Federal prosecutors on Thursday filed a broad conspiracy indictment accusing six Californian men who are believed to be linked to a radical gun rights movement called the Three Percent of plotting to attack the Capitol on January 6, in the first charges against anyone involved in planning any of the political events that took place the week of the attack.
The 20-page indictment was also the first to be brought against a group of so-called Three Percent, a loosely organized movement named after the alleged 3% of the colonial American population who fought the British. The new charges, filed in Federal District Court in Washington, came the same day Christopher A. Wray, the director of the FBI, testified before a House committee that prosecutors were pursuing additional conspiracy charges against some of the rioters who stormed the Capitol. .
Investigators have said for months that several extremist groups were involved in the attack, but while the three percent were occasionally mentioned in court records, most of the accused extremists came from two other groups: the Oath Keepers militia. and the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys. The new charges could suggest that prosecutors have begun to pay attention not only to those who were directly involved in the attack on Capitol Hill, but also to those who helped instigate the assault.
The two main defendants in the indictment – Alan Hostetter, 56, a former police chief turned yoga instructor; and Russell Taylor, 40, a wealthy graphic designer with a taste for red Corvettes – were already under government surveillance after the FBI raided their homes in January. Mr Hostetter and Mr Taylor headed a group called the American Phoenix Project, which was founded to fight the “fear-based tyranny” of coronavirus restrictions. The group then adopted former President Donald J. Trump’s lies about a stolen election and helped organize a well-attended Supreme Court rally on January 5, where speakers included former Roger J. Stone Jr. advisor to Mr. Atout.
Mr Hostetter’s wife, Kristine, a teacher, also gained national attention this year after attending “Stop the Steal” rallies in Washington, sparking fury in their hometown of San Clemente, Calif., Which triggered an investigation by the school board to find out if she had attacked the Capitol. It was cleared by the district in March.
Yet despite attention from law enforcement, media and neighbors in Orange County, neither Mr. Hostetter nor Mr. Taylor had been publicly linked to the three percent before being charged on Thursday.
Shortly after the election, according to the indictment, Mr Hostetter used the US Phoenix Project “to advocate violence against certain groups and individuals who supported the 2020 election results.” At the end of November, for example, he posted a video on the group’s YouTube channel in which he accused those who did not challenge the results of committing treason. “Some people at the highest level,” he said, “should be seen as an example with one execution or three. “
The following month, at a rally in Huntington Beach, Calif., Mr Hostetter gave a speech repeating his death threats against those who doubted Mr Trump won. “Execution is the just punishment for the leaders of this coup,” he said in the indictment.
To plan their role in the Capitol attack, prosecutors say Mr Hostetter, Mr Taylor and some of their co-defendants – among them Derek Kinnison, 39, Felipe Antonio Martinez, 47, and Erik Warner, 45 – used text messages. , Facebook and the Telegram chat app. More than 30 people, according to the indictment, joined a Telegram group chat called the “California Patriots-DC Brigade,” a channel Mr. Taylor described as intended for “able-bodied people who will be traveling to DC on January 6 “and are” ready and willing to fight.
On January 1, prosecutors said, Mr Taylor sent a group chat message asking his members to reveal whether they had received any military or police training. “I guess,” he wrote, “that you have a certain type of weapon that you bring with you.”
On the same day, in his introductory message to the group chat, Mr Kinnison wrote that he, Mr Martinez and Mr Warner were part of “so cal 3%”, according to the indictment. Prosecutors said Mr Kinnison attached a photo of the three men waving at three percent to the Telegram message.
Mr. Hostetter and Mr. Taylor’s connection to the Three Percent seemed a bit more tenuous. On January 3, according to the indictment, Mr. Hostetter posted a post on the American Phoenix Project’s Instagram account using language associated with the movement. “Only 3% of Americans actually fought in our War of Independence,” he wrote. “There will probably be 3% of us again who fully engage in this battle.”
Mr Taylor’s attorney, Dyke Huish, said he was not aware of any involvement from his client with the three percent. “It’s something I’ve never heard of,” he added, “even from a distance”.
Mr. Hostetter and Mr. Taylor emerged last year as a rising star in Southern California’s resurgent distant struggle. The two appear to have radicalized at the start of the pandemic and have helped a new generation of right-wing extremists escape the seaside towns of Orange County, where Richard M. Nixon has turned an oceanfront villa into a his presidential getaway, and John Wayne kept his yacht, Wild Goose.
The region was the birthplace of the modern American conservative movement and some of its most vocal, anti-Semitic and paranoid offshoots, such as the John Birch Society in the 1960s and the neo-Nazi groups and skinheads that flocked to its surf spots during two decades. later.
Until last year, Mr. Hostetter seemed far removed from this story. A former soldier and police chief, he landed in San Clemente nearly a decade ago and embarked on a third career as a yoga guru specializing in “sound healing” with gongs, bowls. Tibetans and aboriginal didgeridoos. He was conservative, according to people who know him, but no more than many others in and around San Clemente.
Then came the pandemic. He gave up yoga, declared himself a “patriotic warrior” and founded the American Phoenix Project. The group began to organize protests and quickly attracted Mr. Taylor. Their list of enemies quickly grew to include Black Lives Matter protesters, and Mr. Hostetter has at times appeared to embrace QAnon, the conspiracy movement that falsely claims Mr. Trump was secretly fighting the devil-worshiping Democrats and the international financiers who abused children.
Prosecutors said Mr. Kinnison and his partners at Three Percenter were open about their affiliation with the movement and apparently planned to bring guns to Washington on January 6. On January 2, Mr Kinnison texted Mr Warner, Mr Martinez and another co-accused, Ronald Mele, 51, containing a photo that showed him wearing a sling of shotgun ammunition, according to the act. accusation.
After Mr Taylor spoke at the Supreme Court rally on January 5 – “I am Russell Taylor and I am a free American” – prosecutors said he posted a video on a cryptic chat app which showed a set of equipment on a bed: a bulletproof vest, two axes, a walkie-talkie, a stun stick and a knife. The caption read: “Now prepare for tomorrow.”
Adorned in this gear, the indictment says, Mr. Taylor paraded Mr. Trump’s Jan.6 speech on Capitol Hill with Mr. Hostetter and one person identified only as the first person. According to prosecutors, Mr Kinnison and his group of three percent approached the building separately and at least one of them – Mr Warner – entered through a shattered window.
Prosecutors are not accusing Mr. Hostetter or Mr. Taylor of breaking into the Capitol, although they allege the two joined a mob of rioters on the building’s lower west terrace who walked through a line of law enforcement officers.
“I’ve been pushing traitors all day today,” Mr. Taylor wrote in a Telegram conversation at 6:18 p.m. that night, according to prosecutors. “WE HAVE TAKEN THE STORM IN THE CAPITOLA! Freedom has been fully demonstrated today!