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PLANO, Tex. — Seated at a round table on a hot Texas afternoon, Peyton Reffitt and her family were trying to figure out how to forgive one another for all that had happened since Jan. 6, 2021.

The family had yet to fully resolve the perceived public betrayals and failed attempts at reconciliation in the more than two years since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Peyton, 18 years old at this latest gathering, wasn’t sure whether she was ready to confront her brother, Jackson, for everything that had happened since he secretly turned their father in to the FBI.

“Actions are actions. Dad went to the Capitol with a gun,” said Jackson, then 20 years old. “He walked up the Capitol steps with a gun on his hip.”

Peyton put down the journal filled with paragraphs of what she hoped to say today. She felt her breathing quicken. On Jan. 16, 2021, the FBI raided their house and arrested her father, Guy Reffitt, on charges of obstruction of justice and unlawful trespassing related to Jan. 6. Her brother was interviewed on CNN the next week, and it was then she found out that he had tipped off the authorities.

“Me, Sarah and Mom just felt a lack of empathy on our part from you afterwards,” Peyton said to Jackson as their mother and sister nodded.

“It’s not that I’m proud of it, or I’m so happy about it,” Jackson said.

After rioters stormed the Capitol, relatives and friends who disagreed with their actions faced a difficult choice: Should they turn their loved ones over to authorities? Could they continue to have relationships with people accused of trying to interfere with the peaceful transition of power? Divisions that had been growing since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency were torn even wider in living rooms and family group chats across the country.

Ever since, families have been having or avoiding conversations like the Reffitts were having on that May afternoon. What had once been political disagreements had become questions about loyalty, truth and patriotism.

Supporters of then-President Donald Trump swarm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress meets to certify Joe Biden’s election victory. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
As the Capitol is besieged, congressional staffers are evacuated by members of the U.S. Capitol Police. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Some, like Guy Reffitt, were part of a violent mob. Others, like his son, Jackson, were informers.

And some, like Peyton, were caught in between.

[The Jan. 6 Attack: Before, During and After]

Since the Capitol riot, Peyton had watched her family come apart. Her brother moved out right before the CNN interview. Her mother, a former department store operations manager, left their Dallas suburb and moved to D.C. to attend nearly every Jan. 6 trial in support of the defendants. Peyton eventually moved in with her sister, Sarah, 26, after enduring regular panic attacks brought on by her family’s public falling out.

They had all staked out their corners: The sisters, fiercely loyal to their father but “disturbed” by the attack on the Capitol, as Peyton said, thought Guy had been given an unfairly long sentence. They blamed Trump for how that January day in 2021 had played out. Jackson did, too, but he also believed his father was an “active threat” and an adult who was responsible for his actions. Nicole thought her husband was standing up for a president who had been cheated out of an election victory.

An image from video of the Jan. 6 attack, during which police deployed tear gas, shows Guy Reffitt in a helmet and rinsing his eyes. (Courtesy of FBI)

The four Reffitts had rarely seen one another since Guy was sentenced in August 2022 to seven years in prison.

Peyton missed cracking jokes with her family while eating their mother’s special chicken curry and watching K-pop YouTube videos in their living room.

“I am to blame,” Guy said in a recent interview from the Fannin County jail in Bonham, Tex., where he is being temporarily held. He says that although he does not regret going to the Capitol that day, he worries about Peyton. “I own this right here, right now. I’m the only one that can.”

Before the conversation in May, Peyton had started meditating to better control her anxiety. She was still forming her identity and political beliefs. After her father’s trial, she had read “Mending America’s Political Divide,” a book self-published by a neuroscientist seeking to explain and resolve political tribalism. It helped, she said.

She hoped this conversation could lead to some type of forgiveness, or at least to their figuring out a way to spend time together without arguing. But now, in a white-walled common room of Sarah’s apartment complex, her mother began defending the reason that Guy had gone to D.C.

“So you’re happy he went up there, did what he did, came home, got arrested and is missing from his family?” Jackson said, his voice rising. “You’re proud of that?”

