What can we learn from the first Jan. 6 Capitol riot trial? : Up First The first jury trial connected to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed never-before-seen video and secretly recorded audio. The evidence and testimony showed in detail how one man's path to an insurrection that shocked the world, and how what happened that day divided a family in the Texas suburbs.

Investigations: Inside The First Capitol Riot Trial

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Since last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol, close to 800 people have been criminally charged. NPR's investigations team has been tracking every single one of those cases. Recently, the first one went to trial.

I'm Rachel Martin, and this is UP FIRST Sunday. Today, we're thinking about crime and punishment. The first criminal trial of an accused rioter gave us insight into the motivations of one man and the cause he believed he was fighting for, a cause that would split apart his family. So I'm going to turn it over now to NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer and Tom Dreisbach with NPR's investigations. Before we get started, just a heads up that this story includes some offensive language from the case.


SACHA PFEIFFER, BYLINE: Tom, why don't you start this story wherever you think the story should be started?

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: So I think the story really starts in January of 2021. We're in a brick house in Wylie, Texas. That's a suburb that's just northeast of Dallas. And a family named the Reffitts lives there.

JACKSON REFFITT: I'm really the worst at cutting apples.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Dad doesn't like to eat them.

J REFFITT: I love them.

GUY REFFITT: I actually - it's weird because I've been trying to stay on my keto diet.

DREISBACH: For a while, they're just talking about, you know, family stuff. Someone's cutting apples. The dad - his name is Guy Reffitt - is talking about his diet. Guy is 48 years old. His politics are very pro-Trump. He often wears a camo MAGA hat, has some Trump stickers on his truck. His son is named Jackson. He's 18 years old - pretty much the opposite of his dad in terms of politics. He's liberal, pro-Bernie Sanders.

J REFFITT: Trump, authoritarianism.

REFFITT: No. Trump is gone.

DREISBACH: And over the recent months, they would argue a lot about politics. But this particular argument on this day was about something much bigger than just politics. Guy Reffitt had just gotten back from Washington, D.C.


DONALD TRUMP: These people are not going to take it any longer.

J REFFITT: Is that him talking?


J REFFITT: All right, that's what I thought.

DREISBACH: Guy had been wearing actually a helmet with a GoPro camera on the top, so he was filming when he was in Washington, D.C., including on the morning of January 6.

J REFFITT: So where are we looking? Like, what direction?

REFFITT: This is just - oh, that's Constitution Avenue.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There's the monument.

REFFITT: There's the Washington Monument.

PFEIFFER: So, Tom, we are hearing Guy Reffitt play his GoPro tape from January 6 for his family at his house in Texas.

DREISBACH: Yeah. And on the tape, Guy Reffitt is saying that we made a very valid point to the country on January 6, that we can do it.

REFFITT: And I didn't drive 20 f****** hours to come here and not do what needs to be done. The bad people in that building. They're the bad people. They're disgusting people.

DREISBACH: He told his family he was prepared actually to die on January 6. And because multiple people demonstrating that day did actually die, Guy said that was to be expected. They should have been prepared to as well because he called it war.

REFFITT: There were some casualties, but in war there's casualties. People join the military.

DREISBACH: And then Guy says this really important thing, which is that he brought a gun to the Capitol, to Washington, D.C., that day. And his son Jackson starts arguing with him.


J REFFITT: You just said that you didn't break the law, but...

REFFITT: I didn't technically break the law.

J REFFITT: Technically - there's a difference between breaking law and technically. You carried a weapon onto federal grounds.



REFFITT: I did. I did bring a weapon on property that we own. Federal ground or not, the law is written, but it doesn't mean it's right law.

PFEIFFER: It almost sounds like the son is trying to get his dad to confess to things or explain his thinking.

DREISBACH: It does sound like he is asking his dad directly about what did you do? What did you think you were doing? And didn't you know it was wrong? That seems to be the type of question he's asking. And he keeps pressing this point with his dad.


REFFITT: And you'll find out that I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress as we tried to do. We went in. They scurried like rats and hid. That's how it works - heroes. We made a point. That was a historic day. You're never going to f****** - there will be days your whole life when you'll know. And your father was there when an epic historical thing happened in this country. And guess what? I'm done yet. I've got a lot more to do.

DREISBACH: Guy Reffitt called January 6 the preface to the book, the start of something bigger, which he said might even include taking over state Capitols all over the country. But this moment was actually the beginning of something else, a federal criminal investigation of Guy Reffitt himself.

