Jeffrey Sabol: The Radicalization of a Colorado Insurrectionist

Jeffrey Sabol, in tan jacket and backpack, leans over prone police officer during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Jeffrey Sabol, in tan jacket and backpack, leans over prone police officer during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Department of Justice
A fascinating new report attempts to shed light on the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol through an investigation into a single participant: Jeffrey Sabol, one of several Coloradans facing federal charges as a result of their actions on that fateful day. The piece meticulously documents how a seemingly mild-mannered geophysicist and divorced father of three living in the bucolic community of Kittredge was radicalized by a steady stream of falsehoods that grew into an obsession that ended in violence.

Bill McCarthy's "Misinformation and the Jan. 6 Insurrection: When 'Patriot Warriors' Were Fed Lies" was published this week by PolitiFact, a nonprofit affiliate of the Poynter Institute that describes itself as "a nonpartisan fact-checking website."

The narrative begins at 4:30 p.m. Monday, January 11, when police responding to an erratic-driving report stopped a Nissan Versa near the border between New York and New Jersey. Inside the vehicle, they found Sabol, 51, who was "covered in blood, with gashes across his arms and thighs," McCarthy writes. They also found razor blades used in what's characterized as a suicide attempt and an airline e-ticket to Switzerland, as well as a teal backpack and a tan Carhartt jacket.

The latter two items were used to identify Sabol as one of the participants in the January 6 Capitol invasion. U.S. Justice Department documents cited by McCarthy contend that Sabol "raced up the Capitol steps and yanked a baton away from an officer who had been knocked down. Other rioters dragged the officer into the crowd, where he was kicked, struck, beaten, stomped on, stripped of his helmet and maced. Sabol then joined other rioters as they dragged a second officer down the steps. Prosecutors allege that Sabol held the baton to that officer’s back and helped pull him further into the crowd, where another person struck the officer with a flagpole, an American flag flapping from its end."

The teal backpack and tan jacket can be clearly seen in this video:

What factors propelled Sabol to this particular time and place? McCarthy doesn't find many answers in Sabol's background. He was born in Utica, New York, and raised in nearby Waterville, a town with a population under 2,000. His mom was a nurse, his dad was a science teacher, and he had two siblings: a brother who worked as an attorney before taking up teaching, and a sister who become an Army colonel, although her original specialty was dentistry.

After graduating from SUNY Cortland, Sabol began his career as a physicist. Among other things, McCarthy reveals, he traveled to military sites around the world to remove unexploded munitions. While in Hawaii, he met Shari Stoltz, whom he later married. They raised their family in Colorado, and Sabol pursued an active lifestyle, playing rugby, camping, climbing, snowboarding and volunteering for a horse-riding organization focused on kids.

Back then, according to letters submitted on Sabol's behalf following his arrest, he seldom talked politics, loved "hippie" music made by the likes of Dead and Company, and once painted over "crude and racial graffiti" near a town creek.

"Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort," wrote a retired schoolteacher who'd volunteered with Sabol.

But following the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, Sabol's personality began to change, McCarthy suggests. He started writing emails to the White House and affixed a "Don't Tread on Me" sticker to his truck. The process reportedly escalated following his 2011 divorce from Stoltz and the 2014 death of his brother from a heart attack.

During an April court appearance, Jon Norris, who was then Sabol's attorney (he has since signed on with a different lawyer), stated that Sabol "himself is not particularly political up until the recent events where the ‘stopping the steal’ became politicized. Now I think he reached a point in his life a few years ago when his eldest brother passed away that was very traumatic for him, and he kind of lost one of the anchors in his life, and he started listening to more politics than he had in the past. And I think that explains why he was motivated enough to come to Washington, D.C."

After the riot, Sabol returned to Colorado, but he appears to have been concerned about being identified as an insurrectionist. Court documents cited by McCarthy maintain that he "fried" some electronic devices in a microwave, moved weapons from his home to another location, and then flew to Boston with the intention of continuing on to Switzerland. But before he could board the second plane, he spotted police at the airport and fled, driving south in a rental car. En route, he tossed his phone out the window and tried to kill himself. Then he was stopped by the police.

During the April hearing, attorney Norris said that Sabol "realizes he was misguided, he was wrong, he had been lied to about the election being stolen and stopping the steal."

Sabol remains in federal custody.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts