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A son takes the stand against his father in the first trial related to Jan. 6 riot

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

There was an emotional day of testimony yesterday in the first trial connected with last year's Capitol riot. The defendant, Guy Reffitt, is part of an anti-government militia group in Texas, and prosecutors say he brought a gun with him to the Capitol grounds on January 6 and charged at the police line. One of the key witnesses for the prosecution was Reffitt's own 19-year-old son, Jackson. NPR's Tom Dreisbach has been covering the trial. Tom, tell us more about Jackson Reffitt and his decision to testify.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, this story essentially starts back in 2020. Jackson Reffitt was living with his family in Texas, and over that year, he testified, his father seemed to be getting even more and more extreme, more involved in this militia group called the Three Percenters. He said his father kept talking about wanting to do, quote, "something big." That talk escalated after that November election, when his dad was talking about going to D.C. for the 6. The dad texted the family group chat on Christmas Eve that what was coming would, quote, "shock the world." So that night, Christmas Eve, Jackson testified that he googled FBI tips on his phone, and he wrote to the FBI.

MARTINEZ: And did they respond?

DREISBACH: At that point, the FBI did not respond, and Guy Reffitt, Jackson's dad, did go to D.C. for January 6. That's not in dispute in this trial. Prosecutors showed videos from that day were Reffitt was talking about wanting to drag politicians out of the Capitol building by their hair. Later, prosecutors showed us footage of him heading up Capitol steps with the mob behind him before he's hit by so much bear spray, he has to turn back. But the mob that was massing behind him eventually overtakes the building. Now, a few days later, after January 6, Guy Reffitt, the father, returned home to Texas. Jackson, his son, testified that his dad was proud of what he and other rioters had done on the 6, and Jackson started secretly recording what his dad was saying. Here's part of what prosecutors played for the jury.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUY REFFITT: There will be days your whole life when you'll know that your father was there when a epic, historical thing happened in this country. And guess what? We're not done yet. I've got a lot more to do.

DREISBACH: On this tape, Guy Reffitt called the day an insurrection. He described charging towards a police line and helping people take over the Capitol. He also said that he had his gun on him and even though that they didn't use their guns, quote, "everyone I know who was there was carrying weapons." And at one point on the tape, Jackson Reffitt, the son, has this argument with his dad about whether he broke the law. Guy talks first in this tape.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

G REFFITT: Tell me the law I broke.

JACKSON REFFITT: You carried a weapon onto federal grounds.

G REFFITT: OK.

J REFFITT: OK.

G REFFITT: Which part of that is breaking the law?

DREISBACH: Guy Reffitt essentially claims he was protected by the Second Amendment on Capitol grounds. And now this is a key piece of evidence because Reffitt's defense has denied he even brought a gun to the Capitol grounds.

MARTINEZ: All right. So clearly the recordings seem to be key here. What was the deciding factor that made his son turn him over?

DREISBACH: Well, not long after that recording you just heard, Jackson testified that his dad had become paranoid about being arrested. He told his son and other family members that they shouldn't turn him in to law enforcement because that would make them a traitor and, quote, "traitors get shot." Later that same day of that conversation, Jackson Reffitt, the son, went to the FBI, handed them the recordings, plus screenshots of text messages, and he's been cooperating ever since.

MARTINEZ: And really quick, what was the reaction in the courtroom?

DREISBACH: Well, at the start of the testimony, his dad burst into tears. His mom was in the gallery, also quite emotional. Jackson was soft-spoken, calm. He's not been in close touch with his family since turning his dad in to the FBI, and he waved at his mom as he left the court.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thanks.

DREISBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.