PFEIFFER: And is that how we're hearing this tape?

DREISBACH: Yeah, because that day in Texas, Jackson Reffitt started secretly taping his dad on his phone, and he would later turn those tapes over to the FBI. Eventually, Guy Reffitt would be the first person to go to trial in connection with the attack on the Capitol. And because of that trial, we got to hear not just this audio, but we got to see a trove of videos, photos, text messages, stuff we had never seen before. And we got to see the most in-depth look yet at one man and what he did on January 6. That trial could have major implications for the hundreds of other people who have also been charged in this historic event. And we also got to see how that one moment divided one family living in a brick house in the suburbs of Texas.


PFEIFFER: We'll have that story after the break.

You're listening to UP FIRST Sunday. I'm Sacha Pfeiffer with Tom Dreisbach. Tom, we've been talking about the case of Guy Reffitt. And where we left off, it was January 2021, a few days after the attack on the Capitol, and Guy Reffitt's son was secretly recording his dad, who was bragging about what he had done on January 6. He was using a phone app he had downloaded, and his dad didn't know that he was being taped. But let's back up a little bit. How did Guy Reffitt end up in Washington, D.C., that day, on January 6?

DREISBACH: So like we said, Guy Reffitt is conservative, from Texas. He's actually an oil worker. And since the November election, that's when his pro-Trump feeling and really the path that took him to the Capitol on January 6 began. He believed, like a lot of people, falsely, that Trump had actually won the November 2020 election and that Joe Biden had stolen the election. And he'd been talking about going to D.C. for January 6 since the moment that Trump announced there would be a, quote, "wild protest" that day.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The president now saying in a tweet overnight that he expects there to be a massive protest here in Washington on that date, saying, be there - will be wild. We know just...

DREISBACH: That was the day when Congress was supposed to certify Joe Biden's Electoral College win. Around that same time, Guy Reffitt had also gotten involved with a militia group, and they were called the Texas Three Percenters.

PFEIFFER: This is one of the organizations that are part of the far-right groups we've seen pop up a lot around the country?

DREISBACH: Yeah, the name Three Percenters actually is a reference to this idea - which is totally false, by the way - but there's this idea that only 3% of Americans during the American Revolution actually fought the British and fought for American independence. So their idea is they're capturing that spirit. They talk a lot about tyranny and standing up to tyranny from the government and when it's time to actually take up arms. And, in fact, the members of the group like to use military-style - what they called call signs, kind of just nicknames. Guy Reffitt's nickname in group chats was Call To Arms. And in this period after the November election and around December 20, when Trump was promoting this rally, Guy Reffitt is messaging members of his group on an encrypted messaging app called Telegram. Let me read you some of the messages.


DREISBACH: On December 20, 2020, he writes, quote, "our president will need us - all of us - on January 6. He sacrificed for us, and we must pay that debt, cutting the head off the demon and demanding constitutional expulsion of corrupt congressional officials."

PFEIFFER: That's some pretty intense language - cutting the head off the demon.

DREISBACH: He goes on with similar-type language. He says, we march on D.C. January 6 with every beating American heart. We drain the swamp. He says, we're going to be standing by in solidarity or, quote, "to fight if needed."

PFEIFFER: Oh, that's interesting. So he was actually prepared for things to get - I don't know - I guess wild would be the word Donald Trump used, but violent, basically.

DREISBACH: Absolutely. And, in fact, he decides to bring weapons. He says he can't fly with all the battle rattle, and so he's going to drive instead.

PFEIFFER: The battle rattle - is that a reference to some kind of equipment he's bringing?

DREISBACH: Exactly. He's going to bring body armor, a handgun, an AR-15-style rifle and flex cuffs, which are kind of those zip-tie-style cuffs that you'll see police use to detain people at big protests when there's, like, too many people to use regular handcuffs.

PFEIFFER: So clearly going with equipment to help actually follow through with what he says he wants to do.

DREISBACH: That's right. Now, at the same time as he's messaging members of the militia, he's actually texting the family group chat as well. And he starts texting them around Christmas Eve, December 24. He says to the family, what happens next will shock the world.

PFEIFFER: This is a family group chat. So his 18-year-old son is on this text chain.

