The Jan. 6 Rioter Whose Son Turned Him In

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Mary Harris: Hey, everyone, quick heads up. There’s some unbleached language ahead. Of all the evidence that’s come out during the legal proceedings against hundreds of rioters who showed up at the Capitol on January 6th, there’s this one piece of video. I just can’t shake it one by one that this was shot by a rioter himself. He’d stuck a camera onto the helmet he was wearing.

Speaker 2: Whatever it takes to get in that building and empty it out and put us in the moment.

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Mary Harris: You can listen in, as he explains to a little crowd gathered around him exactly what he wants to do. He says he wants to get inside the Capitol and take it over.

Speaker 2: What if they start saying.

Mary Harris: Okay, what if they start shooting? Someone asks the guy with the helmet cam laughs. He says, Every one of my guys are here. And they came in hot and so did I.

Speaker 2: You’re probably you’re probably standing around more than a million and a half guns right now.

Mary Harris: Then he adds, I just want to hear Nancy Pelosi’s head hit every effing stair on the way out. This writer’s name is Guy Reffitt. Later today, he’s going to be sentenced for what he did. So. Ilya if I asked you to describe Guy Reffitt in just a few words, I’m kind of wondering what you’d say.

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Ilya Marritz: I think the words I would pick would be arrogant, boastful, family man. Upwardly mobile blue collar oil worker.

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Mary Harris: Ilya Marritz is going to tell you Guy Reffitt story.

Ilya Marritz: And that’s all that he was for a large part of his adult life until around 2015, when Donald Trump announced his run for president and Guy Reffitt got really, really excited about everything that Trump was doing.

Mary Harris: Back in the spring, a jury took a look at evidence like that helmet cam video and they found guy Reffitt guilty of five counts, including transporting a firearm in furtherance of a civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Ilya Marritz: A lot of his defense comes down to the idea that guy Reffitt is a braggart and that anybody who knows him knows that he talks a really big talk, but that actually he’s a pussycat or if not a pussycat and just an arrogant son of a B who doesn’t need to be taken seriously, certainly shouldn’t be taken at his word. And that’s really you know, we’re looking at Guy Reffitt about to be sentenced. That’s the heart of the kind of conflict between prosecutors and defense lawyers.

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Mary Harris: It’s funny because that defense, it’s the same defense you’ll hear people make about Trump himself that like it’s just words. He’s just saying stuff. He’s not really going to do anything.

Ilya Marritz: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think. Yes, I agree. I’ve thought I’ve thought of that a bunch of times as, as we were making this podcast will be wild. It really struck me that at the heart of this whole thing is kind of a disagreement over the meaning of words. Do words really matter and do they really mean something?

Mary Harris: Today, the federal government is saying, yes, words do matter and they’re asking a judge to sentence Reffitt to 15 years behind bars. The longest sentence for a writer so far. They’re calling Guy a domestic terrorist. I mean, as you say, you’ve gotten to know Guy Reffitt and his family pretty well. Would you classify him as a domestic terrorist?

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Ilya Marritz: The language that prosecutors use is this. They say it counts as domestic terrorism. If the offense was calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion or to retaliate against government conduct.

Mary Harris: Much checks out.

Ilya Marritz: That’s what they say checks out based on the evidence with Guy Reffitt. And yes, if you look at the kind of things Guy Reffitt was saying, yes, indeed, he did indeed intend to intimidate or retaliate against the government.

Mary Harris: Today on the show, peeling apart how this one man made it to the Capitol on January six. Guy Reffitts sentencing may be singularly harsh, but his story, it’s not singular at all. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to What next? Stick around. If you’ve heard the name Guy Reffitt, it’s probably because you know the story of how he got caught. Like a lot of January six writers, a family member turned him in.

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Speaker 2: His 18 year old son knew that his father had changed and he feared for his own safety and the safety of others. He feared enough that he tipped off the FBI about his own father. Can you imagine being put in that position? Jackson Reffitt joins us now.

Mary Harris: But in Guy’s case, that family member who called the feds, it was his teenage son, Jackson.

Speaker 2: I’m kind of on my own, on my family right now with my own views about my dad. And I do love him and I do care for him. But that doesn’t ignore everything else he said and done.

Mary Harris: Ilya Marritz was working on his podcast. It will be Wild when he heard all this. He was looking to understand how January 6th happened in the first place. He thought understanding this family might help him do that, not just the father and the son at the heart of this conflict, but the mother and the sisters who were left behind in Wylie, Texas, when Guy got arrested. So he reached out.

