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'Three Percenter' militia group conspired to bring hatchets, body armor to disrupt Congress on January 6, indictment says

Six militia members, all from California, are accused of planning to bring weapons to D.C. on January 6 to disrupt the joint session of Congress.

WASHINGTON — Six alleged members of a California Three Percenters militia group are now facing charges of conspiracy, unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds and obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder in connection with the Capitol riot, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday.

The men, all residents of California, each face at least four and as many as six counts for an alleged conspiracy to disrupt the certification of Electoral College votes during a joint session of Congress on January 6. The six defendants named indictment are:

  • Alan Hostetter, 56, of San Clemente, California;
  • Russell Taylor, 40, of Ladera Ranch, California;
  • Eric Scott Warner, 45, of Menifee, California;
  • Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, 47, of Lake Elsinore, California;
  • Derek Kinnison, 39, of Lake Elsinore, California, and;
  • Ronald Mele, 51, of Temecula, California.

The men are the first members of a Three Percenter militia group to be charged with conspiracy in connection to the Capitol riot, although 16 members of another militia group, the Oath Keepers, have been indicted on similar charges.

According to the indictment, which was first reported Thursday by Seamus Hughes, director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, Hostetter is the founder of the American Phoenix Project, which he founded to “oppose government-mandated restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to the indictment, following the 2020 election, Hostetter and Russell began using the organization to support former president Donald Trump and protest what they believed was a fraudulent election result.

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The organization’s website says its goal is “nothing less than a second American Revolution.”  A biography page for Hostetter on the site describes him as a former Army infantryman, local law enforcement officer and private investigator. He also previously taught yoga and meditation classes in Orange County, California.

According to the indictment, after November the group began to use the American Phoenix Project “as a platform to advocate violence against certain groups and individuals that supported the 2020 presidential election results.” That advocacy allegedly includes multiple statements by Hostetter calling for executions, including a November 14 video while driving to attend the “Million MAGA March” in which he said “… some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.”

A month later, during an American Phoenix Project-hosted “Stop the Steal” rally in Huntington Beach, Hostetter reportedly gave a speech in which he called for a “reckoning” and for Trump to be inaugurated on January 20, and said “execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of this coup.”

Beginning in late December, the indictment alleges that Hostetter, Taylor and others began planning to travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 to attend Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally. In a Telegram chat created by the group, the indictment says Taylor posted that, “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the door.”

In another post on Instagram, Taylor allegedly wrote that he wanted other California “patriots” to “join us as we March [sic] into the Capitol Jan 6… there will be speakers there and we will be part of the large effort for the ‘Wild Rally’ that Trump has asked us all to be a part of.”

In another Telegram chat, titled “The California Patriots-DC Brigade,” the indictment says Hostetter, Taylor and more than 30 others communicated about plans to come armed on January 6.

“In a series of messages on January 1, 2021, TAYLOR further explained the purpose of the group,” the indictment says. “In one message, he explained: ‘This thread is exclusive to be utilized to organize a group of fighters to have each other’s backs and ensure that no one will trample on our rights. Also, if there is key intel that we need to be aware of tor [sic] possible threats.”

The indictment says Taylor then added, “I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well,” an apparent reference to ballistic body armor.

The following day, in a thread about what weapons could be carried in D.C., Taylor reportedly suggested a hatchet, bat or large metal flashlight. That same day, Kinnison and Mele reportedly discussed in text messages bringing a “’shotty and another long iron’” in the SUV the group had rented. Mele allegedly responded, “Shorter the better. Mine will be able to be stashed under the seat. I’ll bring it. 18” barrel.”

On January 6, the indictment says photos and videos captured during the day show the group attended the “Stop the Steal” rally – several of them wearing military and tactical gear, including a plate-carrier vest, and Taylor specifically wearing a knife in a front chest pocket – before heading to the U.S. Capitol building. Once there, the indictment alleges the men forced their way through a line of police to the restricted Upper West Terrace. Warner allegedly went further and entered the building through a broken window.

Shortly after 6 p.m. that day, Taylor allegedly posted to his Telegram chat, “WE STORMED THE CAPITOL! Freedom was fully demonstrated today.” He also allegedly sent text messages to several people that evening saying he had “stormed the capital [sic]” but hadn’t gone inside because he “had weapons.”

When asked by one of the individuals what happened next, the indictment says, Taylor responded, “Insurrection!”

All six men face at least four counts of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, and entering a restricted building or grounds (with a deadly weapon in Taylor’s case). Taylor faces two additional counts of obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds. Kinnison and Warner both face an additional count of tampering with documents or proceedings for allegedly attempting to erase and obscure the “DC Brigade” Telegram chat from their cell phones.

While the indictment was unsealed Wednesday, it was not immediately clear whether the men were in custody. Records for their cases were not yet available in the federal court’s PACER system.

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