DREISBACH: Yeah. So Jackson Reffitt had been getting more and more worried over that fall as his dad was talking about doing something big, doing something that will shock the world. And he looks up the tip line for the FBI. He Googles it in his room, and he decides to submit a tip online to the FBI that his dad is talking about doing something really serious on January 6 coming up.

PFEIFFER: Does he get any response from the FBI?

DREISBACH: He does not. He hears nothing from the FBI, at least at this point.


PFEIFFER: So hears nothing from the FBI to that message. What happens then?

DREISBACH: Well, on January 4, 2021, Guy Reffitt packs up his car. It's a Chevy Equinox SUV, pro-Trump stickers on the back. He heads up with another member of his group, the Texas Three Percenters, this militia group, and then they end up in Georgetown the night of January 5 - staying at a hotel there. On the morning of January 6, Guy Reffitt then texts the group of Texas Three Percenters - the members of his group - early that morning. He says, quote, "as we oil our weapons, hold our beer and watch this shit."

PFEIFFER: So now we know what they were saying to each other. That day, as they were messaging all this, what were they building up to? What happened next?

DREISBACH: Well, Guy Reffitt walks to the Ellipse, which is where Donald Trump was going to hold his rally that morning and give a speech. And he turns on his GoPro camera, which is attached to his helmet that he's wearing.


REFFITT: I didn't come here to play games. I'm taking the Capitol with everybody f****** else. We're all going to drag them motherf****** out kicking and screaming. I don't give a s***. I just want to see Pelosi's head hit every f****** stair on her way out.


REFFITT: F*** yeah. Hey, Mitch McConnell, too. F*** them all.

PFEIFFER: Tom, he's obviously naming some really major names there - Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell.

DREISBACH: Yeah. People he views as part of the swamp who are blocking President Trump and what he sees as Trump's rightful victory in the 2020 election. But more importantly, I think this tape shows you he was already talking about taking the Capitol.


REFFITT: We're taking the Capitol after this shit.



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Lock and load. Let's go.


DREISBACH: And when someone says lock and load, I mean, Guy Reffitt takes it seriously because he is carrying his handgun on him.


REFFITT: I'm packing heat. I'm going to get more heat. And I'm going to that fucking building, and I'm dragging them the fuck out.

DREISBACH: Reffitt says not only is he prepared to take over the Capitol. He says he thinks Trump will call up the military to help them do it. And then someone in the massive crowd asks Guy...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: What if they start shooting?

REFFITT: (Laughter) OK. A hell rain of fire comes back because every one of my guys are here. And I can assure you they came in hot. So did I. Everyone's came in hot. You're probably standing around more than a million and a half guns right now.

PFEIFFER: He was really prepared for serious violence. And when he says you're probably around a million and a half guns right now, that's how many people he thought were there in D.C. armed that day? What's he talking about there?

DREISBACH: He's talking about the number of people he thought had guns on them, as well. In other words, that he knew that he and his buddy who were there together at The Ellipse in D.C. that day - that they were armed. But he believed many, many, many other people - a million and a half - also had guns.


TRUMP: And show what's really happening out here because these people are not going to take it any longer.


DREISBACH: Guy Reffitt then decides to walk over to the Capitol itself. The crowd outside the Capitol just keeps building and building. Around the Capitol, some bike racks had been set up in a perimeter around the capital, but people have knocked those over at this point and have pushed over close to the actual building.

PFEIFFER: Where is Guy Reffitt at this moment?

DREISBACH: So Guy Reffitt is first part of this massive crowd on the west side of the Capitol building. This is where the inauguration was set to happen later that month. And he and everyone else are at the base of these set of steps. At the top of the steps are a handful of Capitol Police, but those police are completely outnumbered. And then Guy Reffitt decides to start climbing those steps.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: TU-91, we have an individual breaching the west stairs, breaching the west stairs, up the stairs. We need backup.

DREISBACH: Officers shoot pepper balls and then some plastic, less-lethal rounds at him. They're supposed to stop him. But Guy Reffitt is wearing body armor, and he just keeps moving forward. The people in the crowd keep cheering him on. They're yelling, USA, USA, USA while he's challenging cops in this way.



DREISBACH: Reffitt is still standing, moving forward. And finally, an officer comes toward him with a can of pepper spray and just douses him. It is so intense that he can't move forward anymore. He has to sit down. And the crowd boos. You can hear them booing as the officers spray him and stop him from moving forward.

