They can’t arrest us all,’’ a future defendant had posted days before, and this was the vibe in the moment, the ecstatic invulnerability that leads someone to smear feces on the floor of the building in which the most powerful country on earth writes its rules. The worry set in later, when the swarm resolved into 9,000 separate bodies in separate homes in separate beds. At first it was just a feeling, watching the news, as the word rally gave way to the word riot, that the mood of the day had not carried onward into the present. The FBI was at the airport, someone heard. A friend had been arrested. One hundred arrests in the first two weeks. There were photographs on the FBI’s web page and online sleuths trawling for clues. There were tipsters calling in names of old classmates. When a man was arrested in Washington, the FBI had footage from a camera planted on a telephone pole near his front yard. Three hundred by March. Arrests would be made in nearly every state. There would be FBI raids, battering rams, guns-drawn SWAT teams terrifying small children in the night. Five hundred by August. If you were paying attention, you were waiting for them, and the thousands who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were people who took immense pride in paying attention.
I did storm the Capitol, a rioter named Robert Chapman messaged someone on Bumble. We are not a match, said the recipient, who then sent the message to the authorities. Rioters looked about and wondered who among their acquaintances had the motivated malice to dial 1-800-CALL-FBI. They were betrayed by co-workers, and they were betrayed by exes, and they were betrayed, very often, by former classmates. Someone who worked at Circle K pointed out that an assistant manager had requested time off to go to this. It was not unusual for six, seven, eight people to take it upon themselves to identify a single man. Thanks for your tips! tweeted the FBI.
Here was a crime to which people loved to confess. I STOLE SHIT FROM NANCY POLESI, wrote Riley Williams on Discord. At a dentist’s office, Daniel Warmus bragged that he had smoked marijuana inside the Capitol; someone in the office turned him in. Just broke in this bitch! said Cole Temple in a video of himself that he posted on Snapchat. Rioters had given interviews to the Baker County Press, the anti-abortion publication LifeSiteNews, and the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, a Finnish reader of which contacted the FBI. Rioters were identified because other rioters tagged them on Facebook. As part of an Instagram Story, Edward Lang posted a picture of the crowded Capitol entrance, to which he added a pointing-finger emoji and the words THIS IS ME.
Hundreds of people caught on-camera committing what was arguably sedition went home to families that feared them, strangers who admired them, federal agents already setting up surveillance. Over a year’s time, many of their lives would be transformed. They would discover the dark state of American prisons. They would be fired and divorced and bankrupt and subject to extraordinary kindness from strangers. They would become fodder for the kind of conspiracies that had summoned them to D.C. in the first place. They would become a price paid for the right to stand on a dais and say You’ll never take back our country with weakness.
Gina Bisignano would lose her salon, Guy Reffitt would lose his freedom, and Rosanne Boyland would lose her life. None of them would be difficult to find. Many at the Capitol that day were motivated by profound distrust in the deep state and big tech, and it was true that Google would hand location data to the FBI and Facebook would deliver reams of messages, but the Capitol riot was among the most-filmed events in history not because the NSA was listening but because the rioters themselves obsessively documented all four hours of it. My name is Gina Bisignano, said Bisignano into the camera as men raved around her. Gina’s Beverly Hills on Instagram.
Gina had recently been a victim herself. Six months prior to the Capitol breach, she had left her purse in her car and popped out for only a moment to pick up dry cleaning. When she returned, there was a hole in the passenger-side window and the bag was gone. Gina was not worried about the purse, which was merely a knockoff of the $25,000 Birkin bag it appeared to be. She was worried about what had been in the bag, what remained in the bag, wherever it had been taken. This was Lolli, her two-year-old Pomeranian, a five-pound puffball that resembles a tiny lion.
Gina is 53, tall, with strong hands and high cheekbones. She has a full-lipped, taut-skinned look you see a lot in her neighborhood, a look open and honest about the fact that it has been paid for. She spent the next 17 days in a state of crisis, calling the police and asking for updates. In August, a man who allegedly had tried to rob a Christian Dior store on Rodeo Drive confessed to taking the Pomeranian to Las Vegas and keeping it at an extended-stay hotel, where it still was. Since her car had a giant hole in the window, Gina and an aspiring fashion model she knew rented a Camaro, and the two drove to Vegas to be reunited with Lolli. The local news captured her brought to her knees as the tiny lion scampered toward her, now underweight and nervous. Gina devoted herself to nursing Lolli back to health. The police later said they had been able to find the dog because Beverly Hills was so well surveilled. There was also the fact that Gina kept calling. Gina was, a detective said, a very persistent victim.
Gina had a salon in Beverly Hills in a handsome row of brick buildings, where women sat very still as she glued, one by one, gossamer strands of silk to individual eyelashes. She did not agree with the shelter-in-place order, and she did not trust anyone in charge of administering it.
Gina began hanging out with a group of like-minded people: the Beverly Hills Conservative Club. She got COVID, got better, and kept going to meetings. She was an extrovert desperate to socialize, and the people still socializing were people ideologically opposed to the rules against it. Gina was listening to Infowars. Some of the news she heard she believed, and some of the news she heard she did not believe. I don’t believe Biden is a clone, she told me.
