Simulacrumbs

Insurrection Retrospection

By Emily Molli

Published

June 8, 2022

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.

Original frame (left) and enhanced still (right) of Reffitt.

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.

Original still frame included in court filing shown next to the firearm found on Reffitt's nightstand.

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.”

MAGA MADNESS

By the time the crowd had breached the police line, Reffitt had vanished.

Would the crowd have been able to break through the police line without Reffitt waving and urging them inside, the so-called “tip of the spear,” as he’d bragged following the insurrection?

Another aggressor on the same tip as Reffitt was Ryan D. Kelley, a Michigan real estate broker and Republican gubernatorial candidate who reportedly arrested by the FBI at his home Thursday morning, right on time for the January 6th Committee’s first day of public hearings. 

Kelley had vigorously encouraged the crowd to break through the scaffolding and rush the Capitol police line. Once the line was broken and the crowd funneled through, Kelley turned around on the stairs and continued inciting the crowd to surround the Capitol.

Kelley’s was charged with multiple criminal misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct and knowingly engaging in violence according to a sealed complaint.

While I never expected a full-scale, coordinated, and multi-faceted breach of the Capitol building on January 6th, I absolutely expected violent clashes with police. I’d brought my gas mask, goggles, first aid kit and wore a shirt with a single pistol-proof plate across the chest. I was ready to rock ’n’ roll.

Between the attendees of the “Stop the Steal” rally and the Trump supporters who went to the Capitol, I spoke to a lot of people that day. The vast majority of them did not travel to DC with the intent to drag politicians out of the Capitol and hang them in the ellipse. 

Most clearly wanted to relive the spirit of Trump rallies and drag out the end of an era.

Many of the people who entered the Capitol later recounted getting carried away and have since showed sincere remorse for their participation. 

Others doubled down on their actions and the intention to stop the certification of a democratic election and disrupt the peaceful transition of power.

All of them did some pretty stupid stuff, that much everyone can begrudgingly agree on.

Between the attendees of the "Stop the Steal" rally and the Trump supporters who went to the Capitol, I spoke to a lot of people that day. The vast majority of them did not travel to DC with the intent to drag politicians out of the Capitol and hang them in the ellipse. Most clearly wanted to relive the spirit of Trump rallies and drag out the end of an era.

Many of the people who went inside the Capitol recalled getting carried away and showed sincere remorse for their participation. Others doubled down on their actions and the intention to stop the certification of a democratic election and disrupt the peaceful transition of power. 

There was, of course, the familiar occasional hostility toward journalists. I received the usual question “who are you with,” mostly by Boomers who expected to hear one of the other familiar outlet they consider “fake news.”

“I’m independent,” I replied automatically, which resulted in the typical response of “okay,” or “good.”

I try my best to move on before I get a follow up question.

One AP photojournalist who repeatedly flashed his press credentials to members of the crowd was targeted and violently dragged away and assaulted by several people.

“Get the media out of here!” someone shouts in a video of the incident. Others quickly assume the photojournalist is “antifa,” probably because he was wearing a black winter jacket and common protective gear.

Stop the Stop the Steal

Just after 2:00PM, between filming shots of Reffitt, I turned around to see Alex Jones and Ali Alexander with their usual entourage. 

Much of the crowd was excited to see Jones, but even with a megaphone his voice didn’t carry to the back. 

The crowd that fell out of earshot seemed to take his presence as a sign of support, for whatever they might have been cooking up, even while Jones had realized the gravity of the situation and told the crowd not to fight with police, but to “march around the other side” to their stage, where Jones had said Trump would be speaking — again.

Earlier, Trump was late to his own speech at the Stop the Steal rally.

“If you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country anymore,” he’d told his supporters, echoing the pundits who capitalized on catastrophizing the prospect of Trump’s defeat.

It was the inverse of the sentiment Democrats felt after Clinton’s 2016 loss, but cranked up to 11 and with a full Spinal Tap.

Whether Trump was supposed to make another appearance or Jones was just mouthing off with whatever excuse he could grub up to entice the crowd away from perpetuating and participating in crimes, Trump didn’t speak for another two hours when he finally urged his “very special” supporters to go home.

I was mostly there to film for an ongoing series called SCNR Investigates, led by The Knows EIC Rocco Castoro. 

My specific coverage interests, as I mentioned to a few of my colleagues in the field that day, was to find subjects that were associated or familiar with Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon’s group, the New Federal State of China. SCNR had been working on an investigative series relating to Guo since October 2020 that was culminating in ways we never could've imagined when we started the project. 

The episode we’d envisioned would use the footage for illustrated the lines of amplification networks and the real-life mobilization it leads to. We’d already filmed the “Million MAGA March” focus group in November 2020 and had sourced critical footage from following similarly themed December rally that was an obvious test run for more mischief.

The day before the attack on the Capitol, January 5, Bannon said on his War Room live stream: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”

Like other influential media personalities, Bannon had long been fomenting anger and hatred in the name of “taking the country back,” and whined about the outcome of a Trump defeat.

Bannon had emphasized direct action to put Trump back in office by any means necessary, even after the election, while keeping a close and lucrative partnership with Guo. The financial relationship between the two has become even more intriguing, considering Guo recently filed for bankruptcy... but rest assured The Knows will be diving into all of that very soon.

More Drops in the Ocean

Anyone who held a camera up in the chaos that day filmed a LOT of crimes, myself included. 

I easily captured hundreds of individual crimes that day, not uncommon for covering a riot.

With the help of other journalists, independent researchers, and self-proclaimed “Sedition Hunters,” we've been able to find more among my footage showing assaults and illegal activities that are not as clear in other footage, including Jonathanpeter Klein, a Proud Boy from Oregon, one of two brothers who pled not guilty to six charges, none of which included a charge for striking Capitol Police officers with a large panel

In Mid-May, photos surfaced of the Klein brothers marching alongside Republican Pennsylvania Senate Candidate Kathy Barnette.

Another incident of note captured in my footage include an officer shoving Derrick Vargo as he scaled the wall along the staircase that was later overrun. Vargo fell to the ground and was carried away to an ambulance.

Among other details picked up in a collaborative effort are identifying marks of Oath Keepers who participated in the attack on the Capitol. Each watch-through of the footage I captured surfaces more details that paint a clearer picture of what exactly happened that day.

We will continue to update these findings in the future on The Knows.