'Better safe than sorry' — Texas teen explains turning in father over Jan. 6 attack
A soft-spoken 19-year-old told jurors he felt uncomfortable after he decided to alert the FBI about "surreal and scary" text messages from his father in the weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Testifying in the first trial related to the insurrection, Jackson Reffitt said his father, Guy Reffitt, warned that he and others were about to "rise up," in a family text chain on Christmas Eve 2020.
"What's about to happen will shock the world," Guy Reffitt typed to his family, only a couple of weeks before a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election's electoral votes.
As the heated texts piled up, Jackson Reffitt performed an internet search from his bedroom in a Dallas suburb. Jackson said he felt "paranoid" — but the Justice Department said his suspicions proved correct.
"Googling that to report my father, saying it out loud is pretty weird," said Jackson, who wore a dark suit and white shirt with no tie, his brown hair spilling loose several inches past his shoulders.
The FBI didn't get back to Jackson until Jan. 6, 2021, the same day hundreds of people who had traveled to Washington, D.C., attacked the Capitol in the worst assault since the War of 1812. His father is the first one of them to go to trial at the federal courthouse just down the street from the seat of government.
Guy Reffitt faces five criminal charges, including weapons offenses and obstruction for allegedly threatening Jackson and his younger sister, Peyton, to keep quiet after the Capitol siege.
To build their case, authorities are using Guy Reffitt's own words against him, in the form of text messages, video that Reffitt captured himself amid the chaos in Washington last year and recordings that Jackson Reffitt made of his father on a cellphone when he returned home a few days later.
"I felt pretty gross and I felt pretty uncomfortable for even thinking about doing something like this, but I knew that it would help immensely," Jackson testified Thursday about his decision to record his father last year. "Better safe than sorry."
He said the decision to turn his father in to authorities and share evidence against him was difficult, but was what he called, with some emotion, the "best-case scenario."
One recording presented Guy Reffitt, on the evening he returned from the trip, narrating to his family video footage of the crowd.
"Your father was there when an epic historical thing happened in this country," he said.
Of his actions that day, Reffitt said, "I didn't make it in. But I started the fire."
Reffitt's helmet camera captured him using violent, foul language to lay out his intentions on Capitol Hill
The prosecution team led by Jeffrey Nestler and Risa Berkower moved swiftly through dozens of text messages and other pieces of evidence in the case on Thursday.
The government lingered on footage that Reffitt captured using a 360-degree camera attached to his helmet on Jan. 6. Cheery greetings shared with fellow protesters soon gave way to dark language.
"We're taking the Capitol before the day is over," Reffitt said on the video. "Ripping them out by their hair — every f***ing one of them."
"Pelosi's coming out on her f***ing ears, dragging that bitch out hard core," he added soon after, about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
During other bits of footage, Reffitt said many people in the crowd were armed that day.
"Everyone's came in hot," he said. "If it's one f***ing law I'm breaking, I'm OK with that."
Reffitt's attorney, William Welch, told jurors in his opening statement that Reffitt "uses a lot of hyperbole" and that he was unarmed at the Capitol. But his client told others he carried a .40-caliber pistol on his right hip.
Prosecutors also played for the jury a Zoom recording of a meeting Reffitt conducted with friends after he returned to Texas from Washington. Several of them had seen videos of him on Fox News that day.
Reffitt is not accused of entering the Capitol. Police officers hit him with pepper balls and, later, a powerful orange chemical spray that left him struggling to see.
"Nobody was moving forward until I climbed up that bannister," Reffitt said in the Zoom meeting. "I couldn't even see, but I kept screaming, 'Take the House.'"
Prosecutors said Reffitt waved on the crowd to surge past him and enter the building. Reffitt's lawyer said, "As soon as he was pepper-sprayed, that was the end of it."
Law enforcement officers were outnumbered by the enormous crowd. Capitol Police Inspector Monique Moore broke down in tears at the trial this week while describing hearing her officers "screaming" for help on the radio.
"They're lucky we didn't shoot 'em," Reffitt said on the Zoom recording with friends a few days after Jan. 6. "They really should be grateful."
Family torn apart by political rift; Reffitt told his children "traitors get shot"
The trial is also laying bare, in sometimes emotionally wrenching ways, a breach in a single family — a pattern Jackson Reffitt said is recurring amid many of the 750 odd criminal prosecutions to arise from the Capitol insurrection.
As prosecutors called his son to the witness stand, Guy Reffitt began to cry, wiping his eyes as his face reddened, according to a courtroom pool report. His wife, Nicole Reffitt, in the courtroom gallery stifled tears in another moment during her son's testimony.
Jackson Reffitt said he moved out of the family home in early 2021 and feels "sad" about how little they communicate now.
Jackson said his father grew "distant" about six years ago, and the gap between them grew as their political opinions diverged. Jackson spoke out online and attended protests in support of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights. Guy hung a flag outside their home and wore a T-shirt that bore the insignia of the Three Percenters, a right-wing militia group.
Jackson said he struggled to make his father understand he had broken the law by bringing weapons onto federal ground.
"I did bring a weapon onto property we own," Guy Reffitt said, according to his son. He said others there "were all carrying weapons too."
Jackson said his father eventually grew concerned about getting caught by the FBI and warned Jackson and one of his sisters that "traitors get shot."
"Scared, not really for myself, but for my sister," Jackson said. "Because what he said was a threat. ... That's not OK to say to your kids."
Jackson said his sister Peyton, "flustered," began to go through her apps on her phone, and his father threatened to "put a bullet" in the phone.
"That's a violent action towards my little sister," Jackson said.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Welch cast Jackson as motivated by strong but opposite political opinions from his father's. Welch also described several national television appearances Jackson had conducted without telling his mother and sisters in advance, including an interview with then-CNN anchor Chris Cuomo where the Reffitt family learned Jackson had turned in his father.
The defense attorney also asked why Jackson had not shared $158,000 in proceeds from a GoFundMe account he set up last year. Jackson replied that he had made the offer but it hadn't progressed. He told a prosecutor he had used some of the money to get set up in an apartment, help pay for community college and get some dental work.
As he stepped off the witness stand, after more than three hours of testimony, Jackson waved at his mother. She told reporters outside the courthouse that she loved her son.
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