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About a week before Christmas, the January 6th Committee recommended that former President Donald Trump face criminal charges for inciting his followers, people like Guy Reffitt. Reffitt was the first insurrectionist to be prosecuted. We look back at how he ended up on the FBI’s radar. 

On Jan. 6, 2021, teenager Jackson Reffitt watched the Capitol riot play out on TV from his family home in Texas. His father had a much closer view: Guy was in Washington, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, storming the building. 

When Guy Reffitt returned home, there were news stories about people being turned into authorities. Jackson says his dad warned him if he turned him in, he’d be a traitor, and that: “Traitors get shot.”

Jackson decided to secretly tape Guy, and turned the recordings over to the FBI. In the tapes, you can hear Guy bragging about what he did at the Capitol, saying: “I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress.”

Guy was the first person to stand trial for his role in the riot, and the case has divided his family. 

This week, Reveal features the story of the Reffitt family by partnering with the podcast Will Be Wild from Pineapple Street Studios, Wondery and Amazon Music. Hosted by Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz, Will Be Wild’s eight-part series investigates the forces that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and what comes next.

Credits

Will Be Wild team – Senior producer: Kat Aaron | Producers and reporters: Christine Driscoll and Alice Wilder | Associate producer: Marialexa Kavanaugh | Editors: Maddy Sprung-Keyser and Joel Lovell | Fact checker: Jane Drinkard | Sound designer and composer: Hannis Brown | Special thanks to Joaquin Sapien and Josh Kaplan of ProPublica

Reveal team – Editor: Cynthia Rodriguez | Production manager: Steven Rascón | Sound engineers: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Interim executive producers: Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis | Host: Al Letson

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Speaker 2:We believe that the evidence described by my colleagues today and assembled throughout our hearings warrants a criminal referral of former President Donald J. Trump.
Al Letson:About a week before Christmas, the January 6 Committee recommended that former president Donald Trump faced criminal charges for inciting and insurrection. Today we’re telling the story of one man who believed Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen and acted on it. The story begins three years ago, Christmas Eve 2020, when Jackson Reffitt makes the biggest decision of his life. He’d been watching anime in his bedroom or trying to.
Jackson Reffitt:I just hear behind my wall, my dad talking about the government and Nancy Pelosi and it’s all mumbled and I’m just like, “God, this is just … It’s crazy. It’s crazy talk.”
Al Letson:Jackson’s 18 years old and lives with his family near Dallas, Texas. He’s come to the conclusion that his father, Guy Reffitt, is a dangerous man. Jackson decides to do something after he hears his dad say he plans to do something big.
Jackson Reffitt:And I know that’s very vague and that’s what I think triggered me to be so worried about it, is how vague it was and how I guess active he was. It just got to a point where I was getting so paranoid and anxious and nervous that I didn’t really … I almost wanted to take this off my shoulders and give it to someone else.
Al Letson:Jackson, Googles, “How to tip the FBI.” A text box pops up. Jackson looks at the blank space and tries to psych himself up.
Jackson Reffitt:Okay. I’m going to do this right now. I have to do this right now. Get it over with. I’m going to just do it. I don’t know what my dad’s doing. He’s a part of a couple organizations, Texas Freedom Force, I believe it’s called. He’s prominent at Three Percenters. He says he’s high up in the organization.
Al Letson:These are far right militia groups.
Jackson Reffitt:He says he’s doing something big. I don’t know what, but I’m just worried. I don’t know where he is going. He might do something soon. I have no idea.
Al Letson:Jackson hit send on his message to the FBI. Jackson says he and his dad were not close. The older Jackson got, the more he came to see his dad as bossy and intolerant, but he didn’t start to worry about what his dad might be capable of until the pandemic hit. That’s when Guy joined the Three Percenters and he started patrolling racial justice rallies. He said he was protecting private property. Several far right militia groups claimed the same thing, even though some of them ended up getting arrested themselves for things like assault and weapons charges. Jackson’s dad got obsessed with this one, Black Lives Matter activist. Jackson found out about it from his mom who knocked on his door late one night.
Jackson Reffitt:She talked about a BLM preacher off Facebook that my dad was keeping an eye on. I was like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like, “Your dad went to Mississippi for this guy? He tried tracking him to find dirt on him.” And I was like, “What? This is weird.”
Al Letson:Jackson’s dad has disputed this version of events. He says that’s all just his son’s fantasy, but Jackson sees it as part of a bigger pattern. He says his dad got deep into conspiracy theories, was stockpiling ammo, gasoline, water, and a generator, and that he was convinced that the electrical power in the US would shut down and the electoral votes would be reset.
Jackson Reffitt:He was clearly … I don’t want to say unstable, I don’t even know a word for it.
Al Letson:Everything about Jackson feels at odds with his dad’s brand of masculinity. Jackson wears his long wavy hair pulled back in a pink scrunchy. There’s a miniature Winnie the Poo doll hanging from his cell phone, a gift from his girlfriend, and where Jackson is soft-spoken, his father can be aggressive.
Jackson Reffitt:This is a quote he uses a lot in his arguments, he put me in this world, he can take me out. That’s a classic for him. He loves that one. He’ll get in my face, he’s like, “I put you in this effing world, I can take you out.” It happens a lot and I don’t think it’s okay. And my dad has had moments of violence. It’s pretty horrible.
Al Letson:All of this is weighing on Jackson when he hears his dad in late 2020 talking about doing something big.
Jackson Reffitt:I was like, “I can’t call the police. I mean, they’re going to come here and do what? They’re going to do nothing”. So I was just like, the FBI. I mean you can send in tips to the FBI. I mean, almost everyone knows that
Al Letson:After Jackson sends that message to the FBI, he feels relieved, like it’s not his responsibility anymore.
Jackson Reffitt:Okay, that’s off me. It’s on their shoulders. Whatever they do, whatever they say, whatever my dad does, it’s on them.
Al Letson:So what was that something big Guy Reffitt was planning. It all started after Donald Trump lost his bid for a second term. At first, guy was mainly watching TV and social media and just getting riled up. But on December 19th, 2020, things changed. That’s when Trump reached out to his supporters on Twitter, urging them to go to Washington. His first tweet said, quote, “Big protest in DC January 6th. Be there. Will be wild.” Journalists, Ilya Marritz and Andrea Bernstein, who now report for ProPublica’s democracy team, started investigating Trump’s role in the storming of the capitol and they began piecing together the bigger story of what happened.