PFEIFFER: So the crowd is basically supporting Reffitt.

DREISBACH: That's what it sounds like from the tape. So Guy Reffitt sits down. He's on the banister about halfway up the stairwell, but he starts waving people up. Come on up behind him, essentially. Come on up. Come past me. And the crowd does. And so many people start climbing that stairwell that they completely overwhelm those cops. And they're able to make it to the windows that actually protect the Capitol building.

PFEIFFER: Did he ever get into the building?

DREISBACH: He never actually made it into the building himself. As much as he talked about wanting to go inside, he never did. The pepper spray was just too intense. It was soaked into his clothing, and he just couldn't keep going. Now, later that day, back at his hotel, he sends a message to other members of the Three Percenters. We took the Capitol of the United States of America, he writes. What have you done today? He then tells them he was the lead up the Capitol stairs, even though he didn't make it in. But he gave out a battle cry, he says, like in the movie "Braveheart. And, quote, "the insurrection began immediately after."

PFEIFFER: So it felt like a victory even though they didn't make it into the building.



DREISBACH: At the same time, back in Texas, the Reffitt family is watching TV news about what's happening at the Capitol. And Jackson Reffitt hears back from the FBI.

PFEIFFER: Does that call literally come as Jackson Reffitt is watching the Capitol be stormed?

DREISBACH: Yes. He hears back that same day while this is playing out on the news.

PFEIFFER: Did Jackson know at that point that his dad was there heading to the Capitol, outside the Capitol?

DREISBACH: He knew he was in Washington, D.C. At that point, he didn't know exactly what his father had done.

PFEIFFER: And now the FBI is on the phone.

DREISBACH: Yeah, they finally respond to that tip that Jackson Reffitt sent in two weeks earlier.


PFEIFFER: We'll be back after a break.

You're listening to UP FIRST Sunday. I'm Sacha Pfeiffer with Tom Dreisbach. And, Tom, where we left off, Guy Reffitt was in D.C. on January 6. The Capitol was stormed. And his 18-year-old son Jackson gets a call back from the FBI.

DREISBACH: That's right. They're very interested in what his father has done. And that is what leads Jackson Reffitt to start recording his father the day he gets back, which is January 8. He drives back from D.C. to Wylie, Texas, to that home. At the same time Jackson is recording his dad in these conversations that we heard earlier, Guy Reffitt is actually recording himself in a Zoom call with members of his militia. And at this point, two days after the insurrection, Guy Reffitt is proud of what he had done.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Are you back - are you - you're back home, right?

REFFITT: Yeah. Yeah. We got back last night. We got - I got home around 9:30. Rocky (ph) finally got there.

DREISBACH: And he just launches into the story of what happened that day and bragging about what he had done on those steps, challenging those officers.


REFFITT: No, go back. Go back. And I held the megaphone, and I said, this is our house. This - you need to stand down, or you're going to get tried for treason. Stand aside. And she goes, I can't. I can't. Well, then I stepped forward and she started pelting my bulletproof armor with clay balls. And, I mean, they were just going, pop, pop pop. I'm looking at them. And I looked at her and I went, sorry darling, you better get a bigger damn gun. And then she shot my megaphone and I threw it to the ground. And I was almost close enough to dive for her and take the gun away from her when a man come around the corner with bear spray (laughter) - with bear spray and just drowned me in that stuff. And I got stopped right there but when everybody saw me get bear sprayed and shot and go down on the banister rail, it was a full onslaught move forward, nobody stopped from that moment on. And then when I got to the top of the stairs, people were coming up to me calling me a patriot and knuckle-bumping me and said...

PFEIFFER: Tom, that is a pretty amazing play-by-play - a first-person play-by-play of somebody there.

DREISBACH: Yeah, down to what he told the Capitol Police officers on the stairwell, saying they were committing treason by preventing the crowd from overwhelming the Capitol.


REFFITT: Yeah, I mean, they're lucky we didn't shoot them. I mean, they really need to be grateful. We could have.

PFEIFFER: One of so many things about this that is really striking is this is someone who seems quite proud, not feeling that he needs to hide what he did or worried that he's going to get in trouble for what he did. He's boasting, essentially.

DREISBACH: At least at this point. But soon after, this changes because FBI agents all around the country are starting to make the first arrests related to the Capitol riot. As you probably remember, very, very, very few people were actually arrested in D.C. that day. Guy Reffitt was able to go home. Almost everyone else who took part in the attack on the Capitol was also able to go home that day. But there's this nationwide dragnet happening as the FBI identifies people who they believe took part and arresting them. And Guy Reffitt starts becoming paranoid.