Three months later, Los Angeles County announced further restrictive regulations and Gina decided to join a protest outside the home of the health commissioner in Echo Park. Gina was wearing a bright-red trump 2020 hoodie when she met up with 50 other people staring at a home looming above them. She had brought a bullhorn, and she had brought Lolli.
Counterprotesters and protesters hurled insults across the blacktop. According to Gina, she lost it when a counterprotester’s boyfriend tripped over Lolli’s leash and fell on the dog, which was unhurt but scared. Gina responded by shouting Faggot!, which is when the counterprotester started filming. Say it again! the counterprotester shouted. Say it again.
You’re a faggot! said Gina, holding Lolli in her right hand and the bullhorn in her left.
Say it again!
I don’t give a shit, said Gina. You’re disgusting.
I had three jobs, a mild-mannered man behind Gina said, pointing at his sign. They’re all gone.
What does that have to do with me being a faggot? asked the person filming.
What are you? Gina asked. A guy or a girl?
You’re a Nazi, and you’re brainwashed.
Get some more injections in that mouth! someone shouted from the crowd.
Yeah, you’re sick, Gina said. I bet you had an abortion this morning.
When the video appeared on TMZ, it was headlined “Karen Goes on Homophobic Rant During L.A. Protest.” If anyone had fallen on Lolli, it was not caught on video; there was only a man behind a camera saying They fell on her dog. The Yelp page for Gina’s Eyelashes and Skincare filled up with reviews like If you want tarantula lashes and a corpse complexion, please call this bigot for your next KKK gathering. And: Whether it’s a big gala fundraiser for gay conversion camps or just staying in to relax and call the police on my black neighbors, I know I’ll be gorgeous and feel confident. Thanks Gina. There were so many, fueled further by news stories about the comments themselves, that Yelp suspended new ones.
The charges of homophobia did not make sense to Gina. How could she be homophobic if she worked in beauty in L.A.? She was still listening to Infowars and now something called X22 Report. We are the people, we are the storm, and we are coming to D.C., the podcast host said on January 5. I didn’t want to be a loser, Gina told me. I didn’t want to just stay home.
Everyone had been home for so long, deprived of sensory experience, bound to screens in a way unknown to history. Rosanne was 34, a former addict stuck in her parents’ low-slung yellow home in Kennesaw, Georgia, under a copse of tall, straight trees, in a bedroom she had painted bright colors and filled with rare stones. In April 2020, the month President Trump said There will be a lot of death, unfortunately, Rosanne met a woman in the vast parking lot of the Kennesaw Publix who was inconsolable because the store had sold out of toilet paper. Rosanne drove home, picked up six rolls, drove past the Papa John’s and the Great Clips, and brought them back to the woman. Rosie to her friends, Roro to her nieces, Rosanne saved people. She was the kind of friend who would sleep on your floor for three months if she thought you might hurt yourself. The kind of former addict of whom other former addicts will say She saved my life. The kind of person who would get the idea to collect all the coats in the house and drive through Atlanta handing them out. She loved hugs and hated crowds.
Rosanne loved the outdoors, the sense of wide-open exploration in a big country rich with treasure. She and her father went far afield in his RV, rockhounding, which is to say they drove to quarries in Georgia and the Carolinas, got on their knees, and whacked at the earth until they loosed lustrous iridescent rocks. Rosanne loved conspiracy theories: JFK, Sasquatch, the moon landing. On a cross-country trip with her family, Rosanne made them stop at Roswell. She bought some socks.
The BEAUTIFUL DISASTER chest tattoo was a reference to the band 311 and not inapt; Rosanne had spent a period of her life getting arrested and rearrested on a long list of drug charges, but the year she discovered her sister, Lonna, was pregnant was the year she quit heroin. She could not have her own children because she’d had cervical cancer, and so she would, over the following six years, dedicate herself to one niece and then two.
Once, Rosanne’s mother walked into a room as Rosanne was being choked by an angry boyfriend. Once, Rosanne discovered by reading texts sent to a friend’s 12-year-old daughter that the girl was being sexually abused. Once, a close friend of Rosanne’s was imprisoned and tortured over several days in front of her newborn in a series of attacks that left the friend temporarily blind and deaf. The attacker was the baby’s father. Rosanne’s universe was one in which women and children were existentially vulnerable to violent men.
By mid-2020, social life had stopped, and Rosanne no longer had the sobriety meetings that sustained her, and Lonna’s little girls did not need to be picked up from school. Instead, Rosanne had the internet. On the internet, she learned that Wayfair was using its shipping containers to send children to pedophiles. I’m in deep, she said to Lonna one July morning. I’ve been up all night researching. By October, Rosanne’s sister was doing her own research, on what one should do when a family member has been sucked into a cult. #FREEJULIANASSANGE, Rosanne posted on Facebook. Rosanne became convinced that Donald Trump was engaged against the forces of darkness; he would, if he had sufficient support, punish the pedophiles and child abusers. There would be, on January 6, mass arrests of evildoers. Here was good news: a powerful man who promised protection. He asked for our help, Rosanne told her mother in early January 2021. He asked us to be there.
