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Former O.C. police chief, five others indicted on Capitol riot conspiracy charges

The LA Times logo The LA Times 6/10/2021 Anita Chabria, Paige St. John, Richard Winton, Hannah Fry, Del Quentin Wilber
a man standing in front of a crowd: Alan Hostetter clings to a fence at the Pier Bowl parking lot on May 21, 2020, during a rally in San Clemente. (Shawn Raymundo / San Clemente Times) © (Shawn Raymundo / San Clemente Times) Alan Hostetter clings to a fence at the Pier Bowl parking lot on May 21, 2020, during a rally in San Clemente. (Shawn Raymundo / San Clemente Times)

Two Orange County extremists — a former police chief and his partner in organizing Stop the Steal rallies — have been indicted along with members of the Three Percenters militia for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Alan Hostetter, former chief of the La Habra police department, faces charges along with fellow Californians Russell Taylor, Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele on multiple counts.

Though all are charged with being in restricted areas of the Capitol, Warner, a registered nurse, is the sole indictee to be accused of entering the building, via a broken window. Kinnison and Warner are charged with destroying evidence, while Taylor also faces a weapons count for carrying a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches.

The grand jury indictment, unsealed Thursday, alleges the men conspired on social media prior to the riot — including on a Telegram channel dubbed California Patriots - Answer the Call Jan. 6 and via text messages — creating travel plans that included discussion of bringing weapons to the Capitol. On the day of the riot, they breached off-limits areas of the Capitol and encouraged others to do so as well, posting videos and pictures as they went, the indictment says.

The charges and subsequent arraignment were fuel to the fire for Hostetter, who used his Facebook page, which has more than 2,200 followers, to continue his claim that accounts of the Capitol siege are inflated and part of a larger conspiracy. He likened the riot to the 1933 Reichstag fire, an arson attack on Germany's capitol that Adolf Hitler used to justify conspiratorial attacks on communists.

Hostetter said, "I plan on fighting and fighting and fighting, like I always do ... there is a whole lot more to this story than what meets the eye."

The indictment — the latest related to the riot — is not the first time federal prosecutors have accused those participating of conspiring together, charges mostly stemming from attempts to erase social media postings after the event or communicate via radio during the insurrection. Members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers already have been charged with conspiracy. But the indictment of the six California men is the first time multiple members or associates of the Three Percenters have faced that criminal accusation.

On Wednesday, new charges were also released against a previously indicted Northern California man, alleging Tommy Allan, 53, of Rocklin, stole a U.S. flag and Senate documents while inside the Capitol. Since Jan. 6, about 465 people have been arrested on charges related to the Capitol breach, with more than 130 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

In the Hostetter case, prosecutors allege that as early as November, the six men were communicating on social media platforms including Telegram about their anger over the results of the presidential election. Kinnison, Mele, Warner and Martinez allegedly joined a chat started by Taylor in January, introducing themselves as "part of so cal 3%," a reference to the anti-government militia known for attracting military and law enforcement members. Taylor, according to court documents, described the Telegram channel as serving as the communications point for militants traveling to the Capitol.

As their trip to Washington grew closer, the men posted about bringing shotguns, radios with ear pieces and ammunition.

On Dec. 29, prosecutors allege Taylor wrote on Telegram that, "I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!"

That same day, Taylor texted Hostetter to ask if he was bringing firearms, according to the indictment. Hostetter allegedly replied, "NO NEVER (Instagram now monitors all text messages ... this has been a public service announcement.)" Hostetter then texted three emojis of "faces laughing with tears coming out of their eyes," the court documents allege.

At the rally, prosecutors allege that Taylor urged on rioters attempting to push through police, yelling, "Move forward Americans." Videos from the Jan. 6 riot show Taylor joining a mob outside the Capitol doors screaming at a line of police, and at times attempting to push through them.

Hostetter is visible in videos with his bullhorn. Social media pictures showed Hostetter and Taylor grinning from one of the terraces while the Capitol was under siege.

