WASHINGTON — A jury is expected to begin deliberating Tuesday over the fate of a former sheriff’s deputy and Donald Trump supporter who pleaded guilty to assaulting one officer at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — but contends he was trying to help another.
Ronald Colton McAbee of Tennessee, who was on medical leave from his law enforcement job during the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge of assaulting, resisting or impeding an officer, as well as a misdemeanor charge of an act of physical violence on the Capitol grounds. McAbee, now 29, admitted that he “swung his arms and hands” toward an officer’s head and torso, making contact with the officer while he was wearing reinforced gloves.
McAbee is on trial on a host of other charges, including assaulting a different law enforcement official: Washington Metropolitan Police Officer Andrew Wayle. McAbee was on top of Wayle as Wayle slid down the stairs by the lower west tunnel, where some of the most brutal violence of the day took place.
McAbee was known to online “Sedition Hunters” as #ThreePercentSheriff, because he wore both a sheriff’s patch and a III% patch on his protective vest. He was first arrested in August 2021 and was one of a limited number of Jan. 6 defendants ordered held in pretrial detention.
The III% movement is a far-right, anti-government movement based upon the myth that just 3% of colonialists rebelled against the British during the American Revolution.
McAbee was on medical leave from work because he sustained a shoulder injury in a car accident — he testified on the stand last week that his car flipped 12 times after he fell asleep at the wheel — but he decided to travel to Washington anyway.
“Let’s link up and go,” McAbee wrote to an associate before the attack. “I’ll slap a commie with this dead arm.” After the friend said he was speaking with his child about what could happen to him in Washington, McAbee said they were in the fight together.
“I will rise or fall along side you. This is for future generations,” McAbee wrote.
Testifying on the stand last week, McAbee said that he watched Fox News and Newsmax and listened to conservative host Mark Levin’s radio show in the lead-up to the Capitol attack and that belief in conspiracy theories about the 2020 election was very common in his rural farm community. He said he came to Washington, a city he had visited only on an eighth grade field trip, because he wanted to see Trump for what he thought could be the last time.
“I wanted to see the president speak,” McAbee said. “I honestly thought that would be his last rally.”
McAbee said he felt shame and embarrassment about how he acted during the Capitol assault.
“My conduct that day was not acceptable for who I am or my character,” McAbee said. “I feel like I could have made better decisions and choices.”
Echoing the phrase Trump used in 2016 to describe his recorded claims that he could sexually assault women and get away with it, McAbee said his language ahead of Jan. 6 was “locker room talk” and bravado.
“I truly believe I was trying to help Officer Wayle,” McAbee said. “There was not intention to hurt the officer.”
McAbee accompanied Wayle back to the police line and then tried to save a rioter, Rosanne Boyland, who was not breathing and was soon declared dead.
After the attack, McAbee took a smiling photo posing with a newspaper that read “INSURRECTION” and sent messages bragging about his activity.
“I’ve shed blood for my country. By the hands of the swamp,” he wrote in a message after Jan. 6. “I will shed more in the days to come. But I will not forget the Oath I swore years ago to protect the America I once knew.”
McAbee’s attorney told jurors that McAbee has admitted to wrongdoing on Jan. 6 — assaulting an officer who pushed him back during the scuffle — but that McAbee did not intend to assault Officer Wayle.
“He was angry,” McAbee’s lawyer Benjamin Schiffelbein told jurors, but “he does not get blinded by his anger.” Finding him not guilty of those charges “does not excuse his other assault,” Schiffelbein argued, drawing an objection from the prosecution.