Guy Reffitt’s children had begged him not to be here. Think of your family, they had said. Think of your business. Think of your safety. But Guy was thinking about Tyranny and Freedom and a decadent elite.
I love you with ALL of my heart and soul, he texted his family on January 6. This is for our country and ALL OF YOU and your kids. This was the way he talked a lot of the time, as if he were the protagonist in a film in which he was destined to die a martyr. His wife called him Queenie for years before he realized she was making fun of his theatrical tendencies. The kids rolled their eyes.
It had been a lonely summer and a lonely fall, but no one was alone on the Ellipse on that gray winter Wednesday when Trump spoke beneath a giant screen of Trump speaking to thousands of people wrapped against the cold. Big tech … rigged an election. They rigged it like they’ve never rigged an election before. Does anybody believe that Joe had 80 million votes? This election was stolen from you. Again and again, Trump said, There’s never been anything like this. This theft was unique, the most corrupt in the history of the world, and therefore justified extraordinary action. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong … When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules … You don’t concede when there’s theft involved … Right over there, right there, we see the event going to take place. And I’m going to be watching. Because history is going to be made.
Storm the Capitol, said some in the crowd, but others were already there, a mile and a half away, in the place where Trump would tell his thousands of fans to go.
Men swarmed flimsy barriers like kids jumping turnstiles. They shoved cops aside, crushed wire fences underfoot, waved flags, screamed and stomped with animal energy. Cops got hit and backed up, watchful. Wind snapped the flags the crowd carried, and the chants changed, and the crowd moved forward. The people outside believed that the people inside were trying to steal something from them. Our House suggests not only a right of entry but a positive responsibility. They had been tasked with saving it, deputized by the president himself. A crime was under way, and it was their job to stop it. But then, for some reason, the crowd stalled. No one was rushing the building.
Guy didn’t understand it. He was wearing a bright-blue jacket, the largest jacket he owned, so that under it would be room for the Smith & Wesson pistol and the padding and the zip ties. Full-battle rattle, he called it. Guy intended to surveil the atmosphere for like-minded patriots and see if we have enough marching with heat. He would do the recon and then come back for weapons hot. Why stop now? He hadn’t driven 20 hours from Texas to D.C. to stop at the door.
Guy didn’t really mean to be at the front of the pack, but when he ran up a flight of stairs, there were no fellow protesters in front of him. A cop blocked his path. Dude, get out of the fucking way. He shoved the cop, but there was another one, and she shot him with a series of PepperBalls. He kept moving forward. You can’t stop us all. He didn’t hate this woman; he was so high on self-importance he had come around to the other side, brimming with magnanimity. She was cute. She was a little scared, he said later. I’m actually proud of her. She did her best, and they all hit. Another cop shot him with rubber bullets. Guy continued to move forward; each bullet left a bruise, but he hadn’t come this far to let his country fall. The cop who had been hitting him with rubber bullets took out a can of Mace, raised it, and sprayed it in Guy’s eyes. Guy put his hand up calmly. He was more scared than he looked; he now knew what came after the rubber bullets, but who knew what came after the Mace. We were all scared. Everybody was scared. It’s not like anybody wasn’t scared. It was a very scary scenario.
Guy unscrewed a bottle, tilted his head toward the sky, and dumped water in his eyes. He went back to his hotel and drove the 20 hours home.
Rosanne’s sister had just left work back in Georgia when she heard that two women had died at the Capitol. One of the women was Ashli Babbitt, who had been shot by a Capitol police officer while trying to jump through a window. The other woman had not yet been named. It’s her. I know it’s her, Lonna thought, but when she learned the body had been identified as her sister, she thought, No. It’s not her. It’s someone else with a BEAUTIFUL DISASTER tattoo. Minutes after the name was released, a reporter called the home of Rosanne’s parents. The phone was unplugged. A helicopter whirred over the treetops; reporters parked as far as three houses down. “Video Shows How Rioter Was Trampled in Stampede at Capitol,” read a New York Times headline, though the video did not show that.
Rosanne’s father took the NO TRESPASSING sign from the pool to the mailbox in front of the house. He called Rosanne’s phone, and a woman named Alicia picked up. She had video of Rosanne on her own phone; would they like to see it? The Boylands watched shaky video of the bottom half of their daughter’s limp body. Cheryl recognized her by her green socks. They were the ones she had bought at Roswell.
Rosanne Boyland had been cast in the press as a victim of trampling, and in certain quarters of social media, people enjoyed posting a picture of her, earlier in the day, holding a flag that read don’t TREAD ON ME. But soon after the riot, a detective called Lonna and told her the cause of death was thought to be a fentanyl overdose, an assessment Rosanne’s family found bizarre. In their telling, Rosanne had been sober for seven years, had in fact been to a meeting just hours before the riot, and had shown no indications of wavering. For 91 days, we were questioning, Had she fallen off the wagon? Months later, the medical examiner told Lonna there was in fact no fentanyl in the blood. There was amphetamine. Wasn’t that the technical name for her ADD medication? Lonna asked. Eventually the medical examiner told Lonna the death would be ruled an overdose. Lonna started sobbing.