They learned that people inside the government had seen it coming for years and had tried to stop it and they reported on people like Guy Reffitt. Today we’re bringing you part of their podcast called Will Be Wild from Pineapple Street Studios, Wondery and Amazon Music. It’s a show we first brought to you in May and it focuses on Guy and Jackson Reffitt. Guy was the first January Sixer to stand trial, and his story sheds light on the motivation and inspiration for the insurrection. Ilya has this part of the story, starting on January 6th.
Ilya Marritz:On the day that rioters stormed the capitol, Jackson Reffitt walks into the living room where his family is crowded around the TV.
Jackson Reffitt:I look at the TV, obviously there’s huge crowds. Everyone’s freaking out. They’re barricading the doors and my mom looks at me and she’s like, “Your dad is there.” And I’m like, “What? You’re lying.” And they’re just staring in disbelief at what my dad is a part of.
Speaker 5:Patriots, patriots, we’re taking the capitol after this.
Ilya Marritz:In shaky videos released later, you can see Jackson’s dad, Guy Reffitt, make his way through Washington. He’s wearing a tactical vest and a helmet with a GoPro style camera mounted on top. There’s a bulge on his right hip. According to prosecutors, it’s a 40 caliber pistol.
Speaker 5:Murphy’s coming out on our [inaudible] ears.
Ilya Marritz:And you can hear him boasting to anyone who will listen that he has big plants.
Speaker 5:I didn’t come here to play games. I’m taking the capitol. Everybody [inaudible], we’re all getting dragged into [inaudible], kicking and screaming. I just want to see Pelosi’s head hit every stair on the way out.
Ilya Marritz:When he gets to the capitol, guy is part of the very first group of rioters that pushes through a police barricade. They get to a stone staircase. At the top, a group of officers is protecting the doors that lead to the United States Senate.
Speaker 6:We have an individual reaching the West stairs. Stop the stairs. We need back up.
Ilya Marritz:Guy alone climbs the stairs. The officers tell him to stop. He keeps going. First, police hit him with pepper balls. He’s undeterred. Then they shoot non-lethal pellets at him. Guy keeps coming saying, “You can’t stop us all.” Finally, an officer holds a spray can up to Guy’s face, he doesn’t back down. The officer releases a stream of pepper spray. Guy wobbles. The crowd boo’s. Minutes later, Guy is washing his eyes out with bottled water. He doesn’t make it inside, but the mob that was once behind him has pushed past the cops and is headed for the building. As the day is winding down, after hours of watching news coverage, Jackson notices his phone light up with a call from an unfamiliar number.
Jackson Reffitt:They’re like, “Jackson Reffitt, do you have time talk?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.”
Ilya Marritz:It’s an agent from the FBI. The agent asks Jackson if he’s in a safe place to talk. Jackson says, “Hang on a second,” slips on his shoes and gets into his car. Jackson has just spent hours watching the rioters battle police on TV. He now has a pretty good idea of the big thing his dad was planning.
Jackson Reffitt:I was like, “Your timing is impeccable.” That’s what I said on the phone call.
Ilya Marritz:And did they laugh?
Jackson Reffitt:No.
Ilya Marritz:Two days after the storming of the capitol, Jackson’s at home watching Borat 2. It’s about 10:30 at night and there’s a sound at the front door.
Jackson Reffitt:I’m sitting in the living room, he walks in, he hugs my mom.
Ilya Marritz:Jackson’s dad is just getting home after spending five days away. He has a friend over who’d been with him in Washington.
Jackson Reffitt:He’s an older guy. I think he said he was in the Korean War. I have no idea. And they’re just talking. They’re like, “Yay, we did it. We did what we wanted to.”
Ilya Marritz:At this exact moment, as Guy returns triumphantly home, Jackson feels even more certain, he was right to contact the FBI.
Jackson Reffitt:And they were just talking about how proud they were and what they were going to do next. They were talking about taking down the media. They want to go to New York, they want to go to California. And he was bragging about how he saw this younger looking girl as a police officer, shooting him with rubber bullets and he was like, “Need a bigger gun than that lady,” Walked up to her and I don’t know, scared her off or something. I don’t know. And that was pretty much it for 40 minutes until the older guy left.
Ilya Marritz:Guy brings his AR 15 into the living room. Jackson was secretly recording.
Jackson Reffitt:I was sarcastic, obviously. I was like, “You’re a hero.” And he was like, “Uh-huh. Yeah.” And he goes on.
Speaker 5:Technically, I want to protect my country and I [inaudible].
Jackson Reffitt:But you brought your gun on federal grounds, and I brought that up. Except carrying a weapon. And he was like, “Yeah, but it says it in the hall that I could or the Constitution or Constitution says this. You should read this court case this. You should read that, this.”
Speaker 5:I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the congress as we tried to do.
Jackson Reffitt:And I was like, “But you broke the law. You did.”
Ilya Marritz:Jackson’s mom and two sisters are here too. They say things like, “Wow dad,” as he shows off his bruises from pepper balls and impact projectiles. Mostly, they’re just glad to see Guy home in one piece and they think to themselves, “He didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t even go inside the capitol. What’s the worst that could happen?” In the days after Guys return, the family is on edge. One morning Jackson walks into the kitchen and finds his younger sister Peyton, in a heated discussion with their dad about the riot and the feds who are now searching for suspects.
