Ex-La Habra police chief, 5 other SoCal men arrested and charged in Jan. 6 Capitol riot

A former La Habra police chief and five other Southern California men, most of whom identify as members of the right-wing Three Percenter militia group, were arrested Thursday to face charges in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, federal prosecutors said.

The onetime police chief, a 56-year-old San Clemente resident named Alan Hostetter, is accused of helping mobilize the group through an organization he founded in spring 2020 to oppose COVID-19 restrictions called the American Phoenix Project, according to an indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.

The other five defendants were identified as:

  • 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
  • Ronald Mele, 51, of Temecula

Investigators say the men conspired with one other, as well as others, to raid the Capitol in an attempt to halt Congress’ certification of presidential election results declaring Joe Biden the victor.

They face charges including conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds.

Taylor also faces counts of obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds, while Warner and Kinnison are additionally charged with tampering with documents or proceedings.

Hotstetter used American Phoenix Project to organize several anti-coronavirus restriction demonstrations, including one in San Clemente where he was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot, destruction of city property, trespassing and resisting arrest.

Following the election, Hostetter, Taylor and a third, unnamed person mobilized the American Phoenix Project to protest what they contended were fraudulent election results, according to the indictment.

Taylor and the unnamed person became directors of the project in the fall, but Hostetter continued using the group to advocate violence against some who supported the election results, prosecutors said.

Hostetter posted videos to the organization’s YouTube channel, including in November one of him driving from California to D.C. for the Million MAGA March, the indictment stated. In that video, he said, “some people at the highest level need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three,” according to investigators.

On Dec. 12, the American Phoenix Project hosted a “Stop the Steal” rally in Huntington Beach during which Hostetter gave a speech insisting Trump would be sworn in again Jan. 20 and saying execution would be “the just punishment for the ringleaders of this coup,” authorities said.

Prosecutors say they also accessed group chats from the from encrypted Telegram app where the defendants discussed their plans to travel to D.C.

Taylor is accused of initiating a large thread with more than 30 others on Jan. 1 named “The California Patriots-DC Brigade.”

According to prosecutors, the chat’s “About” section stated: “This group will serve as the Comms for able bodied individuals that are going to DC on Jan 6. Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight.”

Authorities allege Taylor encouraged participants to bring “some type of weaponry” and asked them to make it known if they had a history in law enforcement, military service or “special skills relevant to our endeavors.”

In the same chat, Kinnison allegedly identified himself, Mele and Warner as members of the Three Percenters, who are so named because they believe only 3% of American colonists took up arms in the American Revolution, and they believe the modern U.S. government infringes on liberties in a fashion similar to the British. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as an antigovernment militia group with roots in white supremacy and animated by conspiracy theories.

The three Three Percenters drove to D.C. instead of flying because of the weight of their luggage, which included guns, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, goggles and helmets, officials said.

The night before the riot, Taylor allegedly shared a photo showing his gear that included a black plate-carrier vest, two hatchets, a walkie talkie-type radio, a stun baton, a helmet, a scarf and a knife. The caption allegedly stated, “Now getting ready for tomorrow.”

Officials say Mele, Martinez, Kinnison and Warner are seen in a picture together on the National Mall on Jan. 6, with Martinez, Kinnison and Warner flashing a Three Percenters symbol with their hands.

Taylor and Hostetter allegedly approached from Pennsylvania Avenue, where Taylor took a selfie video saying they were “on the move.”  

Warner breached the Capitol through a broken window, and a short time later Taylor and Hostetter joined rioters on the lower west terrace who were pushing through the line of police officers, authorities said.

Taylor is accused of carrying a knife in his front chest pocket and pushing through the police line into the upper west terrace.

Hostetter has been released on $20,000 bail after appearing in court in Santa Ana, and three arrested in Riverside County — Warner, Kinnison and Mele – are each being released on $25,000 bail, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angles.

All four were ordered to appear in court in D.C. via Zoom on Monday.

Taylor was expected to be taken into custody Thursday afternoon, Mrozek said.

The six Southern California men are among around 465 arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot so far. More than 130 of them have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, and the investigation remains active.

At least 10 others of those accused in the insurrection are Southern California residents, including a Victorville gym owner known for defying coronavirus orders, a Fontana man accused of assaulting a police officer, a Riverside resident allegedly recognized on the news by a co-worker and a Ventura man dubbed “The Capitol Rotunda Doobie Smoker.”

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