Rosanne was taking Adderall for ADD. Her family does not believe she took more than her usual dose. She had diabetes and cardiovascular disease and was, at the time of her death, a woman who hated crowds amid a riot at its most violent. The report was, the medical examiner told Lonna, subjective. The subjective sweep of this particular document cast Rosanne in a shadow from which she had struggled much of her life to escape. “Capitol Rioter Rosanne Boyland Died of Drug Overdose, Not Trampling: M.E.,” read the Daily Beast.
This was the state of affairs when Rosanne’s parents had made themselves unreachable — phones off the hook, no press — and two men walked past the NO TRESPASSING sign that had been moved from the pool to the mailbox, past stones of iridescent hematite Rosanne had dug from the ground and displayed in the yard, to ring the doorbell. One of these men was Derrick Gibson, a Black podcast host and fringe candidate for New York governor who says he is proud of the Proud Boys. He had been sent by Cara Castronuova, a boxer and former coach on The Biggest Loser who had recently become an advocate for men and women imprisoned after the Capitol breach. The bereaved father came outside. Gibson told him the story of Rosanne had not been properly told. He had a video to show them.
Rosanne’s parents watched the video of their dying daughter sent to them by an aspiring governor of New York. In the footage, slowed and looped and annotated, Rosanne has already collapsed. She is on her side, rarely in view, and above her a Metropolitan D.C. police officer appears to bring a stick up overhead and swing it low, toward Rosanne’s body. There are several ways to read this. One would be that the panicked officer is whacking at something out of view and, on the way down, accidentally hits Rosanne three times. Another would be that the D.C. officer is intentionally beating her still body. This second interpretation was the one that some people sympathetic to the protesters, including Gibson, had embraced, fitting as it did into a narrative now popular among the right that the protesters were merely defending themselves against a brutal, provocative, illegitimate state. In the abundance of footage and absence of clarity, a new narrative was hardening. Rosanne was becoming the center of her own conspiracy.
Guy’s son, Jackson, was watching the Capitol riot on TV in Wylie, Texas, where he lived with his mother and father and sisters in a clean brick house that looked like many other brick houses on the same quiet street. The first thing he saw was a photo of Secret Service members pointing their guns at a barricaded door in the House Chamber of the Capitol. Dad’s there, said Jackson’s mother, Nicole. Is he there there? thought Jackson. Is he in there? He felt sick.
Jackson was 18, sensitive and subtle and sometimes angry. He’s a declared — what is it? Democratic socialist, Nicole told me. Which was fine. Jackson hadn’t lived enough days. They didn’t tell their kids how to think. Guy had sent in Jackson’s voter registration, though he knew Jackson would not vote for Trump. Once, both Guy and Jackson had gone to the same BLM event downtown: Jackson with his curly hair falling past his shoulders, Guy with his buzz cut and aviator glasses. Jackson held a sign: DEFUND THE POLICE. Guy was self-appointed security, standing in front of a museum to keep it safe from violent rioters who never materialized. That protest was just police handing out pizza, Jackson told me. It was awesome.
After the riot, Guy came back to the brick house with his big blue Smith & Wesson–accommodating coat. He was worried about being turned in, worried about the FBI at the door.
What happened, he told his family in the kitchen, was only the preface of the book. You know what a preface is? It’s the beginning of the book. He showed them rubber-bullet bruises up and down his torso. Someday they’d get it. There’ll be days your whole life when you’ll know that your father was there when an epic historical thing happened in this country. And guess what? I’m not done yet. I got a lot more to do.
Four days later, the FBI had still not shown up. Guy was talking big. I don’t care if Pelosi’s head is hitting every step while I drag her by her ankles, he told other members of his militia group, the Three-Percenters, over a Zoom session.
The argument that would be revisited again and again by the Reffitts and their various lawyers began the day Guy came back from the riot. His wife, Nicole, was at work. In the kitchen with two of his children, Jackson and 16-year-old Peyton, Guy said he had to delete everything and he hoped he could at least depend on his family to be discreet.
If you turn me in, he said to Jackson, you’re a traitor. And traitors get shot.
Are you threatening us? Jackson asked.
Don’t put words in my mouth, Guy said.
Was Peyton recording them? The kids were always recording, for their TikToks and their Snaps, and you didn’t even know until it was already online. If you’re recording this, he said, I’ll put a bullet in your phone.
Peyton was unimpressed, and when she called her mother later that day, she first explained how she was getting to work; her father’s threat to shoot his children should they turn him in for trying to stop the certification of an election was the second-most-pressing issue she had to discuss with Nicole. Mom, she said, Dad is just saying stupid stuff.
Nicole was making dinner when she finally had a chance to talk to Guy. You can’t talk to the kids that way! she said, and not for the first time. That’s ridiculous.
