Yogi-Turned-‘Stop the Steal’ Protest Organizer Indicted for Jan. 6 Conspiracy

·5 min read
Twitter/Mother Jones
Twitter/Mother Jones

A California police-chief-turned-yoga-instructor-turned-“Stop the Steal”-organizer has been indicted on conspiracy charges, along with five other alleged Capitol rioters, for their role in the events of Jan. 6.

And the ahistorical, far-right militia group prosecutors say they belonged to is now squarely in federal crosshairs.

Alan Hostetter was indicted Wednesday on four charges, along with fellow Californians Russell Taylor, 40; Erik Scott Warner, 45; Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, 47; Derek Kinnison, 39; and Ronald Mele, 51.

The men are all members of the Three Percenters militia group, the indictment states, and allegedly brought two-way radios, bear spray, knives, stun batons, bulletproof vests, and a range of other weaponry to use in storming the Capitol. Seamus Hughes, a researcher with Program on Extremism at George Washington University, first reported on the unsealed indictment.

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The indictment is not the first time the feds have accused rioters of conspiring together before the unprecedented and deadly attack intended to stave off a Joe Biden presidency. Members of two other extremist groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, have also been charged with conspiracy offenses. And at least one baseball-bat-wielding suspected Three Percenter associate was charged as far back as mid-January.

But these are the first riot-related conspiracy charges to be slapped against a group of Three Percenters, described by the Anti-Defamation League as a militia movement that supports the idea of a small number of dedicated “patriots” protecting Americans from government tyranny.

Their name stems from the false claim that only 3 percent of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against the British.

Federal law enforcement signaled an interest in Taylor and Hostetter as early as February, when FBI agents executed search warrants on their Orange County, California, homes.

Hostetter, a 56-year-old former police chief in La Habra, California, became a yoga instructor after he retired from law enforcement and then took up the cause of anti-lockdown protests through an organization he founded, the American Phoenix Project.

As the election drew closer, the Phoenix Project’s activism shifted focus from pandemic restrictions to pro-Trump activism and, following the president’s loss, attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

During one November election protest in D.C., Hostetter called for blood and demanded that “some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.” At another, he called for Trump detractors to be executed.

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Taylor, an ally of Hostetter and a fellow activist in the Phoenix Project attended the rallies preceding the attack on the Capitol and spoke about the day with violent imagery, warning that “in these streets we will fight and we will bleed before we allow our freedom to be taken from us.”

Thursday’s indictment alleges that, in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” protest in D.C., the men organized travel plans and signaled a clear intention to become violent if they deemed it necessary.

In one Telegram group chat, titled “The California Patriots-Answer the Call Jan 6,” they spoke about renting cars and booking hotel rooms at D.C.’s Kimpton George Hotel.

“I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!” Taylor wrote to the group on Dec. 29, according to the indictment.

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They formed another Telegram group on Jan. 1 with more than 30 others, titled “The California Patriots-DC Brigade.” The group’s description said it would serve as “comms for able bodied individuals” who were “all ready and willing to fight.”

In messages, they discussed bringing weaponry to D.C. including “shotties” and “long irons.” “Shorter the better, mine will be able to be stashed under the seat,” Mele wrote, according to the indictment. Kinnison allegedly responded with a selfie of himself wearing a bandolier of shotgun ammunition.

After traveling together to D.C., Taylor spoke at a Virginia Women for Trump rally on Jan. 5, decrying “a communist coup that is set to take over America,” and vowing that “we will fight and we will bleed before we allow our freedoms to be taken.”

Later that night, the indictment says, he texted a photo to the Telegram group showing military gear laid out on his hotel room bed, including a stun gun and a knife. “Now getting ready for tomorrow,” he wrote.

The following day, after Trump’s now infamous speech to “fight like hell,” the men marched towards the Capitol and, like hundreds of others, became part of the swarm of thousands trying to overcome police and smash their way into the building, according to the indictment.

Warner climbed through a broken window, prosecutors say. Taylor—who was armed with a knife—and Hostetter allegedly pushed through a line of cops trying to guard the lower West Terrace. Martinez, who was wearing a plate-carrier vest, and Kinnison joined rioters trying to push through another entrance, the indictment says.

Like so many Capitol riot suspects, the group do not appear to have considered that they might be documenting evidence of their own federal crimes: Mele is accused of taking a selfie video from the steps saying, “We stormed the Capitol!”

“I was pushing through traitors all day,” Taylor wrote to the Telegram group that evening, according to the indictment.

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