People are turning in family members, ex-romantic partners they recognize in Capitol riot footage
As millions of Americans watched scenes of pro-Trump mobs attacking the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, some viewers saw something familiar on their TV screens — their own family and friends.
The FBI has been leaning on spouses, siblings, children and former romantic partners who spotted their loved ones assaulting the Capitol and responded by dropping a dime on them.
“There are plenty people, I don’t think it was so hard to report someone (even family),” said Michele Galietta, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
“Does that mean you enjoy it? No. I think it’s regrettable and I think most people would be upset they had to do it, but felt it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Brock was arrested after his former wife of 18 years contacted the FBI National Threat Operations Center on Jan. 8 saying she recognized him in video.
“I just know that when I saw this was happening I was afraid he would be there,” she told an FBI agent, according to an affidavit supporting charges against Brock. “I think you already know he was there. It is such a good picture of him and I recognize his patch.”
Not long after the riot, insurrectionists knew they could be in trouble, with their largely unmasked faces in clear view, especially to family members and friends thousands of miles away.
Accused rioter Guy Reffitt, an apparent member of a Texas militia group, even threatened his adult children if they “crossed the line and reported” him to authorities, according a criminal complaint.
Reffitt allegedly said he would “do what he had to do” to his own family members in such an event, prompting his son to ask: “Are you threatening us?”
“Reffitt responded with words to the effect of, ‘Don’t put words in my mouth,'” FBI Special Agent Thomas Ryan wrote in the criminal complaint against Reffitt. “Son understood (Reffitt’s) statements to be a threat to son’s life.”
Little did Reffitt know, as he allegedly made that threat, that son Jackson Reffitt had apparently already made that call.
“I got in contact with the FBI after the Capitol riots about my dad,” the younger Reffitt told KDFW.
The son claimed that his father had become radicalized and that calling authorities was a last best chance to help him.
“It was my moral compass, kind of, to do what I thought would protect not only my family, but my dad himself,” Jackson Reffitt said. “And it wasn’t just because I think my dad is aggressive, I think what he’s been manipulated into thinking is aggressive.”
The son’s plea for help struck a familiar chord with former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who knows firsthand how family members are often left with no choice but to call authorities to help loved ones.
“The Capitol was obviously bad. But if they’re posting pictures, if they’re taking bows for committing acts like this, then they’re capable of doing much worse,” Van Zandt, whose work helped convince the brother of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to turn him in, told NBC News.
Family members are thinking “I’ve reached the limits of trying to help this person, I am so concerned about their behavior that if they won’t do anything to help themselves, then I have an obligation to try to find ways to help them (and call authorities),” Van Zandt said.
And even when loved ones are not directly helping law enforcement, some are pushing for convictions in the court of public opinion.
Helena Duke, 18, shamed her Trump-supporting mother in a viral tweet when Therese Duke was punched in the face the night before the riots.
Viral video captured a street confrontation in Washington on Jan. 5 when the woman, who was wearing a law enforcement uniform, delivered a quick right fist into Duke’s face, according to NBC Washington.
A police report obtained by NBC News states that “an argument ensued” before Duke was struck.
The younger Duke re-tweeted video of her mother’s encounter and asked, “remember the time you told me I shouldn’t go to BLM protests bc they could get violent … this you?”
The Massachusetts high school senior said she felt compelled to identify her family after coming across the video.
“I definitely feel like they should be held accountable for their actions,” Helena Duke told NBC News. “This is horrific. It was really disgusting.”
The teenager felt her mother was “hypocritical” over the summer for labeling Black Lives Matter activists as members of a “violent organization” before going to Washington ahead of the mayhem.
“But seen as she is in this video at a violent event, inciting violence and then getting injured,” the teen said. “It was just, it was so hypocritical of her.”
The nation’s growing political polarization and flood of disinformation has turned the momentary discomfort at the holiday dinner tables into calls to the FBI.
“It’s this mob mentality and cult-like feeling to it, so there’s a real concern of where we’re headed and seeing a loved one being part of it,” said Elizabeth Jeglic, another psychology professor at John Jay College.
“This is not Uncle Bob or Aunt Jane anymore. This is a mob of people attacking our nation, our freedom our values and that is not what your family values are about. When you see that, it can be very devastating. It’s like a betrayal of your family and you want to keep your family values whole.”
And a former romantic partner of the woman accused of stealing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop — with alleged plans to give it to Russia — during the riots is cooperating with authorities, according to court documents.
Riley June Williams was charged with disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds with intent to disturb a session of Congress, among other charges, based on information provided by a former boyfriend.
She surrendered to authorities on Jan. 18.
William’s ex told an FBI agent that she “intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service,” according to a criminal complaint.