Before Trump came to power, Guy had not been political; that was Nicole. Jackson thought his father had voted for Obama in 2008, though Nicole says he didn’t. Nicole had started off a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, so interested that she decided to read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals because Clinton had written her college thesis on the author. I read that, she said, and I literally felt like the Matrix was falling. The next books she read were The Revolution, by Ron Paul, and The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek, not books that would seem to suggest the same politics yet all books resonant with a totalizing revolutionary urgency. It was Nicole who felt that the COVID restrictions were themselves the road to serfdom and who would, initially, talk about tyranny.
All three of the kids were beautiful. All three describe Guy as a good father. If you feel uncomfortable or need me, come get me immediately, he texted Peyton when she was around Jackson and his friends drinking. Guy added four red hearts for good measure. Okay it will be fine no worries lol, said Peyton. One heart.
He was more understanding than Nicole when they crossed any given line, and he was fun: Once, he attached an ATV to a garbage can and pulled little Jackson around the yard. Guy knew what to say when his wife felt discouraged, and he said it: Baby, you have this. You’re doing such a great job. I have faith in you. He was an oil-rig manager, gone a lot, 28 days on and 28 days off. In 2013, when Jackson was 11, the family moved to Penang, Malaysia, for Guy’s job. Jackson and his sisters attended an international school with few Americans. The family had only themselves to rely on, and they grew closer. Everything was thrillingly unfamiliar, an extended vacation.
In 2016, the oil field dried up; there was no longer work for Guy in Malaysia. He was despondent, and Nicole talked him through it. I was like, No, sir. We aren’t doing this — we have to keep moving. And he always listens to me.
When the work ended, their savings were not sufficient for four tickets home. Guy flew back to Texas to look for more and left the family in Malaysia until he could find it, which is to say he was spending more time alone.
When the family finally got home, Guy was, according to Jackson, changed. He had become more vulgar and more heteronormative. Once, he told Nicole to do the laundry, the wife’s duty, which did not go over well with either her or the three free-thinking children; they all yelled at him.
He had some new friends: the Three-Percenters. Twenty of them came over for a barbecue. Nicole was happy to see Guy have some purpose, some get-up-and-go, since he had given up on oil and was casting around for new ideas. Maybe he would start a security company, he said. He had started ranting. Cliché stuff, said Jackson. I mean cliché — Nancy Pelosi, the swamp — stuff you can get out of any far-right article. He was watching a lot of Newsmax. Some of the stuff he said was over-the-top, but that was Guy. He just starts saying stupid shit, and you’re like, Calm down, says Nicole. The oil field was a hard-talking place, and until recently Guy had been around hard-talking men, exclusively, for a month at a time. One time, he told Peyton that if she didn’t get home on time, he would put her through a meat grinder.
Okay, Nicole says with a sigh, telling me this story. So. We don’t have a meat grinder.
Once, Jackson and Guy had bonded over the film Snowden; everyone could agree the NSA was shady as hell. Guy bought a GPS tracker. In December 2020, Guy told his family that he had a hint from a friend on Facebook. Someone who was high up in the government was going to shut down the nation’s power, and during that time, bad actors would revamp the electoral votes. Guy bought dozens of canisters of gasoline to store in the garage for the coming blackout. When this did not come to pass, he was quiet about it. Soon he would be onto another theory. Congress, Guy told his family, has made fatal mistakes.
To the extent that the Capitol breach produced celebrities, Gina Bisignano was among them. Presumably the only protester in a Louis Vuitton sweater and Chanel boots, Gina had been present for some of the day’s darkest moments: the scrum at the West Terrace, where a police officer was pulled into the crowd, where Rosanne died, and where another police officer moaned in pain as a crush of angry men tried to force their way in. Among the most iconic pictures of the insurrection was an image of Gina weeping, lines of mascara running down her chin like roots seeking water. There was footage of Gina pointing at the sky and praising God and footage of Gina framed by the arch of a window, like Mary in a grotto, shouting encouragement through a bullhorn to violent men below: Everybody, we need gas masks. We need weapons … You’re not going to take away our Trumpy-bear!
Two days after the riot, Gina appeared on Infowars to share video she had taken. Two days after that, three men showed up at her apartment in Beverly Hills. They were younger men she knew from local Trump events, and they had been with her at the Capitol riot. The three men did not want anyone to know they had been to the Capitol, which was wise because one of those men, Danny Rodriguez, had approached a screaming Capitol police officer as he was being beaten by a gang of rioters. I have kids, the officer shouted. A man ripped off his badge. Danny placed a Taser at the base of the officer’s neck. How many times Danny Rodriguez Tased an incapacitated Officer Mike Fanone in the back of the skull is a matter of contention. Trump called us to D.C., Danny told investigators later. If he’s the commander-in-chief and the leader of our country and he’s calling for help — I thought we were doing the right thing.
Another of these men, whose identity has still not been released to the public (online sleuths call him Swedish Scarf), unplugged Gina’s Alexa. He gestured for her to be quiet. He wrote in a notebook: I want to help you delete everything and to transfer the files to a secure hard drive. The men smoked pot on Gina’s little balcony. They left.
Gina did not delete everything. She wasn’t scared of these men; she was scared of the cops. On the same morning that Nicole and Guy woke up to flash-bangs in the yard of their brick home in Texas, Gina woke up to a knock on the door.