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Ilya Marritz: They were willing to talk. And I flew down to Texas. I met Nicole Reffitt guy, Reffitts wife, and Sarah Reffitt, his oldest daughter. And, you know, we spent probably 4 hours at a mexican restaurant just talking through everything. And I found them to be incredibly intelligent, smart, funny, honest people. You know, I went into this kind of. Nervousness. How do you feel about your husband being in jail? Well, you know, what do you think your dad’s a terrorist? But they were really willing to talk about all of this kind of stuff. Nothing off limits. And by the end of the conversation, they really almost had me at the idea that guy has been misunderstood, that he talks a big talk, that he’s a bragger, but that he really wouldn’t hurt a fly.

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Ilya Marritz: And it was only the next day when I interviewed Guy Reffitts son, Jackson, that I started to see the other side of Guy Reffitt and the vision of Guy Reffitt that Jackson Reffitt gave me his son is really, really different. It’s somebody who had been a family man and had been a great dad, but progressively had fallen in love with Trump and Trumpism. And then when the pandemic came and when he was out of work, started going down the rabbit hole.

Mary Harris: As Jackson told it, his dad’s descent started with an economic shock a few years ago. The whole family guy, Nicole, the three kids, they’d been living in Malaysia, that’s where Guy was working as an oil rig manager. And life was pretty good. But then the price of oil crashed and they were left without a cushion. The Reffitts moved back to Texas, tried to piece a life back together. But the Trump presidency and the pandemic created cracks in the family dynamic. Guy leaned in to Trump’s bluster while teenage Jackson embraced socialism.

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Ilya Marritz: And that’s, you know, not so strange for an American family to have differences of opinion inside the family. But in this family, they were just taunting each other constantly.

Mary Harris: My favorite part of your reporting is when I think one of Guy Reffitts daughters said I had to mute the family chat because like they would just be picking at each other like day in, day out. Jackson and his dad.

Ilya Marritz: Guy Yeah, basically, like they had to leave the family chat because it was so annoying, but it’s more than words. Jackson says his dad buys a generator. He starts stocking up on ammo and water. He’s talking about, like the electrical power grid being reset, the electoral votes being somehow reset and recounted, like really kind of crazy stuff.

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Mary Harris: So he’s prepping for some kind of situation to happen and then also paranoid about what already has happened with the election.

Ilya Marritz: Yeah. Jackson sees his dad becoming progressively more and more paranoid. And then there’s something happens that really convinces Jackson that his dad is not just sort of unstable, but could actually commit violence. And this happens in the summer of 2020 at some point.

Ilya Marritz: One night, Nicole Jackson’s mom comes out on the patio and says.

Speaker 2: Dad, just put a gun to my head. And. Like everyone went quiet. It was my older sister and her boyfriend and me. And. I’m just like, What? It’s not okay. And then I stood up and I said, Guys, it’s not okay. That’s clearly not okay. Like, say no. Don’t see yourself. Seriously. And then nothing came about it. Not a single thing. His dad being dead.

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Ilya Marritz: Then went back to Nicole to confirm it with her. And she said that it’s actually happened on a few occasions, that her husband has held a gun to her head. Nicole says that guy would never actually hurt her. But in Jackson’s mind, anyone who would hold a gun to the head of somebody else has already proven themselves to be a violent person. And so a few months later, when Guy Reffitt is deep in the conspiracy theories about a stolen election and he’s talking about going to D.C. and doing something big, Jackson is scared. He was sufficiently concerned that he actually sent a tip to the FBI on Christmas Eve.

Mary Harris: And that sets in motion this whole situation where basically Jackson is in touch with the FBI about his family in the days after January 6th. His father comes home and is kind of bragging about what he did.

Speaker 2: I had my Spartan armored gear plates, my kidney plates and my 40 on my side.

Mary Harris: Jackson even records his father.

Speaker 2: Had five weapons on them. Yeah. I mean, they’re lucky we didn’t shoot him.

Ilya Marritz: And he’s passing those recordings to an FBI agent in the morning that he meets the FBI agent in a parking lot in a Dodge Charger. Jackson Reffitt had been threatened with his dad, specifically his dad told to him and his younger sister Payton, traitors get shot. And he was clearly worried that his own kids might turn him in. And that is exactly what Jackson Reffitt did.

Mary Harris: Guy Reffitt was not the most violent rioter on January 6th. In fact, he didn’t even make it into the Capitol building. But there is footage of him leading other Trump supporters up some steps and motioning for them to go inside themselves. In that tape, you can clearly see the gun strapped on his hip.