PFEIFFER: I remember some of those images of law enforcement vehicles.

DREISBACH: Yeah. And there's a sense that Guy Reffitt was one of those people who did not expect to face consequences for what he had done in the Capitol that day until he starts hearing from other people who are getting arrested. And so Guy Reffitt goes from bragging, as you heard, to being worried, paranoid. He messages the Three Percenters, his militia group, delete everything. Delete it now.

PFEIFFER: Tom, what's happening with the 18-year-old son, Jackson, at this moment?

DREISBACH: One day, according to Jackson, Guy was talking in the kitchen. And he started to seem more and more agitated. And at that point, he says something to his family that will play a major role in what happens next. He tells members of his family, including his son, if you turn me in, you're a traitor. And you know what happens to traitors. Traitors get shot.

PFEIFFER: He's referring to his own family here.

DREISBACH: He is. But we should say that there's some disagreement in the family about exactly how seriously Guy Reffitt meant this. His wife, often, and kids sometimes refer to him as a drama queen in the family, that he was a lot of talk always. And you can tell from the tape that he does like to brag. His daughter said since she didn't think her dad really meant it, she didn't necessarily feel threatened. But Jackson said he was terrified.

PFEIFFER: And, of course, Jackson knows he's been taping his father. So I imagine he's thinking, what am I going to do with this material and what kind of trouble could I get in for it?

DREISBACH: Well, Jackson - that same day that his dad makes this comment about traitors get shot, Jackson has a meeting with an FBI special agent in Texas named Laird Hightower. And he hands over all of these tapes that he had been making. And a few days after that, the FBI decides to arrest Guy Reffitt.


PFEIFFER: Tom, when the FBI shows up to get Guy Reffitt, does Guy know that his son has been involved in the FBI appearing at his home?

DREISBACH: At this point, Guy Reffitt doesn't know his son has turned him into the FBI. And other members of the family don't know, either. They start to have some suspicion soon after because Jackson Reffitt moves out of the house around the time that his dad gets arrested. He's 18, so he's an adult, and he's able to move out. He works as a server at a restaurant. And the way his family finds out that he had turned his dad into the FBI is that Jackson does an interview with CNN.


CHRIS CUOMO: Jackson Reffitt joins us now.

PFEIFFER: That's how the family finds out that the son turned in the father? The son went on national television to announce he had done it?

DREISBACH: That's how they found out.


J REFFITT: 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. What he said he said. And there's no taking that back. And the fact that he said that is enough for me to tell the authorities.

DREISBACH: And since that point, Jackson Reffitt has essentially been estranged from his family.

PFEIFFER: I imagine.


PFEIFFER: So Guy Reffitt gets arrested. What happens next?

DREISBACH: He's arrested. He at first tries to get out of jail pending trial, but a judge decides that he poses such a danger to the community given all the things that he had said, the alleged threats to the kids, that he has to stay locked up pending trial. So for about a year, Guy Reffitt is locked up in the D.C. jail, not far from where the actual attack takes place.


DREISBACH: During this time, Guy Reffitt, you know, has the opportunity, as far as we know, to plead guilty if he wants to to the charges that he's facing. More than 200 other people have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Capitol riot. But Guy Reffitt decides not to plead. He decides to take his case all the way to trial. And that's where I first saw him in a courtroom about a year after the attack.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: A man from Collin County will be the first to face a jury trial for the January 6 insurrection.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Guy Reffitt is charged with bringing a gun to the Capitol on January 6, interfering...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Guy Reffitt seen here on the Capitol steps.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Prosecutors say he belongs to the Three Percenter militia movement, and he's accused of taking his rifle...


PFEIFFER: You were at the courthouse every day for this trial. What was it like?

DREISBACH: I mean, the first thing you see are the cameras lined up outside from the TV news - outside the courthouse. Because this was the first January 6-related trial, it took on this major significance. You know, if the prosecution wins, they get more leverage against hundreds of other defendants facing similar charges so that those people might take plea deals. But if the defense wins, Guy Reffitt goes free, and suddenly all of those other cases start to look pretty shaky. So the stakes are really high. Now, unfortunately, they don't allow us to record anything in federal court, so I won't be able to play any tape of the trial itself, like the lawyers or the witness testimony.