“That is absolutely not what I said,” their mother responded.

Peyton fidgeted with her notebook, fearful that they might start yelling.

Nicole Reffitt, right, the wife of Guy Reffitt, at a vigil March 29 at the D.C. jail in support of those held there in connection with Jan. 6 (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

The road to Jan. 6

Peyton and her family had moved back to Texas in 2016 after four years in Malaysia, where her father had worked as a consultant in the oil industry. His six-figure salary had allowed them to eat their way through Thailand and travel to the Malaysian islands. They even once went to a Thai drag show, all of them, including Peyton, who was 10 or 11 at the time.

“It was entertaining,” Nicole said. “And a tiny bit raunchy.”

Coming back to the United States at age 12, Peyton struggled to make friends and adjust to American middle school. She developed an eating disorder, and her chest started tightening because of a growing anxiety.

Her father would calm her down, sometimes brushing her hair and making her feel that he would protect her from anything. He could be loving, one time telling the family while driving in the mountains that his whole life was in the car. That made Peyton proud. Their bond felt special.

But her father also could shout at his family, the Reffitts said.

He once threw a ceramic mug at Jackson and, when Peyton was a toddler, fired a gun next to Nicole, according to Nicole and her children. No police reports were filed. Guy said in an interview that he didn’t remember throwing the mug and that he had fired the gun at the ground. Nicole said she didn’t consider the gun incident abuse, but Jackson said he did.

Nicole Reffitt prays outside the D.C. jail March 29 with other supporters of Capitol attack defendants being held there at the time. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

“No family’s perfect, and I wouldn’t want to be,” Sarah later said. “But we were super, super close.”

The most vocally political person in the family always had been Peyton’s mother, a stay-at-home mom for 17 years who enjoyed reading Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and other texts on political ideology. Then Guy started following the reality TV host running for president.

Peyton’s father loved how Trump spoke — frank, he thought, and to the point. As the Republican went from candidate to president, Guy fell harder.

[Tracking the Trump investigations and where they stand]

When the pandemic began three years later, Peyton’s school moved online, and she and her family found themselves isolated from friends and relatives.

Guy, who had lost his job, moved further to the right, feeling that the country needed stronger borders and more police resources, he told The Washington Post. Jackson, who also started spending more time online, lurched to the left, moved by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the racial injustices he said it exposed.

With all of them penned up indoors by the pandemic, Peyton heard her father and brother argue. About Trump. About Black Lives Matter. About the coronavirus.

“You can’t tell them apart when they open their mouths, except for, you know, their ideology,” Nicole said, a view that Peyton seconded.

Guy was gruff. Jackson was sensitive. Both were stubborn.

Sarah Reffitt, shown in Plano, Tex., this month, is the older sister of Peyton and Jackson Reffitt. (Cooper Neill for The Washington Post)
Jackson Reffitt, Peyton and Sarah’s brother, who told the FBI before Jan. 6 of his concerns about his father, is shown at his home in Wylie, Tex., on March 30. (Emil T. Lippe for The Washington Post)

Peyton sometimes unwittingly escalated arguments between her father and brother by expressing her political views, which often aligned with Jackson’s. Her chest started hurting more as she grew anxious of saying the wrong thing. Her mother, who had returned to work, was often out of the house.

Soon, Peyton’s father was hosting an event for the Texas Three Percenters, and her mother was cooking brisket for members of the anti-government movement, which bases its name on the never-proved theory that only a small portion of American colonists fought against the British in the American Revolution. Peyton, meanwhile, started having trouble sleeping, wondering whether a civil war was possible and if that would separate her family.

During the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, Peyton heard Jackson ask their mother if he could borrow her car to go to a protest 10 minutes away. Nicole said yes. Then Guy — who was ready to stand outside a museum and defend it from looting — told Jackson he had better not take his mother’s car to join what Guy described as a group of potential rioters. A screaming match followed.

After Trump lost the 2020 election, Guy started talking about going to Washington.

