A federal grand jury indicted a retired police chief who lives in San Clemente and a Temecula man for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, prosecutors said Thursday.
Southern Californians named in the indictment include:
- Retired La Habra Police Chief Alan Hostetter, 56, now a yoga instructor and COVID-19 restrictions critic.
- Ronald Mele, 51, of Temecula.
- Erik Scott Warner, 45, of Menifee.
- Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, 47 and Derek Kinnison, 39, both of Lake Elsinore.
- Russell Taylor, 40, of Ladera Ranch.
The group faces multiple felony charges, including conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds.
Taylor also faces a charge of obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds. Warner and Kinnison are additionally charged with tampering with documents or proceedings.
The men are accused of concocting a plan after the election of President Joe Biden to interfere with the certification of the electoral college vote in Congress on Jan. 6, coordinating their efforts through Telegram, an encrypted messaging application.
According to prosecutors, the defendants discussed and planned a road trip to the Capitol and promoted events sponsored by Hostetter’s American Phoenix Project, which opposes COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The group also has helped pushed the lie that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Kinnison wrote in one message that he, Martinez, Mele and Warner were part of “SoCal 3%,” which prosecutors say refers to the Three Percenters antigovernment extremist movement.
Warner is accused of starting a group text message thread on Dec. 28 with Mele, Kinnison and Martinez in which they talked about the road trip. The next day, Hostetter and Taylor had a discussion over text about whether to bring guns, prosecutors allege.
The Telegram chat, started on Jan. 1, included more than 30 others, prosecutors said. Taylor said on the chat, “I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well,” prosecutors allege.
Hostetter made his initial appearance Thursday afternoon in federal court in Santa Ana and was released on a $20,000 signature bond. A virtual arraignment hearing was set for 11 a.m. Monday, according to his attorney, Bilal Essayli.
“We will enter a not guilty plea,” Essayli told City News Service.
According to court documents, in the weeks leading up to the insurrection, Hostetter called for violence against those who supported the election results, including warning at a Dec. 12 “Stop the Steal” rally in Huntington Beach that:
“Trump must be inaugurated on Jan. 20th. And he must be allowed to finish this historic job of cleaning out the corruption in the cesspool known as Washington D.C. The enemies and traitors of America both foreign and domestic must be held accountable. And they will. There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of this coup.”
Hostetter is “an activist,” Essayli, his attorney, explained. “He has strong views and speaks strongly. He’s not a violent person, not a criminal. “Even (the judge) asked if the government was aware of any facts that he engaged in any violence and use of weapons and they said no. I just think it’s really concerning when the government is charging people with federal felonies for engaging in First Amendment rights.”
The attorney added, “I don’t recall anyone from Antifa, Code Pink or the (Supreme Court Justice) Brett Kavanaugh hearings being arrested for disrupting Congress. There does seem to be a huge double standard.”
According to the federal indictment, during one exchange on Dec. 29 on social media, Taylor asked Hostetter, “Alan, are you bringing firearms?” And Hostetter replied, “NO. NEVER (Instagram now monitors all text messages… this has been a public service announcement),” which was “followed by three emojis of faces laughing with tears coming out of their eyes,” according to the indictment.
Taylor posted a photo on an encrypted service on Jan. 5 in his hotel room showing “gear arranged on a bed, including a khaki backpack, black plate-carrier vest, two hatchets, a walkie talkie-type radio, a stun baton, helmet, scarf and a knife,” according to the indictment, which said it was captioned, “Now getting ready for tomorrow.”
Taylor, Hostetter and other unidentified people met in the early morning hours of Jan. 6 in downtown Washington before heading to a rally led by former President Trump, according to the indictment.
Taylor wore on a plate-carrier vest with a knife in it, and carried a Stun baton in his backpack, prosecutors allege.
Hostetter and Taylor “remained outside the secure area of the Ellipse where President Trump was speaking because they were carrying `personal protective gear’ that was not allowed inside under Secret Service regulations,” according to the indictment.
Warner got into the Capitol Building through a broken window at 2:13 p.m., while Taylor and Hostetter “joined rioters on the lower West Terrace of the Capitol who were pushing through a line of law enforcement officers trying to hold them back” at about 2:30 p.m., the indictment alleges.
When the two forced their way in, Hostetter said, `The people have taken back their house… Hundreds of thousands of patriots showed up today to take back their government!,” according to the indictment says.
Taylor is accused of hollering to others in the crowd, “Inside!” They then made their way to the Capitol Building, according to prosecutors.
Martinez, outfitted with a plate-carrier vest, and Kinnison, with a gas mask, “joined rioters in the restricted area on the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol Building,” the indictment alleges.
Mele is accused of taking a selfie video from the steps of the Upper West Terrace declaring, “We stormed the Capitol.”
Hostetter is accused of posting a photo on his Instagram account showing him and Taylor at the Upper West Terrace with a “crowd of rioters” behind them saying, “This was the `shot heard round the world!’ … the 2021 version of 1776. That … lasted 8 years. We are just getting started.”
Warner and Kinnison also are accused of deleting the Telegram chat as evidence.
Hostetter has another pending case in Orange County Superior Court, on misdemeanor resisting arrest and refusal to disperse charges, as well as an infraction for trespassing during a stay-at-home order protest in San Clemente on May 21.
Last week he pleaded not guilty to the charges and was ordered to return to court for a pretrial hearing Sept. 9 at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.