Jackson Reffitt:He kept bringing up about how the FBI’s closing in, the government’s closing in on suburbia in Texas and other spots and that they’re going to shut down on all of us. And I was like, “Well yeah, I mean, do you know what you did? Isn’t it obvious?”
Ilya Marritz:Every day the news is full of stories of people recognizing coworkers and ex-boyfriends from photos and video clips of the riot and turning them into the FBI.
Jackson Reffitt:“If this ever happens, you’ll ruin the family, you’ll ruin what I’ve been doing. You’ll ruin … Yada, yada.”
Ilya Marritz:Then as they’re standing there in the kitchen, Guy goes one step further. He says these words to his two kids.
Jackson Reffitt:“You know what happens to traitors? Traitors get shot.”
Ilya Marritz:That afternoon, Jackson leaves the house. He tells his dad he’s going to meet up with some friends. He’s lying. He doesn’t want to give Guy any clue what he’s really doing and he’s afraid his father will track his movements.
Jackson Reffitt:My dad has a GPS tracker that he bought online that he can magnetize under someone’s car.
Ilya Marritz:So he takes a detour to his old high school, makes it seem like he’s picking up his friends. Then he drives to a restaurant parking lot and looks for a black Dodge Charger with an FBI agent. Behind the wheel, Jackson’s not sure what to expect. He’s never met an FBI agent before.
Jackson Reffitt:Stepped into his passenger seat really awkwardly by the way, because it’s just like, I don’t know what to do and he’s really nice. This is a weird detail, but he smells exactly like my uncle’s house. It was like right into my face. Uncle.
Ilya Marritz:Jackson told me there was something comforting about Special Agent Laird Hightower.
Jackson Reffitt:He’s like, “Do you need to see my ID?” I was like, “No, but sure.” Whipped out his badge, cliché. I have to point that out. He’s got white, short hair, very stern, he’s a very Texan FBI agent.
Ilya Marritz:Special Agent Hightower has questions.
Jackson Reffitt:“Explain his organization, the Three Percenters. Are they the kind that just go on Facebook comments or is he the kind that go into the woods and shoot guns?” And I was like, “I don’t know. He goes in meetings and he travels and he’s been to Mississippi and he’s very prominent online, but he’s been very prominent in real life too.” And he’s like, “Okay, okay, got it.”
Ilya Marritz:Jackson also shares some phone recordings he’s made of his dad with the agent and they agree to stay in touch. After returning from the capitol, Guy gets seven nights of undisturbed rest in his own home. In the early morning hours of the eighth night, there’s a loud bang. Guy’s wife, Nicole, is the first one up.
Nicole Reffitt:I just hopped up and ran to the door in panic. I opened the door and there’s just AR 15s pointed at me and they’re yelling at you. And then I hear the flash bangs in the backyard and I’m telling them to stop. I knew they were there for Guy, they were yelling his name. So at that point, I knew that I just wanted the kids out and let them do what they needed to do.
Ilya Marritz:The agents arrest Guy and slide him into a vehicle.
Nicole Reffitt:I felt super nervous, that fight or flight feeling that you get. We do live in Texas and the United States and we have our home defense weapons and things like that and I wouldn’t be one to reach for a gun, Guy would. I mean he’s the protector.
Ilya Marritz:Jackson missed all that. He’d spent the night at his girlfriend’s house. When he arrives home, his father is a silhouette in the back of a government car. Jackson walks past without stopping. Agents are combing through the house. Jackson spots Special Agent Hightower.
Jackson Reffitt:I walked up to him and I was like, “Okay, where do I go?” And he is like, “Just go be with your family.”
Ilya Marritz:It becomes clear to the rest of his family that this cataclysm is landing differently for Jackson. Here’s Jackson’s older sister, Sarah.
Sarah Reffitt:His computer was the only one they didn’t take. They took mine. They took all the computers in the house. Just not Jackson’s. They didn’t go through Jackson’s room either. They just went in there and went in there. I don’t know what they went in there for because they didn’t do anything so we just were like, “What’s going on here.”
Ilya Marritz:Nicole remembers Jackson coming over and trying to reassure her.
Nicole Reffitt:And Jackson was like, “Don’t worry mom, everything’s going to be fine. That’s been the plan from the beginning.” And the FBI was still there and he was loving on me and everything, so it didn’t register to me until later what he had said.
Ilya Marritz:“Don’t worry mom, everything’s going to be fine. That’s been the plan from the beginning.”
Nicole Reffitt:And then I knew that it was him, although I kept saying, “No, it’s not Jack. No, it’s not Jack,” to everyone because-
Sarah Reffitt:I was doing basically the same to myself. I was like, “It’s Jackson. And Jackson definitely did this.”
Ilya Marritz:A few days later, Sarah is at work. She’s a waitress at Hooters.
Sarah Reffitt:It was after a football game or whatever.
Ilya Marritz:It’s the end of her shift when sports clicks over to news and Hooters has a lot of TVs.
Speaker 11:Jackson Reffitt joins us now. I know you love your family and I know this is hard.
Sarah Reffitt:And I was just like, looked at the TV and Jackson’s on every single screen talking.
Jackson Reffitt:It just felt like the right thing regardless of my emotions and how I-
Ilya Marritz:It’s her little brother recounting how he turned their dad into the FBI. Sarah finds out the same way the stragglers at Hooters did, the way millions of Americans did.
Sarah Reffitt:My friend’s bartending. She just started trying to turn off all the TVs. She threw the remotes at the other girls trying to turn them off. She’s like, “I’m so sorry, Sarah.”
Speaker 7:Yeah, I was trying to get to the girls. It was awful. It was really bad. Yeah, it was really bad.