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Mary Harris: Guy Reffitt has sent letters to ProPublica, probably also to you sort of talking about how he’s processed, what he did on January 6th and how he’s thinking about it now. And what’s so interesting to me to read about writing. Is that? He doesn’t seem to be processing. What happened on January 6th is wrong. He talks about how the focal point has been lost of what was trying to be achieved on January 6th. And it doesn’t feel to me like he understands necessarily why he’s being prosecuted. Do you feel like he does?

Ilya Marritz: This is why prosecutors say that guy Reffitt needs to be locked up for a long time. His remorse extends only as far as his family. He’s told me in email he’s really regretful that he did this, but that’s because of the toll on his family. It’s caused a lot of emotional and mental health problems for his wife and daughters, and he understands those problems.

Ilya Marritz: I don’t think I Reffitt sees what he did in any way as an affront against democracy. Just the opposite. I think he sees it as necessary. I think he sees our political system as hopelessly corrupt, rigged, unfair, and he sees the conditions of his own detention as evidence of that fact, because he didn’t really have hardly any kind of criminal record before going in. He saw himself as an upstanding citizen, and he didn’t actually go inside the Capitol. He didn’t assault any officers, didn’t hurt anybody or take anything or break anything. All of that is true.

Ilya Marritz: But he was way out there upfront with a megaphone, gesturing to the crowd, urging them on to climb those steps, to go through the window, to go inside the Senate. He had his zip ties. He had his gun. And if he hadn’t gotten bear sprayed in the face, prosecutors say he probably would have been at the forefront of the group roaming the halls of the Capitol. And that’s why prosecutors say Guy Reffitt is such a dangerous man. He just doesn’t see it that way and neither does his family.

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Mary Harris: Do you have a good idea of why Guy Reffitt turned down a plea deal from the government? Because right now the government’s asking for 15 years. I imagine he’d be looking at much less time behind bars if he had pled out.

Ilya Marritz: He’s a no surrender kind of guy, huh? I mean, he is like, that’s that’s the answer. I did ask him and he was like, no way. No way.

Mary Harris: After the break inside the first January 6th trial to go to a jury.

Mary Harris: Back in March, Ilya Marritz went to Guy Reffitts trial. He said it was notable for a couple of reasons. First off, most January 6th defendants, they aren’t making it to trial. Guy was the first. But second of all, this trial was a kind of family reunion. Guys, son Jackson, he hadn’t been in the same room with his mom and his dad and his sisters for over a year.

Ilya Marritz: I attended the trial. I saw Jackson take the stand there. Payton, the youngest child in that family, was on the witness list, but she wasn’t ultimately called to testify.

Mary Harris: Because she was threatened as well.

Ilya Marritz: That’s right. She also received a threat from her dad, although she says that it was empty words and that she didn’t take it as a seriously intended threat. She just took it as her dad’s sort of typical bravado.

Mary Harris: I can understand that from a family point of view. But it sounds like when you were at the trial. It didn’t really track as a defense. Right.

Ilya Marritz: Yeah. You know, the defense attorney, Bill Welch, the former defense attorney guy Reffitt, fired him afterwards and retained a new attorney for sentencing. But, you know, in his cross-examination of Jackson Reffitt, one of his lines was basically, you know, your dad drinks too much sometimes and, you know, he’s taking some kind of medication. And don’t you know that you shouldn’t mix pills and medication? And Jackson’s like, Yeah. And then Guy Reffitts attorney says, Well, did you think it was a good idea to provoke your dad? And Jackson was like, I don’t know what to say. And then the prosecutor comes up for redirect and she asks him how old he is. And he says. I’m 19 or I think he might have been 20 at that point. And then she says, How old is your dad? And Jackson says, 49.

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Mary Harris: Huh?

Ilya Marritz: And then the prosecutor says, I have no further questions. There just wasn’t that much of a defense guy. Reffitt just never mounted that much of a defense. The only argument he really made is that he didn’t hurt anybody at the Capitol. He didn’t physically assault anybody there, and he didn’t step inside the Capitol, which is true enough, but it sort of ends there.

Mary Harris: After Guy was found guilty of all five counts against him. His wife, Nicole, got up in front of reporters to respond. She’s defiant, angry at how her family been treated. Using my mind her child is upon is probably the most disgusting ploy I’ve ever seen. Nicole went on to give instructions to other January 6th defendants, people who had not yet been brought in front of a judge. Don’t take a plea. Do not take a plea. They want us to take a plea. The reason that we have all guilty verdicts is they are making a point out of guy and that is to intimidate the other members of the one Sixers. And we will all fight together. And listen to her.