“Too many lines have been crossed. Too many years this happened,” he texted his family the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2020.

Guy Reffitt

12/24/2020, 1:09 PM

That’s what we all want but the machine just keeps grinding us down. Too many lines have been crossed. Too many years this happened. We are about to rise up the way the Constitution was written. Look up Maybury v. Madison 1803. Read it well and it will help explain this scenario.


12/24/2020, 1:09 PM

I’m more of, im voting for someone new

Peyton later found out that on that same December day, her brother went to his room, closed the door and filed an online tip to the FBI, warning that “his dad was going to do something big,” according to prosecutors. On Christmas morning, he gave Sarah an anime comic book and Peyton a Himalayan salt lamp as gifts.

Twelve days later, Peyton saw a picture on social media of her father on the Capitol steps.

dad please be safe !! You know you are risking not only your business but ur life too and that isn’t just something to through away lol

I have no intentions on throwing it away. I love ALL of your with ALL of my heart and soul. This is for our country and for ALL OF YOU and your kids. God Bless us one and all…

At the Trump rally before the attack on the Capitol, Guy recorded himself saying the mob would drag lawmakers including Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was speaker of the House at the time, out of the building.

According to court testimony, Guy confronted officers at a key choke point at the Capitol and used a megaphone to encourage people to push through the barricades, a move prosecutors said helped the mob overrun the police lines. He was not seen entering the Capitol building or assaulting officers.

Days after the attack on the Capitol, Guy had returned home and warned Peyton and Jackson: “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors,” according to a supporting affidavit for his arrest warrant. “Traitors get shot.” Guy said in an interview that he would neither confirm nor deny saying this.

Peyton thought it was just her father talking big talk; she said she couldn’t count the number of times he’d made threats and not followed through.

“Daughter asked Reffitt why Reffitt was making them choose sides and threatening Son and Daughter,” the affidavit read, referring to Peyton. “Daughter did not feel that Reffitt was a threat to anyone in the family.”

Her brother thought otherwise. No one responded to his FBI tip until Jan. 6.

[Read more about the Jan. 6 insurrection]

Five or so days later, on the same day that Guy allegedly threatened Jackson and Peyton, Jackson met with an agent in the parking lot of a Rosa’s Café. He shared text messages and recordings of private conversations in which Guy talked about carrying a weapon on Capitol grounds, how he motivated people to move forward that day and why he couldn’t “let his country fall.”

On Jan. 16, a Saturday, Peyton watched authorities arrest her father and raid their house. Agents searched her room and took Peyton to what she assumed was an FBI van, where she realized the trouble her family was in.

The next week, on Jan. 22, Nicole was at home when a friend of Peyton’s called, saying that Jackson was on TV. Sarah was serving tables at Hooters when her brother’s face was suddenly plastered on the screen above the bar.

Toward the end of Peyton’s shift as a hostess at Tricky Fish, a local restaurant that specializes in seafood and beer, her phone started buzzing. “Jackson’s on CNN,” one text read. She ran to the parking garage and dialed Jackson’s number.

“What is this? What’s going on? Why are you doing this?” she yelled, her voice echoing.

“I love you,” Jackson said. “I’m sorry.”

Soon, she was home, scrambling to find the video clip.

“I am kind of on my own with my family right now, with my own views about my dad,” Jackson, then 18, was telling the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. He continued: “And it might be my fault for talking to authorities, but I don’t want to think that. He’s an adult and made his own decisions.”

Peyton, then 16, listened to Cuomo tell her brother that he was a hero because he wasn’t afraid of hurting or offending his family. That “is no small task,” Cuomo said.

She could hear her mother sobbing in bed.

A prayer circle March 30 outside the D.C. jail as supporters of detained Jan. 6 defendants maintain a vigil for them. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

‘They just want us to pick a side’

Roughly 15 percent of the more than 1,100 people charged for actions on Jan. 6, 2021, were turned in by family members, friends or acquaintances, according to an analysis by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Other families that spoke to The Post said they’re suffering emotionally and losing touch with relatives with little desire to reconcile. Some said their family members charged over Jan. 6 still didn’t know they were the ones who had reported them.

