SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS) — Retired La Habra Police Chief Alan Hostetter, a prominent COVID-19 restrictions critic and activist, was indicted along with five other Southern California men in connection with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
Hostetter, a 56-year-old yoga instructor who lives in San Clemente, was charged along with Russell Taylor, 40, of Ladera Ranch, and four Riverside County men — Erik Scott Warner, 45, of Menifee, Felipe Antonio "Tony" Martinez, 47, of Lake Elsinore, Derek Kinnison, 39, of Lake Elsinore, and Ronald Mele, 51, of Temecula.
According to prosecutors, the defendants discussed and planned a cross-country road trip to the Capitol and promoted events sponsored by Hostetter's American Phoenix Project, which opposes COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and has helped pushed the lie that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Kinnison wrote in one message that he, Martinez, Mele and Warner were part of "SoCal 3%," which prosecutors say refers to the Three Percenters antigovernment extremist movement.
Warner is accused of starting a group text message thread on Dec. 28 with Mele, Kinnison and Martinez in which they talked about the road trip. The next day, Hostetter and Taylor had a discussion over text about whether to bring guns, prosecutors allege.
The Telegram chat was started on Jan. 1 with more than 30 others, prosecutors said. Taylor said on the chat, "I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well," prosecutors allege.
Hostetter made his initial appearance Thursday afternoon before in federal court in Santa Ana and was released on a $20,000 signature bond and ordered to participate in a virtual arraignment hearing at 11 a.m. Monday, according to his attorney, Bilal Essayli.
"We will enter a not guilty plea," Essayli told City News Service.
The defense attorney said he wasn't aware of the Three Percenter militia group prior to Thursday afternoon's hearing.
"That's the first time I've ever heard of that term," Essayli said, telling CNS his client is " not a Three Percenter... I think it's a reach at best. It seems a little gratuitous."
Hostetter is "an activist," the attorney said. "He has strong views and speaks strongly. He's not a violent person, not a criminal. "Even (the judge) asked if the government was aware of any facts that he engaged in any violence and use of weapons and they said no. I just think it's really concerning when the government is charging people with federal felonies for engaging in First Amendment rights. I don't recall anyone from Antifa, Code Pink or the (Supreme Court Justice) Brett Kavanaugh hearings being arrested for disrupting Congress. There does seem to be a huge double standard."
According to court documents, Hostetter in the weeks leading up to the insurrection called for violence against those who supported the results of the election, including warning at a Dec. 12 "Stop the Steal" rally in Huntington Beach 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 has a pending case in Orange County Superior Court for misdemeanor resisting arrest and refusal to disperse, as well as an infraction for trespassing during a stay-at-home order protest in San Clemente on May 21. Last week he pleaded not guilty to those charges and was ordered to return to court for a pretrial hearing Sept. 9 at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.
According to the federal indictment, during one exchange on Dec. 29 on social media, Taylor asked Hostetter, "Alan, are you bringing firearms?" And Hostetter replied, "NO. NEVER (Instagram now monitors all text messages... this has been a public service announcement)," which was "followed by three emojis of faces laughing with tears coming out of their eyes," according to the indictment.
Taylor posted a photo on an encrypted service on Jan. 5 in his hotel room showing "gear arranged on a bed, including a khaki backpack, black pate-carrier vest, two hatchets, a walkie talkie-type radio, a stun baton, helmet, scarf and a knife," according to the indictment, which said it was captioned, "Now getting ready for tomorrow."
Taylor, Hostetter and other unidentified people met in the early morning hours of Jan. 6 in downtown Washington before heading to a rally led by former President Donald Trump, according to the indictment. Taylor had on a plate-carrier vest with a knife in it, and carried a Stun baton in his backpack, prosecutors allege.
Hostetter and Taylor "remained outside the secure area of the Ellipse where President Trump was speaking because they were carrying `personal protective gear' that was not allowed inside under Secret Service regulations," according to the indictment.
Warner got into the Capitol Building through a broken window at 2:13 p.m., while Taylor and Hostetter "joined rioters on the lower West Terrace of the Capitol who were pushing through a line of law enforcement officers trying to hold them back" about 2:30 p.m., the indictment alleges.
"When the two forced their way in, Hostetter said, `The people have taken back their house... Hundreds of thousands of patriots showed up today to take back their government!,"' the indictment says.
Taylor is accused of hollering to others in the crowd, "Inside!" They then made their way to the Capitol Building, according to prosecutors.
Martinez, outfitted with a plate-carrier vest, and Kinnison, with a gas mask, "joined rioters in the restricted area on the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol Building," the indictment alleges. Mele is accused of taking a selfie video from the steps of the Upper West Terrace declaring, "We stormed the Capitol."
Hostetter is accused of posting a photo on his Instagram account showing him and Taylor at the Upper West Terrace with a "crowd of rioters" behind them saying, "This was the `shot heard round the world!' ... the 2021 version of 1776. That was lasted 8 years. We are just getting started."
Warner and Kinnison are accused of deleting the Telegram chat as evidence.