U.S. federal prosecutors on Thursday indicted six Californian men linked to a radical gun rights movement known as the Three Percenters with conspiracy – they were charged with conspiring to attack the Capitol on January 6.
These are the first criminal charges brought against those involved in the planning of political acts perpetrated in the week of the attack.
Presented in a 20-page text, the indictment was also the first filed against a group of alleged participants in the Three Percent, a movement named after the alleged 3% of the colonial American population who fought the British.
Filed in Federal District Court in Washington, the new charges were filed the same day FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying before a House committee said prosecutors lay other charges. of conspiracy against some of the invaders of the Capitol.
Investigators have been saying for months that several extremist groups were involved in the attack. But while the three percent were sometimes mentioned in court documents, most of the accused extremists belong to two other organizations: the Oath Keepers militia and the far-right nationalist group Proud Boys. The new criminal charges may suggest that prosecutors have started to focus not only on those who were directly involved in the attack on Capitol Hill, but also on those who helped fuel the attack.
The two main defendants targeted by the indictment are Alan Hostetter, 56, a former police chief who later became a yoga instructor, and Russell Taylor, 40, a graphic designer who appreciates red Corvette cars. They had already been the subject of a government investigation since the FBI raided their homes in January.
Hostetter and Taylor headed a group called the American Phoenix Project, founded to fight the “fear-based tyranny” of coronavirus restrictions. The group then adopted former President Donald Trump’s lies about a rigged election, helping to organize a large rally outside the Supreme Court on January 5, which featured Roger Stone, a former Trump aide, among the speakers.
However, despite the attention paid to them by law enforcement, the press and their neighbors in Orange County, neither Hostetter nor Taylor had been publicly linked to the three percent until they were charged. .
According to the wording of the indictment, starting shortly after the election, Hostetter began using the US Project Phoenix “to defend the use of violence against certain groups and individuals who have defended the 2020 election results. “. At the end of November, for example, he posted a video on the entity’s YouTube channel in which he accused of treason those who did not contest the election results. “Some people at the highest level should be seen as an example, with one execution or three,” he said.
The following month, at a public ceremony in Huntington Beach, Calif., Hostetter gave a speech in which he reiterated his death threats to people who doubt Trump won. “The execution is only a punishment for the leaders of this coup,” he would have said, according to the text of the indictment.
Prosecutors said Hostetter, Taylor and some of the co-defendants – including Derek Kinnison, 39, Felipe Antonio Martinez, 47, and Erik Warner, 45 – used text messages, Facebook and the Telegram app to plan their participation in the the attack on the Capitol. . More than 30 people are said to have participated in a group on the Telegram called “California Patriots Brigade in DC”, a channel described by Taylor as being aimed at “physically fit individuals traveling to [Washington] DC Jan. 6 “and that they are” prepared and ready to fight. “
On January 1, prosecutors said, Taylor broadcast a message to the group asking its members to let them know if they had received any military or police training. “I guess you have weapons of some sort that you’re going to pick up,” he said.
Hostetter and Taylor emerged last year as rising stars of the far-right resurgence in Southern California. The two appear to have been radicalized at the start of the pandemic and have helped lead a new generation of radicals out of the coastal towns of Orange County, where Richard Nixon has converted a seaside home into his presidential retirement and John Wayne has anchored his yacht, the Wild Goose.
The region has been one of the cradles of the modern American conservative movement and some of its most virulent racist, anti-Semitic and paranoid currents, such as the John Birch Society in the 1960s and the neo-Nazi and skinhead groups that have emerged. gathered at his surf spots two more decades at night.
Until last year, Hostetter seemed far removed from this historic past. A former military and police chief, he moved to San Clemente nearly ten years ago and began a third career as a yoga guru, specializing in “sound healing” with gongs, Tibetan bells. and didgeridus (Australian Aboriginal wind instrument). He was conservative, according to people who know him, but no more than many others in San Clemente and the region.
Then came the pandemic. Hostetter gave up yoga, declared himself a “patriotic warrior,” and founded the American Phoenix Project. The group began to organize protests and quickly attracted Russell Taylor. His list of enemies quickly grew to include Black Lives Matter protesters, and at times Hostetter has appeared to join the QAnon, the conspiracy movement that falsely claims Trump is fighting devil-worshiping Democrats and international pedophile financiers.
Prosecutors say Derek Kinnison and his Three Percenter supporters have made no secret of their membership in the movement and appear to have planned to bring guns to Washington on January 6. On January 2, Kinnison texted Warner, Martinez and another co-accused, Ronald Mele, 51, containing a photo showing him wearing a shotgun ammunition belt, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said after speaking at the Supreme Court protest on Jan. 5 – “I’m Russell Taylor and I’m a Free American” – Taylor posted a video on an encrypted chat app showing weapons and miscellaneous items. equipment in addition to a bed: a bulletproof vest, two axes, a walkie-talkie, an electroshock gun and a machete. The caption of the photo read: “Prepare for tomorrow. “
According to the indictment, Taylor, wearing and carrying such equipment, left Trump’s speech on January 6 on the march to Capitol Hill in the company of Hostetter and another person identified only as Person 1. According to prosecutors, Kinnison and his group of Three Percenters arrived at the building separately, and at least one of them, Warner, broke into it through a broken window.
Prosecutors have not charged Hostetter or Taylor with raiding the Capitol, but say the two joined a mob of angry protesters on the building’s lower west terrace who crossed a police line of defense.
“I spent the whole day advancing among the traitors,” Taylor wrote in the Telegram at 6:18 pm that day, according to prosecutors. “WE INVASIVE THE CAPITOL! Freedom has been fully demonstrated today.