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Alleged “Three Percenters” militia members indicted in new Capitol riot conspiracy case – CBS News

Six California men, four of whom identify as members of “Three Percenter” militias, have been indicted for conspiring to obstruct congressional proceedings on January 6, the Justice Department announced.

The indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, alleges the group coordinated travel to D.C. with a stated intention to “fight,” heeding President Trump’s call to protest the results of the presidential election. Some defendants wore tactical gear and at least one, prosecutors said, carried a knife while he pushed past a police line on Capitol grounds.

The case marks the first conspiracy indictment filed against members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government extremist group that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, derives their name from an inaccurate claim that only 3% of American colonists fought against the British during the Revolutionary War, and likens today’s U.S. government to British colonialism.

They are the third militia or extremist group to be cited in a conspiracy case connected to the Capitol riot. Already, federal prosecutors have indicted 16 alleged Oath Keepers in a single conspiracy case, and 15 alleged members or affiliates of the Proud Boys have been charged in four separate conspiracy cases. The DOJ has previously charged at least four other rioters who they said were affiliated with the Three Percenters.

Speaker at pro-Trump rally in Santa Ana, California
Alan Hostetter speaks during a pro-Trump “election integrity” rally he organized at the Orange County Registrar of Voters offices in Santa Ana, California, on November 9, 2020. Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

The defendants, Alan Hostetter, 56, Russel Taylor, 40, Erik Warner, 45, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, 47, Derek Kinnison, 39, and Ronald Mele, 51, were charged with crimes that included conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceedings, and other unlawful entry charges. 

The indictment — which was first reported by Seamus Hughes, director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism — also alleges that at least four members of the group discussed plans to bring firearms and other weapons to Washington, but charges only one defendant, Taylor, with unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, a knife, on Capitol grounds. 

Taylor is a director of the American Phoenix Project, a group that his now co-defendant Hostetter founded in the spring of 2020 to protest government-mandated pandemic restrictions. 

Only one of the defendants, Warner, is alleged to have entered the Capitol building, though the five others are accused of joining rioters at the Upper West Terrace, an area of the Capitol where officers experienced some of the most brutal fighting.

After the presidential election in November, prosecutors allege, Hostetter used the American Phoenix Project group to promote violence in response to the results. On November 27, 2020, Hostetter posted a video on the American Phoenix Project YouTube channel where he promoted 6 conspiracy theories about the 2020 election – debunked claims  that votes for then-President Trump had been “stolen.” He said, “Some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.”

In December, after Mr. Trump tweeted about the planned January 6 rally, noting that it “will be wild,” members of the group began to make plans. Taylor posted a link to Mr. Trump’s tweet, and posed the question, “Who is going?”

Evidence outlined in the indictment suggests he went to Washington intending to target the Capitol. On December 29, Taylor posted on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!”

On January 1, Taylor created a group on Telegram called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade.” All six defendants, along with more than 30 other people, joined.

In the chat, Taylor wrote, “Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight.” He said the goal was “to organize a group of fighters to have each other’s backs and ensure no one will trample on our rights.” 

Taylor asked group members to identify if they had previous military or law enforcement experience, and wrote, “I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing with you and plates as well,” referring to body armor. 

Ahead of their trip to D.C., prosecutors said the group used Telegram and other online platforms to discuss travel plans, deliberate which weapons to bring and establish radio channels to coordinate while at the Capitol. In multiple online discussions, members of the group made veiled references to bringing weapons. 

Hostetter texted Taylor that he would be travelling to D.C. on December 31 and asked if they could “hook up” the day prior, “So you can give me your backpack,” he wrote, adding three “hatchet” emojis. 

“Oh shiz, I need to pack that up,” Taylor responded. “Alan are you bringing firearms?”

Hostetter responded, “NO NEVER (Instagram now monitors all text messages … this has been a public service announcement),” followed by three laughing-crying emojis.

In a post on January 1, Kinnison wrote to the group that he planned to drive from California to D.C., “because our luggage would be too heavy” to fly. He said that he, Mele and Martinez planned to bring “lots of gear,” including medical kits, radios, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, goggles and helmets.

The group discussed which weapons could be carried in D.C. — a city known for its strict firearms laws — and Taylor suggested bringing a hatchet, bat or large metal flashlight. 

“I believe that you can carry most fixed blades just not into government buildings,” Taylor said. “Something tells me though if we are inside government buildings it won’t be top of our list.”

The group also discussed bringing firearms, according to the indictment, although none have been charged with firearm violations. Kinnison wrote to his other co-conspirators asking if they wanted to bring a “shotty” and “another long iron.” Mele wrote to the group, “Shorter the better. Mine will be able to be stashed under the seat. I’ll bring it. 18″barrel.”

Prosecutors said Kinnison sent a selfie-style photo that showed him with a bandolier of shotgun ammunition around his body, and wrote, “Got the bandolier.”

The group arrived in D.C. ahead of the January 6 rally, and Taylor, as director of the American Phoenix Project, spoke at a separate rally January 5 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

According to prosecutors, Taylor said in his speech: “I stand here in the streets with you in defiance of a communist coup that is set to take over America. … We are free Americans and in these streets, we will fight and we will bleed before we allow our freedom to be taken from us.” 

Around 11:30 p.m. that night, the indictment says Taylor posted a photo on an encrypted messaging service that showed gear arranged on a bed: a khaki backpack, black plate-carrier vest, two hatchets, a walkie-talkie radio, a stun baton, a helmet, scarf and knife. He wrote, “Now getting ready for tomorrow.”

Prosecutors allege that on January 6, Taylor wore a body-armor vest, carried a knife in his vest pocket and carried a stun baton in his backpack. During Mr. Trump’s speech in the morning, prosecutors said Hostetter and Taylor stayed outside the secure area of the Ellipse because they carried items that were not allowed inside under Secret Service regulations. 

Later in the day, prosecutors said Hostetter and Taylor, who still carried his knife, joined rioters on the lower level of the West Terrace of the Capitol as they tried to push through a line of law enforcement officers. Taylor said, “Move forward Americans!” He turned to the officers a few feet away from him, and said, “Last chance boys. Move back!” 

Taylor and Hostetter then allegedly pushed past the officers and onto the Upper West Terrace, and Taylor yelled to the other rioters, “Inside!” before moving toward the Capitol building. Taylor later texted other people to say that although he had “stormed the capital,” he did not enter the building because he “had weapons.”

Around 6:15 p.m., Taylor posted on Telegram: “I was pushing through traitors all day today. WE STORMED THE CAPITOL!” 

Later that night, someone texted Taylor to ask him what happens next. He responded, “Insurrection!”