Ilya Marritz:Guy Reffitt was charged with five counts, including entering and remaining on restricted grounds with a dangerous weapon and obstruction of justice, hindering communication through physical force or threat of physical force. The last one is a result of Jackson reporting his dad’s threat. Sarah knows her dad would probably have been arrested no matter what, but she blames Jackson for reporting the threatening words, “Traitors get shot,” to the FBI. She thinks that’s the reason the FBI treated Guy, she says, “Basically like Dad’s a murderer.”
Sarah Reffitt:Jackson is my little brother and we’ve lived together almost our entire lives. He’s not that much younger and I don’t understand how his thought process could be so different, is all.
Al Letson:When we come back, Ilya talks to Jackson and Sarah’s mom about how her husband first got hooked on Trump in the first place.
Nicole Reffitt:Guy was head over. I mean from the minute when Trump started talking, he just really spoke to a large group of people. He really did.
Al Letson:You’re listening to Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX. This is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today we’re bringing you part of the podcast Will be Wild. It documents what happened before and after the storming of the capitol, roughly two years ago on January 6th. Reporters Ilya Marritz and Andrea Bernstein spent months investigating some of the key figures like Guy Reffitt, the first January Sixer to stand trial. His son Jackson turned guy in to the FBI. Ilya interviewed Jackson, but to get a full picture of Guy, he also spoke to his oldest daughter, Sarah, and wife, Nicole. Here’s Ilya again.
Ilya Marritz:I was nervous about meeting Sarah and Nicole for the first time. Nicole had been a little curt on the phone, and when I looked at the questions that I wanted to ask her, they seemed so intrusive. How do you feel about the fact that your son informed on his dad and now your husband is in jail? But when we met at a restaurant, almost immediately, they put me at ease. The Reffitt’s are warm and funny and talkative. You hopscotch from one topic to the next and before you know it, another hour has passed. That’s how it went with Sarah and Nicole on my first day in Texas, and that’s how it went the next day when I interviewed Jackson. Nothing is off limits, no subject is too sensitive. And what surprised me was that their openness made it harder, not easier, to understand how the members of this family have come to such completely different conclusions about what’s going on in their lives.
Jackson Reffitt:Personally, I think my family, they overlook what my dad does as just him being, “Oh, it’s him. He’s just an American narcissist.”
Sarah Reffitt:Nothing ever really bad ever happened, but Jackson, he held on to everything that’s happened in the past year and brings them to light like they’re all these awful things, but really there’s not been that many things ever.
Ilya Marritz:Jackson and his mom and sister agree on the facts, not just of what happened around January 6th, but in the years before that. Where they disagree is on who Guy Reffitt is fundamentally, whether his rhetoric is bravado or a warning, whether his threats are jokes or real, which is to say, they disagree on what the truth of their family is, how they got here and what if anything, can bring them back together again. Nicole has bright green eyes and wears her hair on a punky undercut. For many years, she was the only Reffitt with any interest in politics. Even if as she was raising three young kids, she always had a history book or biography on hand.
Nicole Reffitt:I am a forefather fan girl, John Adams being my favorite.
Ilya Marritz:She’s drawn to Hellraisers and Contrarians. Ron Paul, the libertarian former Congressman, Austrian economist, Friedrich Van Hayek, Edward Bernays, the ad man.
Nicole Reffitt:He actually sold World War I to America.
Ilya Marritz:It’s striking that Nicole’s husband is the one who might get a footnote in the history books because you can easily imagine Nicole with her considerable charisma, making a mark. I think she knows this. She says she wishes she thought to run for school board when she was younger. Lately she’s been reading Saul Alinsky, a liberal community organizer who is an inspiration to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and who lately has been adopted by conservatives. Rules for Radicals is his big book.
Nicole Reffitt:Rules for Radicals felt like the matrix just fell in front of my eyes when I read that. The main point that I got out of his book is that you never stay stuck. You always go with what the grassroots want, what they want in the backyards of Chicago, what they want in the backyards of Wiley, Texas.
Ilya Marritz:Unlike his wife, Guy has never been much of a reader. Nicole says Guy started taking interest in American politics when the family was living on the other side of the globe. Guy works in the oil business and in 2013 he took a job as a rig manager in Asia and the whole family moved to Penang, Malaysia. So it was from afar that Guy watched Donald Trump ride down an escalator into history in 2015 to announce he was running for president.
Nicole Reffitt:Guy was head over. I mean from the minute when Trump started talking, he just really spoke to a large group of people. He really did.
Ilya Marritz:And Guy specifically, do you know what it was that resonated with him or was it just the style?
Nicole Reffitt:I think the style. Guy is like that in a lot of ways. So boisterous, arrogant, he’s an alpha male. So all of those things, just him and Trump were very similar. And then he started reading all of Trump’s books and Art of the Deal and I was just like.
