Teenage son takes stand at Jan. 6 trial of father

Jackson Reffitt said he’d been concerned for some time about his father’s involvement with a right-wing militia group, the Texas Three Percenters, but after the 2020 election became alarmed about the tone of his father’s anti-government rhetoric. He repeatedly described “paranoia” that led him to report his father’s text messages to the FBI on Christmas Eve, about two weeks before the attack on the Capitol.

“What’s about to happen will shock the world,” Guy Reffitt texted his son that day. “We are about to rise up the way the Constitution was written.”

Jackson Reffitt said it sounded ominous to him.

“Receiving these messages and reading them, my paranoia pretty much blew over, so, I decided to alleviate some anxieties off my shoulders and to Google FBI and … go forward with any information I had,” he recalled.

He would later go on to record conversations with his father after he returned from Washington, and provide evidence that his dad threatened him to keep quiet about his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the capitol. That evidence has formed a crucial part of the government’s case against Guy Reffitt, and sets the case apart from the nearly 800 defendants charged in connection with the insurrection.

Jackson Reffitt seemed calm but subdued on the witness stand, and occasionally looked straight ahead from his seat—apparently at his father, who was seated directly across the courtroom. He said the process of deciding to report his dad to the FBI was nerve-wracking.

“I was nervous. I didn’t know what I was doing and I just felt gross,” Jackson Reffitt said. “I don’t think I can explain it. I just felt uncomfortable. … Just to Google that and to report my father — just saying it all out is pretty … weird.”

He said he didn’t hear back from the FBI until Jan. 6, two weeks after he used his phone to go on the agency’s website and serve up the tip about his father. But by then it was too late.

Jackson Reffitt described watching the Jan. 6 attack unfold on the news at home with his mother, seeing law enforcement officials with guns drawn inside the Capitol and learning from his mother that his father was there.

“I pretty much stood there in awe and disappointment, saddened and scared,” he said. “I was terrified — I believe we all were — for the people there, what’s going to happen — as well as at a loss of words.”

Jackson Reffitt, currently a community college student, chewed gum on the stand — until a prosecutor discreetly stepped in to offer him a tissue to spit it out.

The younger Reffitt said he and his father were close until 2016 or so, with their relationship becoming more strained as their differing political views became more polarized and his dad became more and more involved in the far-right militia group.

Jackson Reffitt said that when his father returned home after the riot, boastful about what he’d done and vowing to continue the fight, he decided to download an app on his phone and begin recording some of their conversations.

“If no one actually believed me, what my father had done and is saying, that is better [than] his word against mine,” Jackson Reffitt said when asked why he tapped his own dad. “I felt pretty gross and I felt pretty uncomfortable for even thinking about doing something like that, but I knew that it would help immensely. …better safe than sorry.”

While Guy Reffitt’s defense attorney has ridiculed the prosecution’s claims that he played a key role in unleashing the mayhem at the Capitol, the recordings Jackson Reffitt made seem to support the prosecution’s assertion.

“I didn’t make it in, but I started the fire,” Guy Reffitt said in one recording. “I was willing to die when I was there. I was willing to die. … I had a very epic point in my life, actually.”

In the audio files played for the jury, Reffitt expressed no regrets for his actions, but did seem upset that others got carried away. “I hate that anybody got hurt,” he said. He also described as “cute” and “a little scared” a Capitol Police officer who tested Wednesday and had fired pepper balls at him near a Capitol entrance on Jan. 6.

In the recordings, Reffitt repeatedly said that he was armed at the Capitol and that he’d broken no law.

“I had every Constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress,” he said. “We went in. They scurried like rats and hid.”

During about three hours on the witness stand Thursday, Jackson Reffitt also told jurors of how, during a heated conversation five days after the riot, his father said he’d kill him and his sister Peyton if they reported him to the FBI.

“If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and traitors get shot,” Jackson Reffitt quoted his dad as saying.

“I looked at my sister. She looked at me. We were both flabbergasted and confused,” Jackson Reffitt said. “I was pretty fated out to have my father say that to me and I was worried about my sister. That’s not cool to say to your kids. That’s a threat. I was scared not only for myself but my sister.”

Jackson Reffitt also alleged that, a short time later, Guy Reffitt made another threat as his sister scrolled through her phone nearby.

“’You better not be recording this or I’m going to put a bullet in your phone,’” Jackson recalled his dad saying, adding, “His eyes grew a little larger. He was shaking a little.”

During cross-examination, Guy Reffitt’s defense attorney, William Welch, suggested his client’s extreme statements were just talk.

“Isn’t it true your dad rants a lot?” Welch asked.

“Yes, he does,” Jackson Reffitt replied. He also acknowledged that his dad drank “casually” almost every night and takes an anti-anxiety drug, Xanax.

Welch also suggested Jackson Reffitt might be exaggerating the gravity of the alleged threats because his left-leaning politics are at odds with his father’s. The defense attorney also noted that Jackson Reffitt chose to grant interviews to media outlets like CNN and ABC, actually revealing on-air that he’d cooperated with the FBI and leaving his mother and sisters to find out from those reports.

Jackson Reffitt said he thought that was better than telling them face-to-face.

“I did not want to have that clash in person,” he said.

Welch also floated other defenses, like the possibility his client might have mental illness, although that drew an objection from prosecutors. And earlier in the day, the defense attorney raised the possibility that various videos shown to the jury might be so-called deep fakes.

Welch also suggested that Jackson Reffitt was profiting from his claims against his father, alluding to $158,000 donated to the son as his “GoFundMe fortune.”

While Reffitt’s defense has dismissed his rhetoric as overheated boasting, some of the online comments prosecutors presented to the jury on Thursday seemed more like practical advice than rabble-rousing.

At one point, Reffitt told other militia members that before leaving for Washington, he had put his affairs in order—alluding to the possibility he might die on Jan. 6. He said his security company would transfer into his wife’s name. “She will collect my life insurance,” he added.

After emerging from the court session on Thursday, Guy Reffitt’s wife spoke briefly with reporters. Flanked by their older daughter, Sarah, Jodi Reffitt described it as a “hard” day. Asked whether she’d spoken with Jackson, she said she told him “that I love him.”

Testimony in the case is expected to continue into next week and to feature Guy Reffitt’s daughter Peyton, as well as a man who traveled to Washington with Guy Reffitt for the Jan. 6 events, Rocky Hardie.

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