Opinion: Our tri-state region's connection to the Jan. 6 violence

AP file photo / In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo violent insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump try to pull away a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

Jan. 6 has become a day so tragic that it - like 9/11 and the Dec. 7 - will remain both known and infamous simply by date alone.

But unlike those other days, what early modicum of national and political unity was sparked by the sight of a violent and deluded mob overrunning our nation's Capitol, ransacking it, injuring more than 140 police officers, threatening the lives of lawmakers and the vice president did not last.

Instead, the rancor of that day has grown to fuel still more bitter divisions - widened by the continuing lies of the former president who invited the violence then reveled in it.

Now we wait as those responsible for the violence - both on the ground and in high places - are brought to justice. The FBI has classified the mob's attack as an act of domestic terrorism, and the Justice Department calls the effort for accountability "the biggest criminal investigation in U.S. history."

Of the estimated 2,000-strong mob in that would-be coup, the FBI so far has indicted 727 people. Among those charged, nearly 50 are from Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Of the overall total, 173 already have pleaded guilty to one or more charges. Judges have sentenced 74 people, and to date 45% of those sentenced received prison time. The average prison sentence across all defendants who pleaded guilty is 115 days, according to a National Public Radio database updated on Jan. 5.

Here are snapshots of a few.

U.S. attorneys say a Middle Tennessee, then-sheriff's deputy (and former Cherokee County, Georgia, sheriff's deputy), 27-year-old Ronald Colton McAbee of Unionville (near Shelbyville) was the man seen in an officer's body camera footage fighting a Metropolitan Police Department officer and dragging another Metro officer into the mob.

Video captured during the riot shows a man the FBI identified as McAbee wearing a red MAGA hat and black tactical vest with a sheriff patch and an insignia with the Roman numeral III encircled in stars - an emblem associated with the Three Percenters anti-government militia movement. The man in the video believed to be McAbee also was wearing black gloves with hard metal-colored knuckles.

Prosecutors said after McAbee assaulted a fellow law enforcement officer, he tried to use his status as an officer to gain access inside the Capitol, according to the Nashville Tennessean. The video captured during the riot shows him appearing to hurt his shoulder as the crowd surged the Capitol police line. (Authorities later learned McAbee was on leave from the Williamson County Sheriff's Office during the riot because of an injured shoulder and hip from a car accident on Dec. 27, 2020, according to The Tennessean.) He was seen bent over apparently in pain in the archway of the Capitol, and he said his shoulder was broken. He then pointed to the sheriff patch and told Capitol police he couldn't go back the way he came.

He was arrested in Nashville about seven months later, and in a pre-trial motion prosecutors pointed to his actions as "powerful evidence of his lack of regard for legal authority." He tried to use his status as a law enforcement officer to gain access, despite having just assaulted several Capitol officers. Prosecutors also argued he was a "spoke in the wheel" that caused the riot.

McAbee's two stints as a sheriff's deputy make him a seasoned law enforcement officer now accused of trying to hurt other law enforcement officers.

So much for "Blue Lives Matter."

But McAbee was by no means the only law enforcement officer or military veteran among the 18 Tennesseans, 17 Georgians and 12 Alabamians who've been charged for their part in the insurrection.

At least 97 or 13% of those charged in the would-be coup have either military or law enforcement ties, according to NPR

Locally, you may remember another one: 40-year-old Joseph Lino Padilla of nearby Cleveland, who, according to the FBI, fought officers at a barricade and threw a flagpole at officers on the steps leading into the Capitol. Padilla was honorably discharged as an E-5 sergeant from the Tennessee Army National Guard in 2012. He has pleaded not guilty.

Before McAbee's arrest, perhaps the most memorable Tennessee participant was "the zip tie guy" seen in commando gear carrying make-shift handcuffs and hopping over seats in the Senate Chambers. His name is Eric Gavelek Munchel and he was a bartender from Nashville. He has pleaded not guilty.

Other Volunteer State accused rioters include Michael Timbrook of Cookeville, Michael Lee Roche of Murfreesboro, Bryan Wayne Ivey of Crossville and Matthew Baggott of Woodbury.

In Georgia, standouts include Lisa Marie Eisenhart - mother of the zip-tie-guy - and a nurse from Woodstock. Jack Wade Whitton, a Locust Grove fitness trainer, is accused of using a crutch to attack an Metropolitan police officer.

There also is Jonathan Davis Laurens of Duluth, Cleveland Grover Meredith of Atlanta. Meredith, a graduate of the University of the South, was accused also of threatening U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 28 months in prison.

It's good to see these cases continue to be probed and prosecuted. It will be better still to see the organizers, orchestrators and enablers held accountable - including the former president.

Each day, with these investigations and the Jan. 6 committee probe, we know more of the details of this horrible other "day of infamy." As hard as it is to watch again and again, we must. Our democracy and our freedom depend on the truth being shone.