Ilya Marritz:Maybe Trump’s wealth was a part of it too. The Reffitt’s had never been rich, but now in Malaysia, they could taste the good life. Guy was earning as much as $30,000 a month, Nicole says. They could afford to send all three kids to private international school. They lived in a beach house at first and then in a penthouse with a view of the ocean. They took trips to Vietnam and Cambodia. But after a few years, the price of oil plummeted and Guy lost his job. The Reffitt’s hung on in Penang for a while hoping things would turn around. They didn’t. Jackson remembers a hard landing in Texas.
Jackson Reffitt:I don’t know what happened, but we didn’t really end up saving any money. We just went in and went out. All five of us were sleeping on an air mattress with no TV, no nothing. Just nothing. Yeah, absolutely nothing. We were picking up bed frames off the side of the road.
Nicole Reffitt:We had no money, literally. And Guy didn’t let me know how bad that was. I didn’t know how bad it was. And so that was also hard because then I felt like he was lying to me and well, he was lying to me. Now in hindsight, he was probably just trying for me not to worry. But no, it was hard.
Ilya Marritz:The place they chose to live was Wiley, a suburb of Dallas. Nicole started driving Ubers and Lyfts. Guy found work installing sunrooms. It was not nearly the kind of money he made in the oil business. If candidate Trump appealed to Guy with swagger and big promises, now as president Trump, had something else to offer, grievance and resentment. Under the same roof, Jackson was developing his own political consciousness.
Jackson Reffitt:I’m very socialist. I just want the government to be involved just to help people out. My dad’s been very prominent about his very right winging views and that’s drawn me very against those views because it’s been shoved down my throat over and over again.
Ilya Marritz:This was the shape of things in early 2020 when the pandemic forced everyone into closed quarters and the conflict between Guy and Jackson became acute.
Nicole Reffitt:Jackson would be in his bedroom and Guy would be in the living room or at the kitchenette and I would be at work and my phone’s just dinging, dinging, dinging, dinging. [inaudible]. I had to mute the family chat because they were driving me crazy. They were literally driving me insane.
Ilya Marritz:This was last summer or spring?
Nicole Reffitt:Oh, it was all through the summer up until the election.
Ilya Marritz:Jackson wanted to join a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Nicole offered her car. Guy overruled her.
Nicole Reffitt:Said, “No, he’s not going to take your car. It could be dangerous. It could get damaged. He could get hurt.”
Ilya Marritz:Jackson made it to a rally eventually and it turned out Guy was there too, patrolling the streets, safeguarding local businesses, he said.
Nicole Reffitt:Once again, completely opposite situations.
Ilya Marritz:Guy had recently hooked into an anti-government militia group, the Three Percenters. They take their inspiration from the unproven claim that just 3% of American colonists fought for independence from Britain. It follows that a small minority can reorder political life around their beliefs if they’re willing to fight. Nicole helped Guy to host a mixer for the local branch.
Nicole Reffitt:We had brisket and potato salad and rolls, tea, beer.
Ilya Marritz:She says there was a lot of talk about guns and hitting the fan. It wasn’t for her, but Guy was into it.
Nicole Reffitt:Guy was excited. COVID really had people in a bad place, I’m sure that goes across the board, and he needed an outlet and he found it there.
Ilya Marritz:Sarah sees the same thing. She says Guy volunteered to do background checks on people who wanted to join the Three Percenters, search their criminal history.
Sarah Reffitt:It almost sounded more like a Boy Scout thing to me. He was having a purpose basically.
Ilya Marritz:Where Nicole and Sarah are reassured, Jackson is alarmed. What he sees is his dad gorging on conspiracy theories.
Jackson Reffitt:Fox News took Carlson, all that. It just grew into Newsmax. And then he’d be on his confederate page on Wiley Confederate page on Facebook. And I tried to gain an outsider point of view the way I handle situations. Like stuff my dad says, I’ll write it down and I’ll read it out to myself. And I did that and I was like, “This is so weird to just see this written down.”
Ilya Marritz:It’s not just words but actions. Jackson remembers guy buying a generator, stocking up on ammo, water and gasoline. Since the time he was young, Jackson can remember his dad occasionally having angry and uncontrolled outbursts. Now it feels more intense to him. One time Guy partied so hard in front of his own family, he passes out and they take him to the hospital. Guy believes he may have been drugged. And then the summer before the 2020 election, Jackson remembers his dad doing something that really shook him.
Jackson Reffitt:We were outside on the patio and my mom walked out. She was like, “Your dad just put a gun to my head.” And everyone went quiet. It was my older sister and her boyfriend and me and I’m just like, “What? That’s not okay.” And then I stood up and I was like, “Guys, that’s not okay. That’s clearly not okay. Say it aloud to yourself, seriously.” And then nothing came about it. Not a single thing. It was just dad being dad.
Ilya Marritz:Guy has said this didn’t happen. But now when Jackson looks at his father, he sees a man who is riled up and violent. Whatever was there before, is closer to the surface. And so a few months later when Guy is loudly talking about doing something big, Jackson believes he really could. We know what happens next. Jackson tips the FBI in December. In January, Guy goes to Washington and joins the riot at the capitol. When Guy comes back, he tells his kids that traitors get shot. Jackson reports this to the FBI and then the Reffitt home is searched and Guy is hauled off to jail. You might think with Guy gone, the household would be a better place for Jackson, but he doesn’t think so. He expects fights with his mom and sisters.