Gina was initially granted bail, but prosecutors appealed. Her sincere belief in conspiracy theories, a prosecutor argued, and the absence of rational, evidence-based decision-making show that she is extraordinarily unlikely to accept the legitimacy of this court’s orders. Gina believes Donald Trump was elected president in 2020, and she believes children are being trafficked and drained of adrenochrome, and she believes vaccines contain aborted baby parts. The magistrate who revoked bail ordered she be taken to D.C. forthwith, but she was not taken forthwith; owing to an administrative error, she was left in the L.A. jail for over two weeks, during which she saw no sunlight, because COVID protocols did not allow for time outside, and during which she was not given her prescription Zoloft, the sudden withdrawal of which made her so itchy she scratched until she bled. Has she been detained that whole time? asked the judge when the prosecutor admitted the error.
Awoken by guards in the middle of the night, Gina thought, Maybe I’m going home. My siblings have gotten me a high-powered attorney. She was then placed in shackles on a bus, which sat unmoving for six hours. A man with a single wild eye sat next to her, muttering, You’re so pretty.
Stop talking to her! yelled a guard.
In San Diego, Gina was walked onto an airplane and placed, again, in shackles. When it touched down, Gina asked, Are we in D.C.? But they were in Oklahoma at an overflow facility called Grady County Detention Center.
In Grady County, Gina was placed, alone, in a room the size of a basketball court. In the corners lurked something foul and brown, and she didn’t know if it was human filth or the brown towels inmates had and were shedding. She was very cold. She was desperate for a Diet Coke. She had only one pair of underwear, which she washed in the sink, shivering as her hands touched the cold water. The blue mat she was given to sleep on, split in several places with stuffing coming out of it, was so rancid she could not bring herself to use it, so she slept on a hard plastic cot, huddled into a ball to try to keep warm. When she asked for a blanket, a guard said he would have to ask the captain. In a lawsuit filed in 2009, a Grady County inmate said he was so cold he used the Saran Wrap in which his lunch came to wrap up his feet, at which point the guards started dropping sandwiches in his cell unwrapped.
When Gina’s siblings found out she had accrued various charges that could theoretically amount to 20 years in prison, they said she was an idiot, a moron, you’re so stupid. Gina had always been a lot, always loud and brave and drawn to what her father calls upsetting, dark things. Sometimes her father hit her. Whenever Gina brings this up, which is often, she says he was young and Italian and I forgive him.
When Gina was waiting tables at 19, a billionaire financier fell in love with her, and though she had to drink before she became intimate with him, she let him love her for a while and send her to L.A., where she wanted to be an actress. She had a son with a man whom she did not get along with very well and lived out of her car for a short time.
Gina’s salon had been a stable place in a volatile life, her lashes a service the world wanted and for which it would pay. There was never a lot of money, but one could buy a purse and spend two years paying it off. If the building was old and the apartment small, at least the mail still read 90210. If you have lashes, she liked to say, you don’t have to wear makeup. It’s all you need.
In the days after nine black-booted men in black vests rolled up to the house, threw flash-bangs in her yard, marched through her home with guns drawn, and took her husband, Nicole Reffitt and her daughters began to wonder who had turned in Guy. Was it family friends they’d had a falling-out with last summer? Four days after the raid, Sarah and Peyton were both at their restaurant jobs — Sarah at Hooters and Peyton at Tricky Fish. Nicole was in the house with Peyton’s boyfriend when a friend called and told her Jackson was on CNN. Nicole did not have to watch to know what Jackson was doing. She had felt it already.
The girls, Nicole thought. Peyton is going to melt down. She had to reach them before the broadcast did. Cade, she said, go get Peyton. Go get her. She picked up the phone to call Sarah, but Sarah was on the clock at the Hooters in Garland, Texas, already watching her brother onscreen, swiveling in his chair while he stared at the ground.
Um. I don’t really know how to explain it … It just felt like the right thing, regardless of … how much I loved my family and my dad. I was worried.
Jackson was 18 years old, curly hair pulled back in a bun, fine features dimly lit in his girlfriend’s den. They were talking about the conversation in the kitchen — Traitors get shot — and Jackson’s decision to report his father to the FBI.
Now this wasn’t just one conversation, said Chris Cuomo forcefully into the camera, jaw clenched, eyes sad. Jackson, help people understand … What seemed to be the influence on him?
Uh. Jackson swiveled. I wish I could tell you … It’s been definitely over the past four years … It’s snowballed into what my dad’s become now. Jackson’s cadence gained speed as he moved from the general to the personal. I do love him, and I do care for him, but that doesn’t ignore everything else he’s said and done. What he said, he said, and there is no taking that back — and the fact that he said that is enough for me to tell authorities. I did feel threatened … My sister can say otherwise.
I’m a dad, said Cuomo, crafting a moment for the audience at home. Kids don’t take responsibility for what their parents do. You didn’t make him go to D.C. … What you did was very, very hard. I’m talking to you because I’m impressed by what you did … Okay?