Martinez and Kinnison, wearing a gas mask, were present among rioters on the restricted Upper West Terrace of the Capitol, while Mele shot a selfie on his cellphone, declaring, "We stormed the Capitol," according to the court filing.

Hostetter surrendered in Santa Ana, and was arraigned and released on $20,000 bail Thursday. He did not enter a plea, but was ordered to appear via Zoom for a hearing Monday.

Martinez appeared in a Texas court Thursday morning and Mele, Kinnison and Warner will appear in a Riverside court.

Reached by phone, Martinez said he was searching for a lawyer and to call back in 48 hours.

Kinnison, Warner and Mele could not immediately be reached for comment. Public records indicate Kinnison owns a pressure washing company in Lake Elsinore that he started this year. Mele is a salesman with a French-owned dairy products company, according to his LinkedIn profile.

None of the four alleged militia members appears to have faced significant criminal charges in the past. Mele and Warner have each filed for bankruptcy previously.

Hostetter is also facing misdemeanor charges in Orange County related to a San Clemente protest over coronavirus restrictions in May 2020. He was accused of resisting arrest, trespassing and refusal to disperse when ordered. He pleaded not guilty and said he intends to go to trial.

"He sees himself as a ... as a civil rights activist. And he's willing to challenge the government and assert his rights," said his lawyer, Bilal Essayli.

Essayli said he was "very troubled" by the indictment in the Jan. 6 riot and that Hostetter "did nothing more than exercise his 1st Amendment rights."

Essayli, a former federal prosecutor, said Hostetter's location at the Capitol has been occupied by protesters in other events before Jan. 6 without charges, and that his client is not a conspirator with those named in the court filing.

"He doesn't know many of the people on this indictment. They are just people on a message chat," Essayli said. "There is no allegation he ever entered the Capitol. He wasn't even the tip of people outside the Capitol."

Taylor's attorney, Dyke Huish, said his client would "challenge where appropriate" the government's allegations and planned to "appear tomorrow."

"After six months of not hearing anything, we were very surprised at the government's position" Huish said.

Huish described the American Phoenix Project, the organization Hostetter founded to promote his beliefs, and that Taylor participated in, as "three dudes that organized some things and gave speeches."

The indictments of Hostetter and Taylor are the latest chapter in the turbulent transformation of a ponytailed yoga instructor and a print shop operator into suburban radicals.

Hostetter found a second life in the new age industry after leaving law enforcement — he was sworn in as chief of the La Habra police department in January 2010. But by May of that year, he was out on medical leave and by August had taken a disability retirement citing mental health reasons, according to documents released to The Times under a Public Records Act request.

Taylor is a tech entrepreneur who called his red Corvette the “Patriot Missile" and formed a community group that policed local Black Lives Matter events, claiming they were protecting their neighborhood.

The two men appeared to have formed a bond in recent months over their shared disdain for coronavirus restrictions, and later, a false belief that the presidential election outcome was falsified through illegal voting and conspiracies involving the machines that counted votes. Those theories have been widely debunked.

But the two were leaders in organizing Stop the Steal rallies in California, and planning the trip to Washington, D.C., according to court papers.

Hostetter has since resumed activism, helping to lead protests against a proposed vaccine identification card meant to help local businesses as they reopen to the public, but he and Taylor have tried to distance themselves from the DC insurrection.

Three weeks after that violent clash, FBI agents with the support of SWAT officers searched the homes of Hostetter and Taylor. In his private Telegram channel, Taylor portrayed himself as the victim.

“The fbi is fully weaponized against patriots,” he said in a message reposted to Facebook. “I never went into the Capitol, no violence no damage to property. All this for waving a flag and singing the national anthem!”

Taylor’s lawyer offered a different description, conceding his client carried a knife onto Capitol grounds but saying he didn’t enter the building and was “caught up in a wave of rhetoric and excitement.”

“Russ Taylor is a normal person who got very emotionally wrapped up in his belief in those freedoms that made America the America he believes in,” Huish told The Times in March.

What happened, Taylor’s lawyer said, is a “cautionary tale of when there’s too much political noise that one can’t see clearly.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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