There’s still a lot of stuff left unsaid. They haven’t had it out over what he did. And so Jackson moves out. He told me the best way to not burn his bridges is to just stay away for now. In the space of just a few days, the two most important men in Nicole’s life disappear. The first time I meet Nicole, she never mentions the incident with the gun. If anything, she underlines how harmless Guy is. Tells me his nickname is Queenie because he has a flare for drama, and learn he’s deathly afraid of spiders. The behavior that bugs Nicole is Jackson’s, she thinks he overreacted when Guy said, “Traitors got shot.”
Nicole Reffitt:If he was so scared, he would’ve taken his sister out of the house and left that day, but he didn’t. He didn’t like what his dad said, and I agree. He doesn’t have to like what his dad said. I don’t like what his dad said. Guy knows I don’t like what he said. But that’s not the first time that I’ve … I’ve corrected Guy lots on his choice of words.
Ilya Marritz:Nicole says, “You cannot take guy’s words seriously,” which is exactly what Jackson does.
Nicole Reffitt:I know Jackson hates the way Guy speaks to me, but like I said, I know where Guy’s coming from. I did not want Jackson to be that harsh spoken as Guy is. And it’s not Guy’s fault that that happened, that he is a gruff speaker in that. It was how he is brought up and the industry that he was in. But Jackson is not that way. So I didn’t allow a lot of harsh talk towards Jack. Because Guy thinks that it’s a man’s world, this is how we talk and I don’t feel that way. And the only way to change the next generation is by teaching them that that is not okay.
Ilya Marritz:In that first conversation with Nicole, it seemed like absolutely nothing could shake the way she saw Guy. And then something happened that did.
Al Letson:Ilya will be back with the rest of the story in a minute. You’re listening to Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today we’re revisiting a show we first brought you in May, featuring stories from the podcast, Will be Wild. The series looks at the January 6th attack on the capitol. Reporter Ilya Maritza has been telling us about Guy Reffitt, who stood trial for his role in the attack. In September of 2021, Guy’s wife Nicole planned to attend the Justice for January 6th rally in Washington DC. The idea was to rebrand the people behind the attacks as patriots and prisoners of conscience. But Nicole never made it to DC that day. Ilya reconnected with her a few months later back in Texas and over Mexican food and beers, she told him what happened.
Nicole Reffitt:Cheers.
Ilya Marritz:Cheers.
Nicole Reffitt:Y’all don’t do salted beer up north, do y’all?
Ilya Marritz:No, we don’t.