PFEIFFER: And then what is the case that the prosecution brought? What were they charging Guy Reffitt with?

DREISBACH: So they brought the charges of bringing a gun to Capitol grounds, participating in a civil disorder, obstructing Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote, obstructing police officers who were protecting the Capitol, and obstructing justice by threatening his kids. All of those are felony charges. And the prosecution's case relied on what they described as a mountain of evidence. All of that tape you have heard up to this point - Jackson Reffitt's recordings, the Zoom call, the GoPro recordings - they had those - the messages sent between members of the family and between members of Guy Reffitt's militia group. The government had all of those and laid them out in great detail over the course of four days of testimony.


PFEIFFER: Tom, on the face of it, this evidence seems overwhelming. It's Guy Reffitt himself explaining exactly what he did on that day. So what was the defense strategy here? How did Guy Reffitt's lawyer defend him?

DREISBACH: You know, it appeared at the trial that the defense's strategy was a bit scattershot and, frankly, fairly minimal. The defense attorney's name is William Welch. His opening statement was just 3 minutes long. And the one thing that was the main point of contention in the trial between the defense attorney and the prosecution was the defense's claim that Guy Reffitt did not bring a gun with him to the Capitol. The defense, though, didn't really have a clear explanation for all the video and testimony that indicated he did have a gun. Their overall argument was that Guy Reffitt just likes to brag and you should not take him seriously.


PFEIFFER: So they were saying he was there, but he didn't have guns or other menacing weapons with him. He was just all talk, not a lot of action.

DREISBACH: Right. Now, the most emotional day of testimony in the entire trial came on the day that Jackson Reffitt, the defendant's son, testified for the prosecution.

PFEIFFER: Tom, the teenage son was in court testifying against his dad?

DREISBACH: Yeah. And it was a big day in this trial that was - it felt like the prosecution was building up to this moment. Jackson Reffitt - he has very long hair. He's quite young, and he's quite soft-spoken. In fact, he was so soft-spoken, they - the judge kept asking him to speak up a little bit. And they gave him another microphone at one point because he was so quiet, and the jury was leaning forward to try and hear him. The moment he started his testimony, Guy Reffitt actually started crying and pulled his mask down and was wiping the tears from his eyes.


DREISBACH: Nicole Reffitt, who is Guy's wife and Jackson Reffit's mom - she also seemed to get emotional while she saw her son, who she's been estranged from this whole time. Jackson Reffitt, though, was very calm. He described just in detail what he heard from his dad, how he became increasingly paranoid about what his dad was planning and how that paranoia was justified, that his dad actually did go to the Capitol, did bring his gun, and did plan to do something on January 6 - do something wrong.

PFEIFFER: I mean, that sounds incredibly emotional. Could you tell whether the jury felt that same sense of emotion and tension watching this son testify against his father?

DREISBACH: Yeah. The jury did seem to be paying close attention to Jackson Reffitt, taking a lot of notes, leaning forward to really hear what he had to say. Then, you know, when the defense got to cross-examine Jackson Reffitt, they focused on a couple of things. One, the defense attorney, William Welch - he asked about Guy's drinking, you know, suggesting that that might explain some of his over-the-top comments that he made on tape.

PFEIFFER: That it was just the alcohol talking.

DREISBACH: Yeah. That seemed to be it. And he also mentioned that Guy Reffitt took Xanax for back pain, and so suggesting that, you know, between the alcohol and the Xanax, could you really trust what Guy was saying, take it at face value? Another point - Bill Welch, the defense attorney, seemed to suggest that Jackson Reffitt, the son, was maybe in it for the fame or the money, right? He went on TV, and that was the first time the family had heard anything about him turning his dad into the FBI. Jackson Reffitt has also raised money on GoFundMe to support himself as he's living alone and going to college - going to community college. The prosecutor asked Jackson directly about this, if he had done any of this because he wanted to get famous doing media interviews or to make money, and Jackson Reffitt flatly denied that.

PFEIFFER: How long did the trial last?

DREISBACH: We had two days of jury selection. After four days of testimony from the prosecution, the prosecution rested. At the same time, the defense also rested. They did not call any witnesses in the defense.

PFEIFFER: Did Guy Reffitt ever testify himself?