Nicole Reffitt said she’s spoken with families of Jan. 6 rioters who said their children have struggled with issues of social identity and isolation. She’s noticed those struggles in Peyton, who quit her job at Tricky Fish soon after Jackson’s CNN interview.

After seeing her classmates commenting on an Instagram post about her father’s case, the then-11th-grader switched schools.

It didn’t help.

“Is your dad the one that went to the Capitol?” one student asked her in the cafeteria of the new school.

“I would’ve thrown acid on his face,” another told her, referring to Jackson.

The worst part was the muffled whispers she heard in the halls. That’s Guy Reffitt’s daughter, she assumed they were saying.

Her town of roughly 60,000 often felt smaller.

At home, her mother began using sedatives. They stayed up late with Sarah, constructing timelines related to Jan. 6 and reading about politics and criminal law, trying to understand what was in store for Guy.

At a bond hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui told Peyton and her mother that people can have different political views but maintain their family bonds.

“We still have to deal with each other as family, and frankly, we are an American family,” the judge told them. “I see your family suffering. I see American families suffering.”

The trial, they eventually learned, would be in early 2022, the first among the Jan. 6 cases. Until then, Peyton barely saw her brother, who at 18 had moved into a hotel across from the airport and never told Peyton or the rest of the family where he was staying. He largely cut off communications with his relatives and sometimes ignored his sisters’ messages for long stretches.

That fall and winter, as Peyton tried to finish her last requirements of high school, she often couldn’t sleep, wondering what would happen to her father, who was about to stand trial, and whether she’d have to take the stand.

At the D.C. federal courthouse in early March 2022, Jackson testified for over three hours. While he spoke, he stole glances at his father, whose glasses were fogging up from crying.

An artist’s sketch depicts U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on the bench Feb. 28, 2022, during jury selection in D.C. for the trial of Guy Reffitt, bearded and in glasses, next to his lawyer, William Welch. Reffitt was the first Jan. 6 defendant to stand trial. (Dana Verkourteren/AP)

“I don’t regret it, but it’s a lot,” he told jurors of his decision to report his father to the FBI.

Prosecutors asked whether he’d had much contact with the rest of the family since moving out more than a year before. He hadn’t, he said.

Peyton at the time was in a room for potential witnesses that felt like a closet. She played “Cats & Soup,” a game on her phone, because there was nothing else she could fidget with and she wasn’t allowed to watch her brother testify in case she was, in fact, called as a witness. Prosecutors eventually decided that they would not ask her to testify.

Guy, who pleaded not guilty, would be convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, interfering with police in a riot, transporting a firearm for that purpose, armed trespassing and tampering with witnesses — specifically, threatening Peyton and Jackson.

After the trial, Nicole told Peyton and her siblings that she hoped they could start fresh in August, once they found out how long Guy would be in prison. They could not remain cut off from one another, she said.

Peyton’s first panic attack came before then, in April, almost two months after the trial. Every time she nearly fell asleep, she would awake with a jolt. She tried to take full breaths, but each was quick and shallow. It felt “like every single thing in my body was on the edge of death.”

Sometime after the sun rose, her boyfriend asked her mother, who had already left for work, to take Peyton to the hospital. The doctor told her she was fine, besides having an elevated heart rate.

She had thought she was going to have a heart attack. In the weeks that followed, she talked with her mother about seeking mental health care but never did.

For the sentencing, Peyton wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency and saying the former president had led her father astray. When Trump spoke, she wrote, her father “fell to his knees.”

Guy received 87 months in prison, the most of any Jan. 6 defendant up to that point. His case was “very different from all others prosecuted to date,” the judge said, since he took on a “self-appointed leadership role” and had a firearm at the Capitol.

Outside the courthouse, Nicole told reporters that she and her husband were patriots. Sarah said it was unfair that Trump still could run for president while their father was going to prison.

