WASHINGTON — The jury in the first Jan. 6 trial spent Thursday hearing from government witnesses that defendant Guy Reffitt wasn’t just recorded on camera at the US Capitol — he described his plans, actions, and motivations in detail in dozens of texts, a video he recorded from his own helmet-mounted camera, and an audio recording that his son secretly made once he returned home.
Reffitt is facing a five-count indictment for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection, including charges that he carried a pistol on his hip as he tried to make his way up a stairway in front of the Capitol and that he threatened his children later not to turn him in to federal investigators. The day before, the government’s presentation to the jury had focused on the visual evidence of Reffitt’s presence at the Capitol. On Thursday, it was all about his own words.
The day ended with testimony from Reffitt's son, Jackson Reffitt, who bolstered the government's case with firsthand testimony about his father's messages and mindset around the time of the insurrection — and who described the emotional and familial fallout of his decision to cooperate with federal authorities. Reffitt cried when Jackson took the stand, according to a pool reporter in the room. The 19-year-old Jackson said he didn't regret his decision to share information with the FBI, but also spoke about the guilt and sadness he felt.
Throughout the morning, the jury saw dozens of messages — some regular texts, some sent via the Telegram app — that the FBI pulled from an iPhone seized during a search of Reffitt’s house. Some messages were sent to members of his family and some were sent to other individuals, including people identified by the government as members of the Texas Three Percenters militant group, of which he was a member.
In these messages, the user identified as Reffitt described his objectives as he planned to travel to DC and his intention to travel with weapons, his narration of events as they unfolded that day, his attempts at identifying himself after the fact in videos recorded on the scene, and his thoughts about what had happened. Prosecutors have alleged that he was a leader in the initial breach of the building, even though he didn’t go inside, describing him as the “tip of the mob’s spear.”
In a text thread with his wife and children, Reffitt wrote on Dec. 24, “What’s about to happen will shock the world” and that removing members of the legislature was, he said, “why I’m going to DC.” On the morning of Jan. 6, one of his kids urged him to be safe and warned he was risking “not only your business but ur life too.” Reffitt replied, “I have no intentions on throwing it away. I love ALL of you with ALL of my heart and soul. This is for our country for ALL OF YOU and your kids. God Bless us one and all.”
After the riot, Reffitt told the family chat, “We took the United States Capital,” and sent messages identifying himself in media coverage. In one message, he noted his blue jacket and light blue jeans, and that he was on the handrail of the stairs going up to the Capitol. Afterward, he sent a message to another person that read, “And this was me forcing the Capital Police hand,” with an attached image that showed the scene at the Capitol where he was standing on the railing with police at the top of the stairs.
The jury saw multiple conversations involving Reffitt via Telegram, where his username was “Call to Arms,” which in one message he made clear was his “call sign” with the Texas Three Percenters. He appeared to predict violence. When one person messaged in December, “The only way you will be able to do anything in DC is if you get the crowd to drag the traitors out,” Reffitt responded, “I don’t think anyone going to DC has any other agenda.”
On the morning of Jan. 6, he messaged a Telegram group, “As we oil our weapons. Hold our beer and watch this shit.” Later in the afternoon, he wrote, “We took the Capital of the United States of America. What have you done today?” He also described himself as “the lead up the Capital stairs.”
“Multiple clay bullets and a battle cry like in Braveheart. The insurrection began immediately after,” Reffitt wrote.
Some of the messages before and after Jan. 6 featured references to being armed. In December, he discussed “going in hot.” On Jan. 6, when someone asked for an update, Reffitt wrote that he would “do recon and then come back for weapons hot.”
In some messages, he repeated his celebration of his participation in the attack on the Capitol. Late that day, he messaged someone, “I was the first person to light the fire on the Capital steps. WE TOOK THE CAPITAL…!!!” In a Jan. 9 message, he wrote, “We took the Capital of the United States of America and we will do it again.”
