LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — An accused Capitol rioter arrested in Las Vegas weeks after the Jan. 6 insurrection said he got caught up in a mob mentality, adding former President Donald Trump incited his actions.
The FBI arrested Ronald “Ronnie” Sandlin outside of Nathan “Nate” DeGrave’s apartment near the Las Vegas Strip on Jan. 29. The FBI had surveilled DeGrave’s residence and noticed Sandlin’s truck parked outside, documents filed in January said. DeGrave, who spoke to the I-Team in October, is also charged for his role in the riot.
Almost a year after Jan. 6, Sandlin told the I-Team the protest got out of hand.
“It’s been a really rough year for me,” he said from a Washington jail.
Sandlin, 34, an internet marketer, lived in Las Vegas for several years before moving to Tennessee to be closer to family in 2020. He said he intended to return to Las Vegas soon after.
Sandlin had written on social media in January that he had planned to drive to Washington from Memphis. According to court documents, a post from Sandlin said he was asking for money through a GoFundMe page.
“Who is going to Washington D.C. on the 6th of January?” a post provided to authorities in court documents said. “I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon. If you are a patriot I believe it’s your duty to be there.”
Sandlin, DeGrave and a third man, Josiah Colt, met in Washington to attend the president’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. Prosecutors said the trio came to the area with weapons. Sandlin had a knife with him during the Capitol riot, but did not use or show it, prosecutors said.
“I’ve worn the MAGA cap outside and have had people spit on me,” Sandlin said. “We’ve had years where if you support Donald Trump — you are, you could be subject to violence. All of our conversations of, when we talked about violence was, ‘Hey we need to protect ourselves against violence. We need to make sure we are prepared to defend ourselves.’”
No community where Sandlin is known to have resided, including Las Vegas, can find a record of him voting this past presidential cycle, the I-Team reported last winter. However, Sandlin told the I-Team he mailed in a ballot.
There is no record of him voting.
Video from Jan. 6 shows Sandlin in the Capitol building. At one point, he is in the gallery of the U.S. Senate Chamber. Video evidence shows Sandlin trying to rip a helmet off a police officer and opening up doors to the Senate chamber, prosecutors said.
Sandlin was also seen on video smoking weed inside the building. He is heard on the video saying, “People are smoking weed in here. Thank you, patriot. We made history in here,” according to court documents.
Sandlin is also seen carrying a camera. He and DeGrave previously said they were there to document the day, planning to sell the footage.
In a bond hearing last spring Judge Dabney Friedrich denied Sandlin’s request to be released into the custody of his parents while awaiting trial. Friedrich cited the government’s evidence that Sandlin has been texting with family and friends from inside his D.C. jail cell.
“I’m in a cell block with all Capitol people,” Sandlin texted on March 30, court documents said. “I’m proud to call them my friends we stood up for what we believed in and sacrificed. I’m looking forward to being a free man again and hopping on my motorcycle and riding off into the sunset far away from people and their machinations.”
Sandlin also wrote he is writing a book about his experience and hoped to turn it into a movie.
“I knew we took it too far. I knew that there would be consequences,” Sandlin told the I-Team.
Among the other evidence prosecutors have filed against him, a 10-minute video taken between the rally and the Capitol breach. In the video, Sandlin, DeGrave and the third man are eating at a restaurant and talking about their plan.
“I think it’s time to take the Capitol. I don’t say that lightly,” Sandlin said.
Sandlin said he came to Washington, in part, due to his belief of widespread voter fraud. Even before Jan. 6, leaders of both parties, including then-Attorney General Bill Barr, a Republican, said the former president’s claims of fraud were lies.
“I think that you know when you say, that ‘You’ve got to fight for your country, otherwise we’re going to have [inaudible], that we’re going to go to the Capitol, I mean, he’s one of the most powerful persons in the world,” Sandlin said about former President Trump.
“Freedom is paid for with blood and tyranny always masquerades itself as safety and security,” Sandlin said in the video.
Sandlin told the I-Team his comments were taken out of context.
“It was a political rally,” he said. “There’s going to be political hyperbole, you know, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ We got caught up in the moment. We got caught up in a mob mentality.”
Sandlin said he believed something could be done to overturn the election by going to the Capitol, possibly by swaying lawmakers’ decision to certify the vote.
“The videos show one thing, but that’s not always the full truth,” Sandlin said. “If people actually talk to us, I think that they would realize that we’re normal Americans and we have a lot more in common with each other than differences.”
Sandlin spent the first several months in jail alone in his cell, he said. He describes himself as a political prisoner.
“We should never allow this to happen to an American citizen again,” he said.
Sandlin faces a dozen charges connected to Jan. 6, including assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers, civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting. He has pleaded not guilty.
During a detention hearing in federal court in February, Sandlin asked a judge to “have mercy on” him. The judge noted Sandlin owes $500,000 in back taxes.
Five people died in the insurrection.
A fundraiser for Sandlin had raised 4% of its goal as of Friday.
Five people died in the riot, including an officer for the Capitol police. Federal prosecutors have filed charges stemming from the breach against more than 675 people so far.