Peyton hadn’t planned to speak to the news media, but then she impulsively began.

“Trump deserves life in prison if my father is in prison for this long,” she said of the former president, who has since been indicted four times, including on charges related to Jan. 6. As she spoke, she thought she might black out.

[Breaking down the 91 charges Trump faces in his four indictments]

Peyton described herself as liberal, closer politically to Jackson than to Guy. But that did not mean she would not stand up for her father, she said.

The next day, she posted a photo on Instagram of herself looking at the U.S. Capitol, where, according to prosecutors, her father had “lit the match” of the breach more than a year earlier.

“How awkward,” Peyton, by then 18, typed as her caption.

The sisters told people online that their father was not abusive and that they forgave their brother. Strangers on those sites said the sisters were defending a terrorist, while others threatened to kill their brother. Some also said they wanted to sexually assault Peyton and her sister.

“They just want us to pick a side,” Sarah said of the people online. “It’s so stupid that it has to be political. It has nothing to do with politics at this point for us. We just want to have our family back.”

Guy told The Post he is still shocked by his son’s decision to turn him in, but said he’s forgiven Jackson.

Having moved to the D.C. area weeks after the sentencing, Nicole began holding nightly vigils outside the D.C. jail in support of what she called the “political prisoners” from Jan. 6, her bright-blond hair well-known to some families of the defendants.

While she felt guilty moving away from Peyton and her siblings, Nicole said she also feels needed by the Jan. 6 families. Peyton also was an adult when Nicole moved, and she and Sarah can and do look after each other, the mother believed. It was also difficult being in Texas without Guy.

Sarah, who had often stayed up late with her sister and constantly checked in on her, soon moved out to live with her boyfriend, so Peyton was now living alone in her parents’ old rental, though they still supported her with the help of a private donor.

In the middle of the night, she would sweep and dust the house that held so many memories of the family they used to be. She was in so much pain that she started punching herself in the face. She learned from experience to identify the signs of an oncoming panic attack: shallow breathing, stiff hands, lightning-fast heart rate.

But she couldn’t bring herself to see a therapist. It was expensive, and where would she even find one?

The next time they all saw one another again — without Guy, of course — was at a Lazy Dog restaurant near Dallas in November 2022 for Nicole’s birthday. The mother began the meal by telling her children that she was lost.

“After everything that’s happened, I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said. Jackson grabbed her hand on top of the table and told her they’d do better.

Then he and Nicole got into an argument over Ye — the rapper formerly known as Kanye West — and antisemitism. Peyton asked everyone to raise their right hand.

“I solemnly swear to not talk about politics while Peyton goes to the bathroom,” she asked them to say. They still were arguing when she returned. Everyone left soon after without finishing their food.

A couple of months later, Nicole was back in Texas to pack up the house. Jackson suggested they see the movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” because he felt its message about a family working through difficulties would resonate. It did for Peyton, who cried during and tried not to after, seeing her own family’s struggles in the film.

Her brother left feeling like their mother was a stranger and emotionally distant.

He stopped responding to his sisters’ messages again.

“You’re breaking my heart,” Sarah texted Jackson on Feb. 18 at 12:58 a.m. with a frowning face. “It’s not hard to message me back.”

“Hey, I love you!! Miss you so much,” Peyton messaged him on March 13. “We are all struggling just not knowing why nobody can get a text or call back.”

“im sorry i love you sm,” Jackson finally wrote back, using an abbreviation for “so much.” “I keep getting in this habit of not responding fast enough and get embarrassed and hate that I don’t and it just snowballs into more of a worse habit.”

He asked whether they could plan a time to really talk about things. Peyton and her family agreed to meet on May 9 at Sarah’s apartment.

Nicole Reffitt and daughter Peyton talk at the Texas apartment of Peyton’s sister, Sarah, on May 9 after a five-hour family meeting. (Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff/The Washington Post)

The conversation

Peyton had her first chance to read from her notebook near the beginning of the May conversation. She asked her family to pause while she flipped to the right page.