Some of his messages tracked testimony that the jury heard a day earlier from Jennifer Kerkhoff, a former US Capitol Police officer who spoke about deploying an estimated 40 to 50 pepper balls at Reffitt as he advanced up the stairwell on the railing at the head of the crowd. He described being hit in the chest and then the legs, how those projectiles didn’t stop him from moving up — “I laughed and moved up” — and how an officer’s use of pepper spray finally stopped him. He said he had to go back to clean his eyes but noted that the mob was able to get past police, so, he wrote, “My job was done then.”
The messages showed that Reffitt didn’t receive a unanimously positive reaction after he returned to Texas. In a Jan. 11 group chat on Telegram, Reffitt wrote, “Yes we did encroach the US Capital. What were the rest of you doing that day?” One person replied, “Well Yahoo for you you fucking jackasses because all you accomplished was getting us all declared domestic terrorists”; another person said they thought it was “wrong” if Reffitt had represented that he was at the Capitol on behalf of the Texas Three Percenters.
Reffitt said he’d removed the insignia and that he wasn’t identifiable as a member; he noted that his jacket had Arabic on it because he’d gotten it in Kuwait, and he was wearing a T-shirt for the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist group. Later in the morning, the jury saw a photo dated Jan. 5, 2021, that the FBI pulled from Reffitt’s computer that appeared to show him wearing a black T-shirt with “Oath Keepers Texas” written in yellow text.
The jury also saw two videos that the FBI pulled from an external hard drive found in his home. Both appeared to be recorded by a portable 360-degree camera that Reffitt had worn attached to a helmet on Jan. 6. The video appeared to start at around 11:20 a.m. on Jan. 6 and showed a large crowd gathered at the Ellipse. A voice that the government said was Reffitt is heard talking to people around him; at one point, someone asks his name and he says, “Guy.”
His comments included:
“We’re taking the Capitol before the day is over. … Ripping them out by their hair. Every fucking one of them.”
“I just want to see Pelosi’s head hit every fucking stair on the way out … and Mitch McConnell too.”
“One way or a fucking ‘nother, they’re coming out.”
“I’m packing heat and I’m going to get more heat.”
“Whatever it takes to get ‘em out of that building and empty it out.”
When another man asked what would happen if police opened fire, Reffitt replied that there would be a “hell rain of fire” and assured the man that the people he came with “came in hot, so did I.”
The jury next saw part of a recording of a Zoom conference that Reffitt participated in with other members of the Texas Three Percenters. Wearing glasses and a camouflage print hat that read “Trump,” he made more references to wanting violence against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He described his confrontation with Kerkhoff on the Capitol stairway and said that he wasn’t trying to be “arrogant” but that the crowd wasn’t moving forward until he took action. After he was pepper-sprayed, he described waving on the mob and yelling, “Go forward! Go forward!”
Reffitt made a reference to being armed, telling the group that he had a “.40 on [his] side.” He also said that other members of the crowd around him were armed, including Rocky Hardie, the fellow member of the Texas Three Percenters he was traveling with and who is set to testify as a government witness with immunity.
“They’re lucky we didn’t shoot ‘em,” Reffitt said. “I mean they really need to be grateful.”
Reffitt’s lawyer William Welch III briefly questioned the FBI special agent about the videos pulled from the hard drive, asking her if there’d be any indication in the file name if someone had altered the content. The agent replied that it might not show any sign of that. Welch then brought up the concept of “deepfakes,” suggesting that a defense strategy might be to try to convince the jury that evidence was tampered with; the FBI agent said she saw no evidence of changes.
Family takes the stand
In the afternoon, the jury heard from Jackson Reffitt, who was 18 on Jan. 6, 2021. With his father sitting across the courtroom, Jackson described how their relationship changed around 2016, and that he moved politically to the left as his father moved to the right. Jackson talked about his father’s membership in the Texas Three Percenters — he said Reffitt flew a flag with the Three Percenters logo outside their house — and his ownership of guns, including a handgun, which he carried on his waist and kept on the nightstand when he slept, and a rifle.