Nicole says that as she was boarding her flight from Dallas to go to the rally, another passenger made a complaint about her. She was pulled off the plane before takeoff, she says.
Nicole Reffitt:And it was because of a Three Percenter sticker that was on my bag, that was Guy’s bag.
Ilya Marritz:Maybe you’ve seen it on a flag or bumper sticker. The Three Percenter logo is the Roman numeral three surrounded by 13 stars in a circle. This is the militia Guy joined, the one the Reffitt’s served brisket to in their backyard.
Nicole Reffitt:I didn’t even think about it, I just got the backpack. It was like a Jan Sport backpack. Never even thought about it.
Ilya Marritz:Now back inside the terminal, the tears come. She will not be going to Washington. She’s overwhelmed by a sense of losing control. Nicole has always been good at compartmentalizing, but now it’s a big awful mess. An irrational brain has no chance against an involuntary physical reaction.
Nicole Reffitt:I just could not stop crying. It just would not stop. I got really paranoid. I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone and I was just really overwhelmed.
Ilya Marritz:When she gets home, she locks herself in the bathroom and screams that she wants to die. Sarah is so alarmed she calls 911. When the police arrive, Nicole is taken away and involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward.
Nicole Reffitt:And I was like, “I cannot believe this is happening,” because I was put in involuntarily.
Ilya Marritz:This is resulting from the incident-
Nicole Reffitt:September, 8th. Yeah, I got put in on the 18th.
Ilya Marritz:And Sarah made the call?
Nicole Reffitt:Yeah.
Ilya Marritz:She spends about a week there. She’s given medication and assigned a psychiatrist and she starts to tell her shrink what’s been going on
Nicole Reffitt:When I was saying why I was there and all these different things, and she was like, “Wow, that’s a lot.” And I was like, “Is it? Is it a lot?” Because I’m living it so I can’t think of it on those terms, that fight or flight feeling. And that’s just so exhausting to have that feeling all of the time. And that’s-
Ilya Marritz:Had you been feeling that all the time?
Nicole Reffitt:Oh yeah. I felt like I was getting backed into a corner.
Ilya Marritz:All through this past year?
Nicole Reffitt:Yeah. I just kept feeling everything keeps coming and just keeps happening and you just want to have a day where maybe your husband’s not on Twitter or something. And it doesn’t seem to work out though.
Ilya Marritz:The Nicole I meet in November is less defiant, more reflective. She meditates, practices deep breathing, accepts the things she cannot change.
Nicole Reffitt:I don’t see my son. That breaks my heart. I have a hard time talking to Jackson because I get really upset. I do text him because I want him to know that I love him and to make sure he is okay. But it’s so emotional for me that I’m just going to have to wait until we can see each other and talk, because I just can’t.
Ilya Marritz:She is talking to Guy though, as often as the jail allows it.
Nicole Reffitt:It sounds weird that my husband is in prison and that I’m content, but I get to talk to him every day.
Ilya Marritz:She has a pretty good picture of his life on the inside. Without regular shaves, Guy’s facial hair has become wild. His nickname is the Lorax, like the Dr. Seuss character. Guy is in a unit with other accused January 6th rioters. They call it the Patriot Pod. Some of them pass the time playing Magic, the Gathering. Every night they say the Serenity Prayer and then sing the national anthem.
Nicole Reffitt:I thought it was dumb they were all together anyway.
Ilya Marritz:Yeah.
Nicole Reffitt:I mean, I don’t understand. You have people that obviously are passionate and now you have them all together.
Ilya Marritz:Seems like a recipe for-
Nicole Reffitt:It does. It really does.
Ilya Marritz:Still, Nicole thinks or hopes that Guy is growing as a person. Has he made friends?
Nicole Reffitt:Well yes. His best friend is Jessica Watkins.
Ilya Marritz:You’re kidding.
Nicole Reffitt:I am not.
Ilya Marritz:Jessica Watkins is a trans woman and an army veteran. She went to the capitol on the sixth, just like Guy. She’s been charged with seditious conspiracy alongside 10 others affiliated with the right wing militia group, The Oath Keepers.
Nicole Reffitt:I’m telling you, I can’t even believe it. He’s advocating.
Ilya Marritz:Is she in the same prison as him?
Nicole Reffitt:Yes.
Ilya Marritz:I would’ve thought she was in a women’s prison.
Nicole Reffitt:No, Jessica is in that pod and not only is she being persecuted for a political ideology, she’s being persecuted for her identity even. And it’s just wrong. It’s wrong. Her story to me personally, is the hardest story.
Ilya Marritz:Why?
Nicole Reffitt:Because there’s a lot of Christian outreach for our Patriots, but because of her situation, people feel that she doesn’t deserve the same support. And Guy and I have really just tried to normalize her story for these people because she is normal.
Ilya Marritz:I mean to me, she’s one of the most fascinating figures.
Nicole Reffitt:Me too. Me too. And that’s his very best friend. And I mean he even knows all the right pronouns. I mean, he’s using them, something I’ve never thought he would’ve done before.
Ilya Marritz:I feel like if Jackson knew that, maybe he would be impressed with his dad.
Nicole Reffitt:Oh no. Yeah, I think he knows. I do. Well I think I even said it to Jack, I said, “Well, one good thing coming out of all this, Dad’s becoming more sensitive.” I mean because I don’t think, because he had never been friends with a trans, he just didn’t understand. That’s all it was. It was ignorance. And now that he knows, he’s in the know and he’s an advocate for her.
Ilya Marritz:I want to ask you about something that is difficult to ask about. While Nicole was feeling reflective, I thought it was a good time to ask her about Guy’s behavior about the incident with the gun in 2020 that convinced Jackson, his dad was dangerous. Guy has denied this occurred. Jackson described to me an incident over the summer where he said that you said that Guy had held a gun to your head. And that was very disturbing to me, and so I do feel that I have to ask you about that.
Nicole Reffitt:Okay. Yeah, it happened. Twice, it’s happened. And yeah, that is a lot of Jackson’s anger towards Guy. And like I said, he’s said to me several times, “I can’t believe you’re married to him.” And it is because Jackson’s so sensitive. Guy wouldn’t shoot me. But he was really mad when all the … Obviously. And I’m not scared, I mean I’m not even scared of Guy now. I dare him to try to shoot me. But I mean, he’s even discharged a weapon next to my head and I’m not sure why he goes that far, I mean because he is not going to hurt me. But he just gets more mad, like I said, it’s like you can’t have an argument with him because he just gets more mad than you get, no matter how mad you are.
Ilya Marritz:I’m going to drop my objectivity here. I’m with Jackson on this. You don’t deserve that and that’s not right.
Nicole Reffitt:No, I know. I think Guy sees that now, maybe, I’m hoping. Yeah, I’m hoping that he does see it because that’s something that was very … The last time that it happened, I said I will leave. I will leave. And not that I would want to, but you just can’t live that way.
