One of dozens of military and law enforcement figures to be charged over the events of Jan. 6, former La Habra police chief Alan Hostetter founded a group that pushed the lie that Trump won the 2020 election.
(CN) — Authorities arrested six California men, including a former police chief, on Thursday in connection to the attempted insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Evidence shows that the men shared images of weapons and the logistics on their trip to Washington, D.C., in the lead-up to the attack.
The riot broke out on Jan. 6, leaving five dead and more than 100 police officers injured, as a Joint Session of the House and Senate was underway to certify then-President Donald Trump’s loss of the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden. The session took place against the backdrop of former President Donald Trump falsely declaring election fraud.
Earlier in the day at a park near the White House, Trump spoke at a rally where he instructed attendees to “stop the steal.” “If you don’t fight like hell,” he urged, “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Over the ensuing five months, authorities have brought some 500 cases against individuals tied to the insurrection — with approximately 70 of them involving members of law enforcement or the military. A federal grand jury in Washington added to that figure with a 20-page indictment Thursday.
It describes how Alan Hostetter, the ex-police chief of the city of La Habra, California, communicated with five others in the days leading up to the attack via encrypted messaging apps to discuss their plans to disrupt Congress.
Hostetter, 56, led La Habra’s police department for less than a year in 2010. More recently, the San Clemente ran has served as a yoga instructor and founded an extreme right-wing group to oppose California’s Covid-19 restrictions last summer. He is accused of obstructing an official proceeding and several other charges.
The other California men named in the new indictment are Russell Taylor, 40, of Ladera Ranch; 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.
On Dec. 28, 2020, Warner started a group message thread where Mele, Kinnison, Martinez and he discussed a cross-country road trip. The following day, Hostetter and Taylor messaged each other about what type of firearms they would bring.
On New Year’s Day 2021, Taylor created a chat group called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade,” with the named defendants and more than 30 others, according to the indictment.
“l am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well,” wrote Taylor, referring to armor plates.
Kinnison sent a photo to the group that included himself, Martinez and Warner, where he explained that they were part of the far-right, anti-government Three Percenters group, according to the charging document.
“We are 3 percent so cal. Also coming with us is redline Ron [MELE],” wrote Kinnison.
Kinnison wrote his group could not fly and would drive because of the amount of gear they planned to bring. That included medical kits, radios, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, plates, goggles and helmets, according to prosecutors. Kinnison also advised the group to delete all their messages in the group on Jan. 5 “just in case for opsec purposes.”
Mele, Martinez, Kinnison and Warner messaged each other ahead of their trip to discuss what type of firearms they planned to bring. According to the charging documents, Mele wrote, “shorter the better. Mine will be able to be stashed under the seat. I’ll bring it. 18′ barrel.”
Prosecutors said Kinnison sent a text message to Mele, Warner and Martinez a photo of himself wearing a bandolier of shotgun ammunition around his body.
The men exchanged more messages in encrypted channels ahead of the Jan. 6 attack, while others simply broadcast their thoughts via social media. According to prosecutors, Hostetter wrote from his Instagram account on Jan. 3: “Things are going to come to a head in the U.S. in the next several days. Stay tuned!”
The day before the Capitol breach, prosecutors said Taylor posted a photo to another encrypted group chat where he arranged a khaki backpack, a black plate-carrier vest, two hatchets, a walkie talkie-type radio, a stun baton, a helmet, a scarf and a knife.
“Now getting ready for tomorrow,” wrote Taylor.
The same day Taylor spoke at a Virginia Women for Trump rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as part of a panel of American Phoenix Project speakers. Hostetter founded the American Phoenix Project last summer to oppose pandemic restrictions and then to support Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the presidential election.
On Jan. 6, Taylor, Hostetter and several other people met at the Ellipse Park where Trump delivered his speech, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Taylor had a stun baton in his backpack, a black plate-carrier vest and a knife in his vest pocket. Taylor went on to make a selfie video of himself walking down Pennsylvania Avenue.
When he passed a group of police officers, Taylor said, “We’ll see who these guys end up working for.”
By 2:13 p.m., Warner entered the Capitol Building through a broken window and roughly 20 minutes later Taylor and Hostetter jointed rioters on the lower West Terrance of the Capitol Building as they pushed through a line of police officers who tried to hold back the crowd, prosecutors said.
Taylor, armed with his knife and his vest, urged rioters, “Move forward, Americans,” according to the charging documents. He then turned around toward a group of police officers who were standing a few feet from him and shouted, “Last chance boys. Move back!” Hostetter and Taylor pushed their way through the police line and moved onto a structure erected for the inauguration and made their way up the West Terrace.
Hostetter shouted: “The people have taken back their house. Hundreds of thousands of patriots showed up today to take back their government!”
Around the same time, Martinez and Kinnison joined rioters in the restricted area on the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol Building. Martinez wore a plate-carrier vest and Kinnison wore a gas mask, according to prosecutors.
By 6 p.m., Taylor posted a message in a Telegram chat, “Freedom was fully demonstrated today!” Hostetter posted a photo to his Instagram feed where he wrote, “We are just getting started.”
Later in the evening, Taylor sent text messages to several people about the Capitol breach, but he wrote that he did not go inside the building because he had weapons. When asked by one of the people he messaged what happens next, prosecutors say Taylor wrote back, “Insurrection!”
Among the five people who died in the attack on the Capitol, three were police officers and two were civilian rioters. A fourth officer who was assaulted during the siege later had a stroke and died of natural causes. Two more police officers on duty at the riot died by suicide in the aftermath.
The grand jury indictment charges Hotstetter and the other five men with conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds. Prosecutors charged Taylor with obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds, while Warner and Kinnison are charged with destroying evidence.
Around the same time the indictment was made public, a House committee heard testimony from FBI Director Chris Wray on the Jan. 6 riot. This hearing followed a report earlier this week from two Senate committees that blamed the insurrection on omissions in intelligence, lackluster security planning and botched leadership.