Jackson nodded. It wasn’t clear whether he would cry. He whispered Thank you.
No, thank YOU, pal.
Jackson had contacted the FBI well before the riot, in late December, after yet another family argument, upon which he decamped to his room and Googled FBI. In a little box on its website, he wrote that his father had promised to do something big. He heard nothing back. He thought he never would. On January 6, an agent called him. He was in his bedroom, but he could hear his mom in the hallway. He took the phone to his car and shut the door. I’ll give you a Starbucks location, said the agent, and we can talk.
So cliché, Jackson says.
A few days after the CNN interview, Guy told Nicole that he had been moved to a jail called Grady County Detention Center, where Gina had not yet arrived and not yet begun washing her underwear by hand in the sink. Typically, Guy would call Nicole every day, and he would calm her down and tell her everything would be all right. But for days there was silence. Nicole called the jail and called the U.S. Marshals and called the jail again. When she finally reached Guy, he explained that he had been in the ICU. He had ended up in the ICU because for 15 years he had been on cholesterol and anxiety medications — medications he was not administered at Grady County Detention Center, thereby sending him into seizure.
By now, there are many videos of Rosanne Boyland’s last moments readily available, and none seem, to the family, to give a clear picture of what happened. In the press, the videos have been accompanied by headlines such as “Bodycam Videos Show Police Trying to Help a Trampled Trump Supporter Being Brutally Beaten by Mob,” but this is again subjective; there are no videos the family has seen that show the police administering CPR. There are videos of various fellow protesters administering CPR, and what is happening to them as they are doing so — whether they are being attacked by the police in the act of trying to help her — is, again, unclear. The Boylands have asked for the body-cam footage from the authorities, but they have been told that footage will not be released owing to ongoing investigations. Everyone has an agenda, Lonna told me. And I don’t feel like anyone’s agenda is finding out what happened to her.
In September, an organization called Look Ahead America held a “Justice for J6” rally in front of the Capitol. Rumors sprang up on Telegram and elsewhere that the rally was a false flag meant to provoke and entrap Trump supporters. The right’s misinformation problem was making it difficult to organize. Dozens of J6 supporters gathered on a patch of grass in the hot sun. Behind them were cops in riot gear holding round shields, their face shields tilted up, tightly packed and two men deep, and behind the cops was the Capitol, clean against the sky as if no one had died at all. Unlike any speaker before her, the boxer and former Biggest Loser coach Cara Castronuova knew how to project.
As we all know, there was one death that day, a homicide that day, said Cara, and that was Ashli Babbitt. But there was another woman that day that the media said died of a methamphetamine overdose. That is absolutely not true. This woman, said Cara, had been beaten severely as she lay unconscious on the Capitol steps by a Metro D.C. police officer. There was video, she said, of a D.C. police officer beating her senseless. Come to my website to find out the name of the police officer. In the ensuing months, headlines about Rosanne on fringe media would include “The Murder of Rosanne Boyland” and “The Jan. 6th Murder of Rosanne Boyland by Capitol Police: Cover-up Exposed” and “The Police Killed Her.”
In fact, it was not supposed to be Cara up on the podium at this point in the program. It was supposed to be Nicole Reffitt, but Nicole Reffitt had, she said, been detained by authorities at the airport. Cara would therefore read Nicole’s speech. According to the speech, read off Cara’s phone, Guy was being treated badly in prison, but at least he was alive. Guy gets to have his day in court, Cara read. Ashli Babbitt and Rosanne Boyland did not.
Cara looked into the crowd, into the camera, into the void created by uncertainty.
Say their names, she yelled. Ashli Babbitt! Rosanne Boyland! Ashli Babbitt! Rosanne Boyland!
Has every terrorist been playacting up until the moment of violence, and every freedom fighter? The matter of Guy Reffitt’s bond would largely hinge on whether the judge thought he meant what he said when he said things like I’ll put a bullet in that phone and This is just the beginning. Jackson’s little sister would testify on behalf of her father. (I mean, he paid for that phone, she told the court.)
Jackson moved out after his CNN interview, in order, he says, to give his mom and sisters space to be angry. Suddenly, both men were gone from the brick house. It’s really hard to hear his voice, Nicole says, but she texts him to check in, and on his birthday, she posted, I miss my son so much!! Happy Birthday Jacks … Mom and Dad love you very much!
I will never wish him happy birthday, a relative told Nicole, a comment she repeated to Guy, who said, I have forgiven Jackson. They need to get his name out of their mouth. Both Guy and Nicole talk about how they’re going to get their family back together, though it will take a lot of therapy.
By this time, Guy had been moved to a jail in D.C., where he was placed in what has come to be called the “Patriot Wing” with dozens of other men in captivity exactly two miles from the Capitol they are charged with breaching. The Patriots complain regularly about their treatment at the hands of the American penal system, complaints that are unusual only in that they have been heard. Last night we toured the DC Jail, tweeted Marjorie Taylor Greene in November, expressing a newfound interest in the subject of prison reform. I’ve never seen human suffering like I saw last night. The concerns of the Patriots and others triggered, incredibly, an inspection of the jail by the U.S. Marshals, which found large amounts of standing human sewage and observable injuries with no corresponding medical or incident reports. As a result of the review, 400 detainees were moved, though none from the Patriot Wing.