Ilya Marritz:Why did he do it?
Nicole Reffitt:He just got more mad than me.
Ilya Marritz:Okay. Over what?
Nicole Reffitt:I don’t even remember what it was honestly.
Ilya Marritz:So I mean, do you stick up for yourself when something like that happens? When he does a thing that you know is wrong, that you think is like, “We don’t behave this way”?
Nicole Reffitt:I probably don’t as much as I should and maybe I will do it more now because I’ve always been independent. But the longevity of Guy being gone now, obviously no, I don’t think that I’m going to put up with being talked to like that. And he realizes that now. He got mad at me over the phone since he’s been in a few times and I’m like, “I don’t have to listen. Bye.” Because then what is he going to do? Who’s he going to call? So I have a little bit of power over that right now. All the decisions are mine now and that’s not really something I’ve ever had. So I like that. He may not like it when he gets out, but I like that.
Ilya Marritz:It’s like now that she is the head of the household, the sole decider in her home, Nicole is looking in the mirror to see how the crown fits. Have you talked with Guy about this? I mean I feel like you’re going through this whole reassessment of how you’re living, what your life has been, your family, your marriage. Do you talk about this stuff with him?
Nicole Reffitt:Yeah.
Ilya Marritz:You do?
Nicole Reffitt:Yes. And I am in a safe environment to do so because it’s over the phone. He knows how I feel now. I mean I hate that he’s in this position because I love him dearly and I don’t want anything to happen to him. But things work in mysterious ways. So maybe all this was meant to be, to have some clarity. And I think time and space always makes things more clear and I think he’s seeing that too.
Ilya Marritz:Nicole has a master vision, a plan that goes decades into the future. Eventually, she and Guy will retire to Thailand where the countryside is beautiful, and the living is cheap. But before that, she’ll bring her family together again. She’s going to do it through therapy, family therapy, individual therapy, and the kind of listening she’s recently learned to do with her psychiatrist.
Nicole Reffitt:At least everyone will have their say in a safe environment.
Ilya Marritz:Yeah. If it all comes to pass, how do you see that going?
Nicole Reffitt:I think it’ll go well. I insist that it goes well. It better damn will. I want my men back. I want to be part of Jackson’s life, his entire life.
Ilya Marritz:But the very first step in her plan before any of that can happen is to get Guy released from jail. That means raising money for lawyers and building support for the cause. So the day after our interview, she’s driving to a Make Elections Great Again event, with retired general Mike Flynn, as a headliner.
Nicole Reffitt:A lot of the January 6th families gathering down there. It is a Mike Lindell event.
Ilya Marritz:Mike Lindell is the MyPillow guy who’s currently being sued for spreading the conspiracy theory that voting machines were hacked. And what’s your feeling about Mike Lindell?
Nicole Reffitt:I think he’s fine.
Ilya Marritz:There’s an eye roll here.
Nicole Reffitt:But I need to go and we’re going to try to raise some legal funds and everything while we’re down there. So it’s like a necessary evil, is how I’m viewing it.
Ilya Marritz:While Nicole is swallowing her misgivings to try to bring Guy home quickly, Guy has made a choice that may keep him locked up for longer. And here’s what happened. After presenting photos that clearly show Guy Reffitt at the capitol in a confrontation with police, prosecutors offered him a plea deal. We don’t know precisely what’s in it, but the sentence for pleading guilty would likely be lighter than if he’s convicted at trial. Guy Reffitt turned down the offer. As a result, Nicole and her kids were told they could be called to testify at Guy’s trial in Washington.
Nicole Reffitt:We’re just going to walk through the fire, is what we’re going to do. We’re going to stand in front of 12 people and we are going to tell the story. And whatever they deal us, they deal us.
Al Letson:Since Ilya met with Nicole in Texas, a lot has happened. The trial ended back in March and after just three hours of deliberations, a jury reached a verdict.
Speaker 14:Federal prosecutors have their first conviction on charges related to the January 6th attack on the capitol.
Al Letson:The jury found Guy Reffitt guilty of five felony counts. In August, he was sentenced to more than seven years, and now he’s in a federal prison near El Paso. Jackson testified against his dad in the trial. Guy Reffitt’s friend Jessica Watkins was acquitted of sedition, but convicted of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and other charges. She’s one of hundreds who’ve been prosecuted for their role in the insurrection. You can find out so much more about that day and what led up to it by listening to the Will Be Wild podcast. It’s a fascinating investigation that looks at January 6th from many angles, including why Homeland Security failed to issue any warnings about the attack, even though people inside the administration were worried about extremism. You can find Will be Wild on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Today’s show was in partnership with The Will Be Wild podcast, which is a production of Pineapple Street Studios, Wondery and Amazon Music. The Will Be Wild Team includes senior producer Kat Aaron, producer reporters Christine Driscoll and Alice Wilder, associate producer, Maria Alexa Kavanaugh, editors, Matty Sprung Kaiser and Joel Lovell, fact checker, Jane Drinkered, sound designer and composer, Hannah Brown. Thanks to Joaquin Sapien and Josh Kaplan of ProPublica. Our theme music is by Camarado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Ford Foundation, the Riva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Park Foundation, and the Helman Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

Brett Myers is an interim executive producer for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Cynthia Rodriguez

Cynthia Rodriguez is a senior radio editor for Reveal. She is an award-winning journalist who came to Reveal from New York Public Radio, where she spent nearly two decades covering everything from the city’s dramatic rise in family homelessness to police’s fatal shootings of people with mental illness.

In 2019, Rodriguez was part of Caught, a podcast that documents how the problem of mass incarceration starts with the juvenile justice system. Caught received an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for outstanding journalism in the public interest. Her other award-winning stories include investigations into the deaths of construction workers during New York City's building boom and the “three-quarter house” industry – a network of independent, privately run buildings that pack vulnerable people into unsanitary, overcrowded buildings in exchange for their welfare funds.

In 2013, Rodriguez was one of 13 journalists to be selected as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where her study project was on the intersection of poverty and mental health. She is based in New York City but is originally from San Antonio, Texas, and considers both places home.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.