Jan. 6, 2021, was the inevitable mosh pit that would divide America as we know it.
A soft civil war.
A stain against the country that we will never wash out.
A move by patriots more brave than smart, radicalized by the internet, data abuse, and disinformation.
Whatever your summation of the events, I was there.
Around 1:30 p.m. things started to get weird, and then more than weird. Something still undefinable to me and, I'm pretty sure, the American public.
The momentum of the crowd occupying the west side of the Capitol buttressed a separate attempt to break through police lines.
I settled into a higher vantage point, a ledge that I knew would protect against the coming stampede.
(A lesson I learned the hard way, back in 2019 mid-riot in Barcelona.)
There I glued myself to the perimeter's weakest point of entry: the stairs to the west entrance of the Capitol.
From my perch, at 1:47 p.m., my eye caught a man in a blue jacket. He was situated at the head of an aggressive group provoking Capitol police officers and resisting crowd control munitions like pepper balls and mace.
I'd later learn this man's name was Guy Reffitt, a Three Percenter militia leader from Texas whose mass delusion has them believe the Revolutionary War was fought by three percent of the American population.
I filmed Reffitt's violent advance on officers for several minutes. A cop sprayed him in the face with mace, and he took a few moments to recover before waving in those around him past police lines.
Two men leveraged Reffitt's confrontation, and riot shields, to charge the line.
Later, long after the media had reported his son had reported Reffitt's drunken radicalized ramblings to the FBI, Reffitt would plead not guilty to all charges, including his charge of “Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon.”
He insisted he was unarmed that day, despite the Government presenting overwhelming evidence that he brought his guns with him from Texas to interrupt what has almost every four or eight years in his nation's history been a peaceful transfer of power among reasonable men who had been elected by The People as their President.
My footage was critical evidence in Reffitt's trial and ultimate conviction. Although I had captured the same sequence of events that probably a dozen other cameras and smart phones had documented, there was one brief fraction of a second that was crucial to Reffitt's conviction.
The moment would forever define the assault on the Capitol's as an indisputable “armed insurrection”: when Reffitt's puffy blue jacket lifted up as he waved on the crowd around him.
After uploading the footage a few days after January Sixth, it took me nearly six months of scouring to notice the few frames capturing Reffitt's blunder of a holster-reveal that sunk his ship in court — a drop in an ocean of pixels. It may have otherwise remained an unmemorable blur, the nanoseconds that determine history but nobody bothers to see.
What caught my eye, some six months later, was a tweet last summer that made me think of the blue puffy jacket I saw on the big man getting his face sprayed off with mace on the Capitol steps.
I tweeted a clearer image. Not long after, the frame appeared in court filings.
An Assistant US Attorney working the case contacted me to verify the authenticity of my footage, a common occurrence when a journalist is lucky enough to verify the work of the press was used as an evidentiary exhibit to pit justice against society's most dangerous.
When the AUSA asked whether I'd be willing to testify, I explained I'd rather not.
“The footage speaks for itself,” I said. And it did, particularly after I sent the raw 4K files.
In the eight years I've been doing this work, my most valuable shots often come down to being in the right place at the right time. All I could do was try to predict a volatile crowd so I knew where to point it.
The Reffitt trial was fairly succinct. Capitol police officers and FBI agents testified, but the most dramatic testimony came from Reffitt's son, Jackson, who had secretly recorded his father narrating over footage shot with his helmet camera.
“You carried a weapon onto federal grounds?” Jackson had asked.
“Ok? What part of that is breaking the law?” was his father's retort, continuing, “I carried a weapon onto federal grounds. That we own.”
Reffitt didn't testify to his defense. Instead, his attorney attempted to undermine the jury's trust in the evidence by casting doubt on its authenticity, positing the video footage might be deep-faked or altered — a technique used to superimpose one face over another. Of course, no evidence was provided for this false statement of fact.
Reffitt, a father of three, infamously threatened his kids: “If you turn me in you're a traitor, and you know what happens to traitors… traitors get shot.”
Rocky Hardie, a fellow Threeper who has since said he left the group, testified against Reffitt at his trial in exchange for partial immunity.
Three California Three Percenters were also charged in a separate conspiracy case.
In the wake of the attack on January 6, the Three Percenter National Council issued a statement denouncing the actions of members and chapters of Three Percenters and shutting down the organization.
The DC riots and Capitol breach has hurt the patriot movement drastically and as a result brought an end to our organization. It's quite unfortunate that we've come to this. The media refuses to differentiate between the different “Three Percenter” organizations and groups, leaving all of the fingers constantly pointing towards us.
During a Texas Three Percenter meeting on Zoom the day after the attack on the Capitol, Reffitt said, “I'm not trying to be arrogant, but nobody was moving forward until I took that banister.” He told his family, “I lit the fire.”
The footage presented at trial was my raw footage — unaltered. The prosecution presented an enhanced still as an exhibit showing the silver top of a firearm in the holster, matching the firearm they found on Reffitt's nightstand.
I don’t know exactly how the DOJ enhanced the image, but it looks like a pretty simple exposure and contrast adjustment. And, I think, given all the corresponding evidence, any reasonable person would say it's a gun he's got under that blue puffy coat on the steps of the Capitol.
Unfortunately for Reffitt, the jury agreed. All 12 members saw the moment Reffitt's jacket reveals the holster looped over and over again for their viewing pleasure, finding him guilty on all five counts after reportedly deliberating for about three hours.
Jackson Reffitt tweeted his thoughts on the trial, perhaps the biggest bummer of all: “It is impossible to be happy about hearing that my father is guilty on all accounts. But it is of no surprise, the DOJ proved everything with no fault,” he tweeted. “My father bragged about the truth of what he had done himself. the jury agreed.”
On August 1, 2022, Reffitt was sentenced to just over seven years in prison, 87 months — the longest sentence handed to a participant to date.