Ex-police chief, 5 others charged in Capitol riot conspiracy

Politics

The U.S. Capitol is seen under dark skies in Washington, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, as barriers remain six months after the Jan. 6 attack. A Senate report examining security failures surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol blames missed intelligence, poor planning and multiple layers of bureaucracy for the deadly siege. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A former California police chief and five other men have been indicted on conspiracy charges in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to court documents made public Thursday.

The men — four of whom prosecutors say identify as members of the Three Percenters antigovernment extremist movement — are accused of plotting with one another to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

Among those charged is a former La Habra police chief and founder of a far-right group called the American Phoenix Project, which was formed to protest pandemic-related restrictions and has helped pushed the lie that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

In court documents, authorities describe how the group’s founder, Alan Hostetter, in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 called for violence against those who supported the results of the election. During a “Stop the Steal” rally held in Huntington Beach on Dec. 12, Hostetter warned that “Trump must be inaugurated on Jan. 20th.”

“And he must be allowed to finish this historic job of cleaning out the corruption in the cesspool known as Washington D.C. The enemies and traitors of America both foreign and domestics must be held accountable. And they will. There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of this coup,” Hostetter said, according to the indictment.

Bilal Essayli, Hostetter’s lawyer, said his client surrendered to authorities.

A judge on Thursday allowed Hostetter to keep any guns he had inside his home after his attorney argued that the family had received death threats, and the judge set his bail at $20,000, the Orange County Register reported.

“From what I can tell in the indictment, my client is not accused of committing any violence,” Essayli said. “He did not enter the actual Capitol building, so we’re very troubled with the nature and the extent of the charges that are brought.”

Authorities say communications show how the men coordinated their travel to Washington and efforts to block the peaceful transition of power. In late December, one of the men, Russell Taylor, posted in a Telegram chat in response to a question about when to be at the Capitol on Jan. 6: “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!”

The six men joined a Telegram chat called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade” along with more than 30 other people ahead of the riot, authorities said. Taylor wrote that the chat was being used to “organize a group of fighters to have each other’s backs” and asked them to identify if they had any pervious law enforcement or military experience or “special skills relevant to our endeavors.”

Days before the Capitol breach, Hostetter warned in a post on the American Phoenix Project’s Instagram account that “things are going to come a head in the U.S. in the next several days.”

Four of the men — Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele— drove across the country together from California to D.C.

Warner, Mele and Kinnison appeared via video for a federal court hearing in Riverside where each was ordered released on $25,000 bond, while Martinez was freed on bond at a Texas hearing, authorities said.

“This is nothing more than Big Brother trying to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens who were exercising their constitutional liberties,” Kinnison’s attorney, Nic Cocis, said in a statement, the Register reported.

Taylor was taken into custody Thursday evening and was to be held overnight pending a scheduled court hearing Friday, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

The night before the Capitol breach, Taylor sent a photo in a chat that showed gear, including two hatchets, a walkie-talkie-radio, a stun baton and a knife, authorities said. In the caption, Taylor wrote, “Now getting ready for tomorrow.”

As the mob swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 6, Taylor — who authorities say was carrying a knife in a pocket — and Hostetter were part of the group trying to push through a line of officers on the lower West Terrace, authorities say. When they got to the upper West Terrace, Hostetter declared that “the people have taken back their house” while Taylor yelled to the rioters, “Inside!”

That night, Taylor boasted in messages about storming the Capitol but said he didn’t go inside because he had weapons, authorities said. Someone asked Taylor what happens next and he responded, “Insurrection!”

Messages were left for the attorneys listed on the court’s website for Warner and Mele.

The U.S. Department of Justice has brought similar conspiracy cases against members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys far-right extremist groups in its sweeping prosecution of the insurrection. More than 450 people across the U.S. are facing federal charges stemming from the riot. Two defendants have pleaded guilty so far.

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Associated Press reporter Amy Taxin contributed to this report from Orange County, California.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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