DREISBACH: No. Guy Reffitt decided not to testify. In fact, the judge asked him, made sure. You know, you have the right to testify; do you want to? And he confirmed that he did not want to testify.

PFEIFFER: So to break down the case, the prosecution basically said the evidence tells the story. Here's this man himself saying what he did. The defense says he just was big talk, no action, may not even have had a gun. Maybe some prescription drugs and alcohol were making him, I don't know, exaggerate, or maybe he can't be trusted. And then how - what did the jury decide?

DREISBACH: The jury gets the case at about 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, about - a little more than a week after the case started. They send a note to the judge at 12:08 p.m. after just two hours of deliberations and said we have a verdict. At 1:30, a little more than an hour later, the judge tells everyone to come back to the courtroom, and we hear the verdict - guilty on all five felony charges.

PFEIFFER: In two hours.

DREISBACH: In two hours.

PFEIFFER: That sounds like a decisive prosecution victory.

DREISBACH: No question. It was very quick. Jurors who were sat in the case said it was a very easy case, that they heard a ton of evidence from the prosecution. They even heard from the defendant's son. And the defense did not put on a case of their own. So in the end, they didn't feel like there was even that much they had to evaluate.

PFEIFFER: What was the reaction by the crowd, by the people in the courtroom when the jury came back with that guilty verdict?

DREISBACH: So Guy Reffitt himself, the defendant, you know, he didn't seem to show all that much reaction in the courtroom. He did at one point look to his wife, Nicole, who was in the back of the court. They put their hands on each of their chests as if to say, you know, I see you. And then I was able to catch up and I was with the members of the press when Nicole Reffitt, the wife, was outside the building where she spoke to reporters briefly.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: What did tell your son, ma'am?

NICOLE REFFITT: I told him that I love him. I don't know how many times I can tell you all that. I gave birth to this child.

DREISBACH: I asked her, you know, what did you think of the attorney, William Welch? What did you think of his performance?


DREISBACH: How did you feel about William Welch's performance?

And she said...


N REFFITT: I think William did exactly what he needed to do.

DREISBACH: And then another reporter in the group asked Nicole Reffitt, if she had any advice, what she would say to the, you know, hundreds of other people also facing trial connected to January 6.


N REFFITT: 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 1/6ers. And we will all fight together.


PFEIFFER: So she's basically rallying her peers, let's call them, and saying keep fighting the fight.

DREISBACH: Yeah. She is - I would describe her as defiant coming out of the courtroom. She didn't seem all that surprised necessarily by the verdict, but she is certainly dug in and believes that her husband is a political prisoner and that the other people facing charges related to January 6 are also political prisoners and that they should keep fighting, that the lesson from Guy Reffitt's case is not that you are hopeless when you go to trial but that you still need to keep fighting.

PFEIFFER: Tom, the teenage son, Jackson, was he there for that guilty verdict being read? Do we know what he thought when it happened?

DREISBACH: He was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. I reached out to him but haven't heard back. But he did post on Twitter when he heard the verdict, and he said it wasn't a surprise, that the Department of Justice put on a case and did not twist any of the facts. And then he wrote, my father could have possibly been home by now getting mental help if he took a plea deal. And in a sign of how this case has divided the family, Nicole Reffitt responded to her son on Twitter publicly and wrote, it is disgusting the way the government has used my child against his family. She's really upset in particular about the fact that she thinks - or at least she's expressed that she thinks the Department of Justice is using her son as a pawn in this. Jackson has rejected that. Jackson wrote, my father seemingly refused a plea deal out of pride and is willing to die for his pride rather than reducing his sentence and seeing his family.

PFEIFFER: Has Guy Reffitt been sentenced yet?

DREISBACH: No. So his sentencing is set for June. We don't really know what kind of sentence he will face. But one thing to keep in mind is that defendants do tend to receive tougher sentences if they take a case to trial and lose.

PFEIFFER: This was the first trial of a January 6 defendant, which means that many prosecutors and many defense attorneys were looking to it to figure out what can they learn. What should they do if their own cases go to trial? The prosecution won. It was a unanimous verdict in two hours. That looks like a big prosecution victory. Do you feel like that prosecution's strategy taught lessons that we will see in other trials?

DREISBACH: Yeah. I mean, I'd been looking forward to what we would hear in this case for a really long time because what we see in documents really showed, at least in this case, that the prosecution has a mountain of evidence. Like I said, they had text messages, they had video, they had testimony from a family member and testimony from a member of Guy Reffitt's militia. So it was incredibly difficult for any defense attorney, I think, to counter that level of evidence that the prosecutors had.

PFEIFFER: So do you assume that when people try to decide whether to take a plea deal or whether to go to trial, a lot of them will be thinking about, what incriminating evidence is there of me on Twitter, on Facebook, on Zoom calls, on group chats? Will that be part of the process, the thought process?

DREISBACH: I think so. I talked to two different people who are currently in jail on charges stemming from January 6, and they were not willing to go on the record because their cases are ongoing. But they said obviously someone losing a case like this, having a jury come back in just two hours - that's a bad sign for other cases, including their own. One defendant told me he thought Reffitt had, quote, "irrational overconfidence" about his case that he would win, and that Reffitt's alone. This defendant I talked to said a number of people have this attitude that they did nothing wrong on January 6 and have nothing to hide. At the same time, both said that Reffitt had said a lot of incriminating things on tape, maybe more than the average defendant, and other defendants might be planning more aggressive defenses. I reached out to Guy Reffitt himself in jail. He did not respond to my questions on this. But I think the effect of this trial on other people overall will really depend on people's mindsets and the evidence in their specific cases. It may, though, be this tipping point for some people to plead guilty.

PFEIFFER: Tom, there's an ongoing debate about whether what happened on January 6 can accurately and fairly be called an insurrection. In fact, NPR had William Barr, former Attorney General Bill Barr, on the air and interviewed by Steve Inskeep. Bill Barr called it a riot that got out of hand. And in some cases, there seem to have been people who showed up in Washington for a protest and suddenly were sort of tourists swept into this uprising. But in the case of Guy Reffitt, this seems planned, strategized. He talks about wanting to overthrow the government. What did we learn about whether we can call it an insurrection? Or does it depend on who the defendant is?

DREISBACH: You know, Sacha, in covering these cases over the last year - you know, we've been tracking every single case related to January 6. There's been so much debate in the media and in politics about what to call this day, what to call what people did, how to characterize it. And finally, in a courtroom, we just heard the facts of what a person who was there, who participated and who is now criminally convicted did and said. And he was convicted of bringing a gun to the U.S. Capitol. He admitted to planning for an overthrow of Congress - a violent overthrow for which he brought plastic flex-style cuffs with him. And he said that virtually everyone around him was also armed with a gun, even though they didn't use it. And he refers to the events that day as an insurrection, with the goal of keeping Donald Trump in power and removing the elected members of Congress. And so given all of this debate and back and forth in the media and politics, it was notable to just finally hear it in the words of one of the people who was there and participated - that he thought it was an insurrection and an armed insurrection at that.

PFEIFFER: I guess the counterargument here would be that maybe some people weren't there for that reason. Maybe they were essentially protest tourists who got swept up. But the key point here is that at the core of this were people who were there for extremely malicious reasons. So it was a mixture of different types of people. But at its core, there were people who really went with enormous ill will and weaponry that day.

DREISBACH: There were so many people involved in January 6 that there's going to be a spectrum of involvement, from the people who were most involved in planning to people who got, for lack of a better word, caught up in the moment, entered the building briefly and left without doing any damage. Guy Reffitt is on that end of the spectrum, it appears, who planned for a violent overthrow of Congress and tried to achieve that goal and bragged about what had happened that day afterwards. And so as this investigation continues, those are the people the government is most interested in prosecuting and bringing to justice. And so in some ways, even though Guy Reffitt's case is a little different than others - he didn't go in the Capitol and he didn't attack police - it was a fitting way to start the first criminal trial of what will be probably many stemming from this attack.

PFEIFFER: Thanks, Tom.

DREISBACH: Thank you.


PFEIFFER: This episode is a production of NPR's Investigations team and the Enterprise Storytelling Unit at Investigations. Monika Evstatieva is the senior producer and Barrie Hardymon is our senior editor. Investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach reported this episode, and he covered the trial, along with NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Big thanks to her. Barbara Van Woerkom fact-checked this episode. Robert Little is the senior supervising editor of Investigations. Bruce Auster leads NPR's Enterprise Storytelling Unit. Jennifer Schmitt is senior editor, and Liana Simstrom is the supervising producer. Allison Mollenkamp and Justin Yan helped on production. Gilly Moon engineered this episode. I'm Sacha Pfeiffer. This is NPR.


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