“It has been very hard for each of us to know how to move towards a new, healthy family dynamic,” she told them. “Sorry, I cannot — ” She trailed off. Talking was terrifying.

“It’s just anxiety,” said Nicole, trying to encourage her daughter to continue.

Eventually, the conversation moved to whether politics mattered in their effort to reconcile.

“Not for me,” Peyton said. “Because we won’t reconcile if it’s about politics.”

Sarah and Nicole agreed.

“No,” Jackson finally said. “It’s dangerous, and it will come into play, but does it matter? It didn’t matter with Dad until he went to January 6 and made his threats.”

At one point, he scrolled through screenshots of social media posts on his laptop, an unofficial timeline of accusations his family had made about his “betrayal.” He stopped at one and asked Peyton why she had made a particular post on Snapchat.

“You said I’m making the family a political statement and sold y’all out,” Jackson said.

For five seconds, Peyton was quiet. She looked down.

“I just felt … indignation, not toward you, but about everything,” she told him, slowly. She remembered making the post after Jackson was quoted in an article that made it appear that their father had abused them, an impression that she and her sister disputed. Guy told The Post he spanked his children when they were younger and would sometimes yell at them but did not go beyond that.

“It was just like, ‘Why did he do this?’” Peyton told her brother about her thinking at the time. “It was the same with Dad in a lot of ways. I was just like, ‘Man, men in my family suck.’”

Nicole wanted to know why Jackson had ignored Peyton and her sister for so long. The sisters had supported their mother’s decision to move out of Texas and had kept her in the loop as they lost contact with their brother.


Tue, Feb 7 at 1:59 AM

Why don’t you answer me ever did I do something

You’re breaking my heart :/ it’s not hard to message me back

“That is probably my biggest regret over the past two years,” Jackson said. “That’s my failure. I was scared to talk to you guys. I’d hurt y’all. I hurt everyone here so much.”

“I agree you did, but your dad did, too,” Nicole responded. “I did, too.”

Jackson told Peyton and Sarah that they had handled that separation “too well.”

“Too well?” Peyton asked, laughing.

Half-kidding, Peyton and Sarah told their brother they had been “traumatized” and “paralyzed.”

“I know there’s nothing I can do to fix those two years,” Jackson said.

To feel close again as a family, Peyton said, they had to rebuild the trust that had been broken since Jan. 6. That meant taking responsibility while trying to understand one another’s perspectives, she said. They weren’t perfect, but they were a family. And that counted.

They hadn’t resolved everything, though. Peyton nervously stumbled over her words at times and once ran to the bathroom to try to calm herself as the conversation continued without her.

She also heard her mother and brother variously accusing each other of being dishonest, “misguided” or a “liar,” especially when the conversation involved the truth about what Guy had done.

But they were getting answers to questions that had lingered in their minds for two years. Peyton found out that Jackson didn’t text back all those times because he was dealing with his own anxiety and didn’t feel that he knew the right thing to say. And everyone was really hearing what the youngest had to say.

“It’s so hard for so many families when maybe one person wants so badly to reconcile things but another person in their family may have no will to do so,” Peyton said to her family. “It could have easily been us.”

They wondered whether whatever progress they had just made could be undone once Guy got out of prison. For now, they all thought, they would just focus on the four of them.

After nearly five hours, Peyton and her family decided to go to a Tex-Mex restaurant for a late dinner, where they laughed and ate enchiladas, trying to stay within the boundaries they’d just established.

Jackson left the dinner first, hugging his family before walking out the door. Peyton didn’t know when she would see him next.

An American flag in Wylie, Tex., on March 30. (Emil T. Lippe for The Washington Post)

Eliza Dennis and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Coming soon:

On an upcoming episode of “Post Reports,” we will take you inside the Reffitt family’s attempt to reconcile. Listen in as they try to work through the challenges unique to this family’s story, which is complicated but recognizable to so many whose beliefs are different from those of their loved ones. Listen to the trailer and subscribe or follow the show.

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