The prosecutor had Jackson narrate a series of text messages that he and his father had exchanged in the family’s group chat before, during, and after Jan. 6. Jackson said he grew worried about what his father might do as Reffitt in late December shared his plan to go to Washington and used phrases like “We are about to rise up.” Jackson said he became so concerned that he decided to alert the FBI.
Jackson said he was in his room and googled how to submit a tip and did so through a website. He said that he felt “nervous,” “gross,” and “uncomfortable,” and tried to distract himself so he wouldn’t “linger” over what he’d done and “feel more guilt than [he] already did.” He said he tried to avoid talking politics afterward when the family spent Christmas together.
On Jan. 6, Jackson said he was at his girlfriend’s house when he saw texts that led him to believe his father had gone to Washington. He said he went home, where his mother confirmed it. Jackson narrated a series of texts that he exchanged with his father on Jan. 8, in which Reffitt told them how to see video of him at the Capitol and he warned his father that people were being arrested.
Jackson said he was at home in the living room when Reffitt arrived back the night of Jan. 8. Reffitt's luggage included a case with a rifle in it — Jackson said his dad took it out — and he had a handgun on his waist. As the family talked about what had happened, Jackson said he decided to record the conversation, explaining that he was concerned about not being believed later and that it was better to be “safe than sorry.”
The jury heard clips from that audio recording. At first, as Reffitt talks about how he “started the fire,” his wife, Nicole Reffitt, is heard urging him not to talk about it, and he replies that he should be able to speak in the “security” of his own home. There’s laughter when Reffitt refers to the attack as “the insurrection.” The family teases Reffitt when it becomes apparent that his camera only recorded one second at the Capitol. He expresses pride about his actions, saying at one point, “I felt so patriotic and felt like such an American.”
Jackson testified that Reffitt took the handgun out of its holster when he talked to the family about having a loaded gun with him at the Capitol and how he and others chose not to open fire. Later, Jackson is heard pushing back when his father insists he didn’t break the law. “You just said that you brought a weapon on there,” Jackson said. Reffitt replies, “I did bring a weapon on property that we own,” and refers to the Second Amendment.
The son described a conversation with his father and his younger sister on Jan. 11, when Reffitt allegedly told them that if they turned him in they were traitors and “traitors get shot.” A little later, Jackson said that his sister, who was 16 at the time, was on her phone and that his father “snapped” at her, saying that if she was recording him he’d put a bullet through her phone. Jackson said he was scared for both of them.
Later that day, Jackson met with an FBI agent; he said he was paranoid about his family finding out and made a detour so that he’d have a story to tell later if needed. He was still living at home, and talked about wanting to be there to “comfort” his family, but moved out after they learned that he’d talked to the FBI, saying they had reacted “pretty hard.” He said he hadn’t had much contact with his family since then and that he was sad about that but also that he didn’t regret his choice. The prosecutor noted that he’d spoken with the media and received more than $158,000 through a GoFundMe campaign and asked if he’d come forward to get famous or make money. He said no, saying he felt some guilt about the crowdfunding but was grateful to people for the help.
Welch briefly questioned Jackson, asking about his father’s drinking habits, medication, and tendency to “rant.” He questioned the sincerity of his testimony about wanting to comfort his family, asking why he didn’t give them a heads-up about speaking to the press; Jackson said he wanted to avoid a bigger conflict. He said he did offer to help his family financially, disputing an account from one of his sisters that Welch had alluded to from a Vice article accusing him of refusing to give them money.
He also asked Jackson why he contacted the FBI and not 911; Jackson said it didn’t seem like a situation that needed an urgent response.
Welch brought up testimony Jackson gave about his participation in protests in the past related to Black Lives Matter and the rights of transgender people, comparing them to Reffitt’s strong political opinions. Addressing that, the prosecutor asked if Jackson had ever attended a protest wearing body armor or a helmet or carrying plastic handcuffs or a firearm. Jackson said no.
The jury is expected to hear Friday from more government witnesses, including Hardie, the fellow member of the Texas Three Percenters whom Reffitt traveled with. Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told the judge that they still expected to finish the government’s case early next week.