Alan Hostetter was “in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas” when he hit the record button. It was late November, a few weeks after what the former police chief and more recent Orange County yoga instructor called the “stolen” 2020 election.
Hostetter, who founded a group called the American Phoenix Project in the spring of 2020 to oppose government restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was on his way to D.C. for the “Million MAGA March” in support of then-President Donald Trump. He had some thoughts he wanted to record “for posterity.”
In the darkened interior of his vehicle, he went on a “little bit of a rant.” He regurgitated the unfounded mass voter fraud conspiracy theories he had read on the internet and heard from Trump, the ones that law enforcement officials were worried would get someone killed. Ballot dumps! Computer algorithms! It was all being revealed, he said. “The charade is about to end,” he said, and people would end up in jail.
Then it was time for executions.
“Some people, at the highest levels, need to be made an example of: an execution or two or three,” Hostetter told his audience. “Tyrants and traitors need to be executed as an example so nobody pulls this shit again.”
The 56-year-old Hostetter and five other men from the Orange County area ― Russell Taylor, 40, Erik Warner, 45, Felipe Martinez, 47, Derek Kinnison, 39, and Ronald Mele, 51 ― were accused of entering into a conspiracy to “corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede the Congressional proceeding at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.”
The 20-page indictment is the first conspiracy indictment involving multiple defendants the government says are affiliated with the Three Percenters, the right-wing group that derives its name from the (mistaken) belief that just three percent of colonialists stood up against the British during the American Revolution.
The indictment alleges that, along with about 30 others, the men coordinated their actions in a Telegram chat that Taylor created and named “The California Patriots-DC Brigade,” intended for “able bodied individuals” headed to D.C. on Jan. 6.
“Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight,” Taylor wrote in the description, the feds said. “We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.”
In one message to the group, Taylor wrote that they wanted “to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!”
The men’s indictment was unsealed five months after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Federal authorities are closing in on 500 arrests in connection with the insurrection; 300 additional suspects have their photos featured on the FBI’s Capitol wanted page, and there are an untold number of other solid cases against Capitol suspects within the FBI’s database of hundreds of thousands of tips received from the public.
The feds estimated that about 2,000 people were involved in the Capitol breach. New federal charges continue to roll in on a near-daily basis, and there are plenty more arrests in the works.
Hostetter and Taylor weren’t exactly incognito, and they received media attention in the weeks after the attack. Radley Balko of The Washington Post reported on Hostetter and his past in January, and days later, David Corn of Mother Jones reported on Hostetter’s call for the execution of Trump’s enemies at a rally in California on Dec. 12. But the new indictment wraps up an even larger crew of California “patriots” who plotted their attack on the U.S. Capitol ahead of time.
The indictment is welcome news to some of the online investigators who have been tracking Hostetter’s crew for months, even before the Capitol riot.
Katie, a woman from California who was part of a small group that tracked the American Phoenix Project before the attack, started digging through Jan. 6 footage when Taylor popped up in the background of a video of Simone Gold, another Jan. 6 defendant from California.
Gold, like the latest set of California defendants, operated in the same fervently pro-Trump circles as Daniel Rodriguez, who electroshocked D.C. police officer Mike Fanone during the Capitol attack. Rodriguez associated with the Three Percenters and attended right-wing events in Huntington Beach, where Hostetter gave a speech suggesting executing Trump’s enemies. HuffPost reported on Rodriguez’s identity in late February, and he was arrested in late March.
Katie told HuffPost she went down the rabbit hole and began working to find any footage they could of members of the group on Jan. 6. While the indictment doesn’t cite the work of Katie’s Twitter group directly, it seems to builds off of their findings.
What the indictment doesn’t mention is this: As Twitter users chronicled his actions, Hostetter wrote them eerie, borderline-threatening tweets. “I know your name,” he wrote in one February Twitter reply to a Twitter investigator who wrote that they’d “love to chat sometime” about how Hostetter’s crew carried bags and weapons to the Capitol.
“We will be chatting soon enough, trust me,” Hostetter replied. “My team is zeroing in,” he wrote in another tweet to Katie. “Just wait until the script is flipped.”
Katie said surfacing the group’s actions was important even if it has caused some stress.
“We did this because the public needed to know,” Katie said before joking, “I’ve always been nosey by nature, but I never thought it would lead to this.”
On the eve of the Capitol attack, Taylor spoke at a Virginia Women for Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol as part of an American Phoenix Project panel. He called himself a “free American” and said he would “fight” and “bleed” before allowing freedom to be taken.
“These anti-Americans have made the fatal mistake,” Taylor said. “They have brought out the patriots’ fury onto these streets and they did so without knowing that we will not return to our peaceful way of life until this election is made right, our freedoms are restored, and America is preserved.”
The next day, the indictment alleges, the men made good on their rhetoric. Warner entered the building through a broken window. Taylor and Hostetter joined the mob pushing through the police line, with Taylor warning officers it was their “last chance” to “move back.”
Martinez and Kinnison made their way to the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol Building too, while Mele shot a selfie video.
“We stormed the Capitol,” Mele said.
Taylor later bragged about his exploits in the Telegram chat. “I was pushing through traitors all day today. WE STORMED THE CAPITOL! Freedom was fully demonstrated today!”
On Instagram, Hostetter called the attack the “shot heard round the world” and the “2021 version of 1776.” He noted that war lasted eight years. “We are just getting started,” he wrote.