol Police at the front of the mob. Along with the photograph, he included the text: “Me telling Patriots to hold my beer and watch this.”
‘Nobody Was Moving Forward Until I Took That Banister’
Day 2 of the government’s case against Guy Reffitt – the first of more than 700 people charged in the Capitol riot to go to trial – was dominated by his own words. In addition to texts and audio recordings made by his son Jackson, jurors heard recordings Reffitt himself made with a helmet-mounted camera and of Zoom meetings with the leader of the Texas Three Percenters.
FBI Special Agent Stacy Shahrani, a member of the bureau’s Computer Analysis Response Team, told jurors she extracted data from four devices belonging to Reffitt. One of those devices, a 360-degree camera, caught him telling people over and over again at the Ellipse in D.C. what his plans for the day were on Jan. 6.
“Alright Rocky, we gotta push forward buddy,” Reffitt says in the government’s first audio clip. A short time later, he follows up with, “I’m prepared to take this capital.”
In multiple ways, and to multiple people, Reffitt repeated the same thought.
“We’re taking the Capitol after this before the day is out,” he says. “Dragging them out f***ing kicking and screaming.”
“I didn’t come here to play games. I’m taking the Capitol with everybody f***ing else,” he tells another person. “We’re taking them out kicking and f***ing screaming. I just want to see [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi’s head hitting every step on the way out.”
Reffitt told another man, after identifying himself as a Three Percenter, that Jan. 6 was “the last day of the war.” And, he said, he and his friends had come armed to make sure of that.
“I’m packing heat, and I’m going to get more heat and I’m going into that f***ing building,” Reffitt said. “I’m f***ing done with these motherf***ers.”
Referencing, incorrectly, the landmark 1803 Supreme Court decision in the Marbury v. Madison case, Reffitt said, “Maybury v. Madison gives us the right to drag every f***ing one of them out of there.”
Reffitt had mentioned the same case to his son Jackson in a text message prior to the riot.
“Read it well and it will explain what’s about to happen,” he wrote.
The day prior, the government had called former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Shauni Kerkhoff to testify about the efforts to repel Reffitt from the Capitol. That includes dozens of rounds of pepper balls, less-than-lethal pain compliance rounds from a riot gun and, eventually, a 46-ounce can of O.C. spray. Jurors saw video of Reffitt at the front of a crowd of people, urging them to move forward against police – first with a bullhorn and then, after succumbing to the O.C. spray, with his arm.
On Thursday, they heard it all again from Reffitt himself.
“I’m not trying to be arrogant, but nobody was moving forward until I took that banister,” Reffitt said in a recorded Zoom video with Texas Three Percenters state leader Russ William Bowen. “I just kept yelling, ‘Go forward! Go forward! Take the House!”
‘I Came Here for a Reason’
When Guy Reffitt returned home from D.C., he showed his family videos of the day – some he’d taken and some taken by others and aired on Fox News – while he narrated the events. His son, Jackson, recorded the conversation.
“I lit the fire,” Reffitt said. He showed his family a video of him standing just feet away from Kerkhoff on the steps leading to the Senate Wing. Reffitt said he told Kerkhoff through a megaphone, “Stand aside or you’re going to get tried for treason.”
“I was almost close enough to dive for her and take the gun away from her when a man came around the corner with bear spray,” Reffitt told Bowen during their Zoom call.
And Reffitt told his family and Bowen the same thing he told multiple people on Jan. 6: that he went to D.C. armed, and that he would have used it if necessary.
“They’re lucky we didn’t shoot them,” he can be heard saying at one point, referencing the guns both he and fellow Three Percenter Rocky Hardy had with them in D.C.
“I came here for a reason,” Reffitt told his family. “I didn’t drive 20 f***ing hours not to do what needed to be done.”
What next, then, Jackson could be heard asking his father in the recording? What happens now that you’ve stormed the Capitol and Joe Biden is president. Reffitt told his son Jan. 6 was just a “preface” for what was to come.
“January 6 was already so bad,” Jackson testified Thursday. “That that could just be the beginning, to hear my father say that, was scary. It was scary.”
Earlier in his testimony, Jackson had described his father as a braggart – as someone who, like Reffitt’s attorney William Welch had described him, was prone to hyperbole. But after Jan. 6, he believed his father was willing to do the things he said.
That’s why, a few days later when his father told Jackson and his younger sister, Peyton, he would shoot them if they turned him in, Jackson believed him.
“He said, ‘If you turn me in, you’ll be traitors. And traitors get shot,’” Jackson said. Later, Reffitt allegedly threatened to put a bullet through Peyton’s phone if she was recording him.
Jackson spoke with an FBI agent that same day – after driving to meet friends, first, in case his father was using a GPS tracker on him – and five days after that, agents arrested his father.
Before the arrest, Reffitt told him: “You’ll know that your father was there when an epic, historical thing happened in this country. And guess what? I’m not done yet.”
On cross-examination, Welch asked Jackson if his father drank frequently. Jackson said he did. Welch asked if his father took Xanax, which Jackson affirmed, and then if he knew whether you were supposed to drink while taking Xanax. After an objection from the government, Welch switched that line of questioning and asked if it was possible Jackson’s father could be smart, as Jackson described him, and also have a mental illness. Jackson agreed it was possible. There has been no evidence entered in the case that Reffitt is suffering from any mental health issues aside from anxiety, for which he was prescribed Xanax.
Welch also tried to introduce doubt into the prosecution’s case earlier in the day with an unusual question to the FBI agent who examined Reffitt’s devices.
“Have you heard about a deepfake?” Welch asked, to an immediate objection from assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Nestler.
A deepfake is a kind of manufactured video or image in which a real person’s likeness is put on another’s body or manipulated so as to appear they are saying or doing something they did not. Agent Shahrani, after U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied Nestler’s objection, said she was only familiar with them from work on FBI child pornography investigations.
Welch asked Shahrani if she had any reason to believe any of the videos of Reffitt pulled from his camera and an external hard drive were deepfakes?
No, Shahrani said, adding in response to a follow-up question about whether she was checking for them that as a matter of course she always looks for evidence of alterations – and did not find any. Welch has not introduced any evidence in the case suggesting videos or images have been maliciously altered in any way.
Reffitt’s trial was scheduled to resume Friday morning with testimony from other FBI agents who worked on the case, a former counsel for the Secretary of the Senate and Rocky Hardie, the fellow Three Percenter given immunity to testify against Reffitt.
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