The 16-year-old daughter of a Texas militia leader who allegedly charged at Capitol Police officers on Jan. 6 — and claimed he took a firearm to the building — testified on his behalf Monday in an unusual virtual hearing.
But the judge ruling on bail issues in the case, Magistrate Zia Faruqui, ordered the defendant, Guy Reffitt, to remain in jail pending trial because of the danger he poses to the broader community.
Faruqui seemed to accept the emotional pleas from Reffitt’s daughter, Peyton, that his tough talk and threatening language in family discussions was just frivolous banter gone too far. He also credited corroborating testimony from her boyfriend, who appeared via Zoom as well. But the judge said the evidence of Reffitt’s actions in connection with the Jan. 6 riot and his statements before and after the event were so disturbing that he had to be detained pending trial.
Faruqui’s decision capped a bizarre hearing in an equally extraordinary case. Reffitt was reported to the FBI by his son, Jackson, the week before the Jan. 6 insurrection, and an unidentified family member also secretly recorded multiple conversations upon his return from Washington.
In addition, Reffitt told his son and daughter that if they turned him in to the FBI they would be traitors, and “traitors get shot.”
Jackson Reffitt told the FBI he feared that his father might harm him, and he has since relocated to an “undisclosed location,” according to prosecutors.
In addition, prosecutors revealed encrypted communications that show Reffitt discussing his ability to obtain police-grade firearms and use them to “take back our country” in future actions aimed at media outlets and social media companies.
But it was the appearance of Reffitt’s daughter, Peyton, shepherded into the room by his wife, Nicole, during a two-hour court hearing held via Zoom on Monday — one of only a few Capitol-related hearings to feature live witness testimony — that set the matter apart. The hearing shined a light on a family torn apart by the riot and its aftermath, and showed the personal toll that the participants in the insurrection has taken on their loved ones and communities.
Jackson, who reported his dad to the FBI around Christmas, has since done national interviews and publicly defended his decision on social media. Peyton, in her testimony, said he was simply not as close with their father and didn’t understand what his words meant.
“Absolutely not,” she said repeatedly when asked whether she thought her dad would ever hurt her or her brother.
Peyton recalled the exchange in which her father said that “traitors get shot,” but she said she never viewed the comment as a genuine threat. Rather, she said, her father often says things that “cross the line” and engages in puffery, but would never hurt his family.
“I wasn’t in fear,” she said. “It was just, I guess, annoying in a way. He says things that cross the line all the time. I didn’t feel threatened at all.”
Peyton’s boyfriend, who witnessed the exchange and at times stays over at the Reffitts’ house, vouched for that characterization, as well.
The exchanges were awkward. Reffitt’s wife and daughter struggled with the mute button, connection issues and general unfamiliarity with the process — though Peyton emphasized how many documents she had read in preparation and noted that she had testified to a grand jury about her dad’s case.
Prosecutors tried to delicately pick apart her testimony. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler noted that while Peyton and her boyfriend might not have felt threatened, Jackson, who had already reported his father to the FBI, was uniquely subject to his dad’s threatening language.
The family appeared caught off-guard by the conciliatory Faruqui’s ruling, bursting into sobs — mute button officially turned off — as they processed the news.
“Unfortunately, I believe detention is appropriate here. It is not an easy thing for me to say. …
My heart is broken,” Faruqui said. “I see your family suffering … but the law dictates that I have to look at the facts.”
The judge, recognizing the uncomfortable nature of the hearing and particularly the outcome, was extremely solicitous to Reffitt’s wife and daughter.
“I admire your daughter’s wisdom that people can have differing political views and we still have to be a family,” Faruqui said, pausing to apply the same belief to the “American family.”
“This was not an easy decision,” Faruqui insisted at one point, although he later said he had “grave concern” about the danger posed by Guy Reffitt and that the defendant was in a “different category” than most of the other Capitol riot suspects.
Faruqui also tried to break the tension with some quips. After Nestler asked Peyton’s boyfriend about their relationship, the judge said he was impressed with the kind words for her father.
“Always be nice to your daughter’s boyfriend. I’ll remember that for myself,” Faruqui said.
Faruqui said he was particularly troubled by the government’s claims, based on alleged boasts by Reffitt, that he brought two firearms to Washington and took one into the melee at the Capitol building.
“This shows to me premeditation, that he was coming with the intent to fight,” the judge said. “This is someone who came armed and ready for battle.”
Reffitt is charged with two felonies: obstruction of an official proceeding and obstruction of justice for threatening his children, as well as a misdemeanor charge of entering Secret Service-protected grounds without authority. Prosecutors say he premeditated a plan to attack the Capitol, drove across the country to carry it out and — though he ultimately wasn’t charged with any crimes of violence — returned to Texas with a plan to commit other violent acts.
Prosecutors identified Reffitt as a leader of the Three Percenters, a group that believes the U.S. government is akin to British oppressors and that a small minority of armed militias can take it back by force. Messages on Telegram between Reffitt and potential recruits to his group were part of the government’s case.
Despite the contention by prosecutors that Reffitt took a weapon to the Capitol grounds, the current indictment does not accuse him of having one there.
Reffitt is one of several Capitol riot defendants who appear to have spent many weeks in transit to Washington from the site of their arrest and initial court appearances. Welch noted on Monday that Reffitt was arrested nearly two months ago. The defense attorney also said his client had spent three days during that period in the intensive care unit of a hospital because authorities did not provide him with necessary medications.