In anticipation of the bail hearing, Nicole obtained many letters in support of Guy, which spoke in a general way to his kindness. A letter of a slightly different cast came from Sarah’s boyfriend, Cole. I bet that Guy is stunned, Cole wrote, that his son turned him in to the FBI, lied about his safety to keep him in jail, earned money, and also ruined his family’s lives over Guy’s mistake.
The money of which Cole spoke was the result of a GoFundMe Jackson started after his CNN appearance when some well-wishers on Twitter suggested he do so. Guy would not in fact be granted bail, and he remains in the D.C. jail; he has been declared indigent and is relying on a public defender. As of this writing, the GoFundMe titled Jackson Reffitt College Fund stands at $152,900.
Albert Watkins represents the rioter who has come to be called the QAnon Shaman, and when Talking Points Memo asked him about motive, he had this to say: A lot of these defendants — they’re all fucking short-bus people. These are people with brain damage. They’re fucking retarded. They’re on the goddamn spectrum.
Regardless of how we may receive this assessment, which Watkins himself deemed perhaps disrespectful, a country that protects the right to spin fantasy necessarily risks the well-being of those who easily lose themselves to it. Freedom isn’t free is a true thing the right used to say, and the costs of freedom of speech are real costs, borne, in part, by those unskilled at sifting fact from fantasy: the people who join MLMs, who become Scientologists, who lie awake in bed at night worrying over small children drained of adrenochrome. To spear the fact in the sea of grift is not an act of intelligence, exactly, but a kind of sensibility, a certain instinct for grasping the structure of the social world. We like to think of conspiracy theories as outside the realm of intelligent consideration, but the idea of children trafficked via a discount-furniture retailer is not more strange than a network of cages, built to maintain a centuries-old racial hierarchy and kept so cold that Saran Wrap socks register as an act of resistance, in which white rioters who deny the existence of systemic racism now find themselves.
The four-year period in which Guy Reffitt became consumed by various falsehoods was a time when it was normal for people of some education to refer to the leader of the free world as intellectually stunted, and yet it was clear that he possessed the inverse of fact-blindness — a kind of genius for discerning social structure and delegitimizing authority, a man with deep and true intuitions about the rules and how far they would bend, for walking right up to the line and letting others cross it. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. If Watkins’s argument is that one should not imprison people who were incited by a sitting president, some to their own acts of incitement (You’re not going to take away our Trumpy-bear!; We need weapons!), the judge did not find this convincing. A defendant credulous enough to believe he was following Trump’s orders shows an inability (or refusal) to exercise his independent judgment and conform his behavior to the law.
Gina Bisignano, in other words, was a problem the state had no real means to solve, a person especially vulnerable to speech in a society protective of free expression. By late February, in Grady County, she had been imprisoned in one facility or another for over a month, during which she saw the sun exactly once: on the long day when she was transferred from L.A. to Oklahoma. She had been lost in the prison system; had, she says, contracted COVID for a second time at a jail known to be a superspreader site; and had lost 20 pounds by the time a judge agreed to supervised release as she awaited trial for seven charges that would cost her a lifetime’s worth of savings. A guard handed her the Balenciaga sneakers that had been taken from her in L.A. and buzzed her through a door. Her hair was unbrushed and her expression one of fixed panic. Gina had no ID, no credit card, no way to get home, and it was not clear what she would do on the scrubby, sidewalkless Oklahoma streets onto which she was being dumped.
She pushed through a set of glass doors to the space between those and another set of doors, and there, waiting, was a woman named Rachel, just off a long shift of waitressing at a restaurant in Chickasha.
Are you hungry? Rachel asked. Do you want something to drink? Do you want a cigarette? What can I do for you? Rachel was a woman whose church friend had seen a post on Facebook about a woman who needed help. She was four months pregnant when she agreed to end a day spent refilling drinks and throwing up in the bathroom by waiting an hour inside the Grady County Detention Center for a troubled aesthetician from Beverly Hills. Rachel took Gina to Sonic and placed a large Diet Coke in her hands before taking her to the 122-acre farm where she lived with her mother and father. From the front porch, flatland unspooled toward a single pear tree, strong against endless sky. Rachel sat Gina at the kitchen table. A baby sheep hopped about Gina’s legs. The sheep had been born during an ice storm it would not have survived outdoors, and so the family had brought it into the kitchen, and now it thought it was a dog. I bet that was a shock to her normal culture, Rachel said later.
Soon Rachel would drive Gina to another home, the home of the friend she knew from Martha Road Baptist Church. In this home, the kitchen would smell of cookies a man had made for his friends at work, a round woman would root around for clothes that would not fit Gina’s slim form, and the couple’s autistic son, David, would give up his bed for her.
Gina had not slept on a mattress in many weeks. In too-big sweatpants tied at the waist, Gina stood in a boy’s room in rural Oklahoma, beside his bed, under a WWE poster. She crawled in, pulled the covers over her head, and wept.