Mary Harris: And I thought, well, she’s kind of right. Like, I think the government is trying to make a point out of guy they’re trying to be like, listen, we can get longer sentences if you don’t cooperate with us. But she also doesn’t seem to think that guy deserves. Harsh treatment or really a ton of accountability at all. Am I getting that right about her?

Ilya Marritz: Yeah. No, you are. I mean, Nicole is a is a complex person with a lot of different views. And I think if you just read her Twitter feed or watched her public statements, you’d have a very one dimensional view of her. You know, Nicole was sort of forced to reassess everything in September of last year when she was going to go to a rally in D.C. and there was an incident on the plane, and she got pulled off the plane, basically involuntarily committed to a mental institution for about a week. Her daughter, Sarah, called the authorities and had her put in because she was so paranoid and screaming and locked herself in the bathroom and said that she wanted to die.

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Ilya Marritz: And one good effect of that. Nicole would say now is that she got into therapy and she started really examining her life. But Nicole is a very split person. She loves her son and is so proud of having raised like a sensitive, strong, interesting young man. But by the same token, she fiercely defends Guy Reffitt, even with the knowledge that he has physically threatened her and held a gun to her head on more than one occasion. I think no matter how long a guy is away for, Nicole is going to spend some years thinking about her marriage and her relationship.

Mary Harris: Hmm. I kind of wondered after watching how the trial played out. Would Guy Reffitt be looking at anything like this sentence without his son testifying against him because he did not enter the Capitol building? And so part of what contextualizes everything he did is what his son said on the stand. And I think that opens up the window for this kind of longer sentence.

Ilya Marritz: You know, many, many people turned in friends and co-workers and family members after the sixth. But as far as I know, Jackson Reffitt was the only one to tip the FBI beforehand. And as far as I know, he was the only one to be directly threatened by a rioter as he was by his dad. And to communicate that threat to the FBI. And because Jackson told the FBI about that threat, that got guy one more count of witness intimidation and that is going to contribute years to his sentence.

Ilya Marritz: Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI. Early, early on after the riot, one of his very first public appearances, he said, you know, family members, friends, colleagues, we are counting on these people to come forward. And more and more of them are as we look at domestic extremism, not just January six, but going forward, because there is such a pervasive air of extremism and discontent in our country. And we’re counting on the people who know potentially violent people best to tell us when they have tipped over. Right. When they have passed the point where they might actually become violent and be a threat to society, and more and more of them are coming forward. He basically said We need more Jackson Reffitts, although he didn’t say Jackson’s name. But if we are going to have more Jackson Reffitts, it’s going to split a lot more families.

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Mary Harris: You said it’s kind of Nicole’s dream that once Guy Reffitt is released from prison, the whole family can go through therapy and work this out. And Jackson Reffitt, her son, who turned his dad in. He’s like, Oh, that would be interesting. But do you think that will ever happen for them? It seems so far out because they’re on such different pages.

Ilya Marritz: I think everyone in that family does have some kind of vision of healing, but it does seem a very long ways away. And depending on how long Guy Reffitt is in prison, if he gets the 15 years that prosecutors ask for, he’ll be, you know, something like retirement age when he gets out. I don’t know where things will stand at that point. I don’t know if Jackson will be reconciled better, more with his mom and sisters. They do talk, but I think they’re not very comfortable with each other at the moment.

Mary Harris: Ilya Marritz. I’m super grateful for your reporting. Thanks for it.

Ilya Marritz: It was a pleasure to talk with you, Mary. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Mary Harris: Ilya Marritz is the co-host of Will Be Wild, a podcast from Wondery. The sound you heard of Jackson Reffitt in this show. It comes from episode four Rules for Radicals. Go check it out. It’s really fantastic. All right. That’s our show. If you are a fan of what we do hear day in and day out, I have an idea for you. The best way to show us your support is to sign up for Slate Plus. It shows our bosses you really like what we do. It also gets you unlimited access to Slate.com and ad free podcasts when you listen. Even this one. So just going over to Slate.com. Such what next?

Mary Harris: Plus. And sign up today. What next is produced by Alena Schwartz, Mary Wilson, Carmel Delshad and Madeline Ducharme. We are getting a ton of support right now from Anna, Rubanova and Jared Downing. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. And I’m Mary Harris. I’m going to be back in this feed tomorrow. I will catch you then.