A former California police chief was convicted on Thursday of joining the riot at the U.S. Capitol with a hatchet in his backpack and plotting to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory.
A judge in Washington's federal court heard testimony without a jury before convicting Alan Hostetter, a right-wing activist and vocal critic of COVID-19 restrictions who defended himself at his bench trial with help from a standby attorney.
Hostetter used his closing arguments to spin conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. He falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, portrayed himself as a victim of FBI corruption and referred to the mob's attack as a “federal setup” involving “crisis actors wearing costumes.” He downplayed violence at the Capitol, referring to the riot as “basically the equivalent of a three-hour hissy fit.”
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth told Hostetter that no reasonable person — let alone a veteran police officer — would believe that it was legal to use mob violence to obstruct Congress.
“Belief that your actions are for a greater good does not negate consciousness of wrongdoing,” Lamberth said.
Hostetter — who previously served as police chief in La Habra, California, near Los Angeles — was convicted on all four counts, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and entering a restricted area with a deadly or dangerous weapon. The judge scheduled sentencing for Oct. 13, and denied a Justice Department request to have Hostetter jailed immediately.
Federal prosecutors said Hostetter has no evidence to support his conspiracy theories but stressed that he was charged with crimes for his actions on Jan. 6 — not his political beliefs. One prosecutor, Jason Manning, said Hostetter advocated for violence and mobilized allies to join him in Washington on Jan. 6 because he “didn't like the election results.”
“For many Americans, the horror of January 6th came out of nowhere. Not for the defendant,” Manning said.
Hostetter was arrested in June 2021 along with five other men. Their indictment linked four of Hostetter’s co-defendants to the Three Percenters wing of the militia movement. Their name refers to the myth that only 3% of Americans fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.
Hostetter said he doesn't have any connection to the Three Percenters movement and accused prosecutors of falsely portraying him as “a caricature of some radical terrorist.”
One of Hostetter's co-defendants, Russell Taylor, pleaded guilty in April to a conspiracy charge. Taylor testified for the government at Hostetter's trial. A trial for the other four is scheduled for October.
The six men — Hostetter, Taylor, Eric Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and Ronald Mele — were part of a chat group called “The California Patriots-DC Brigade" on Telegram, an encrypted messaging platform, prosecutors said. Taylor posted that he created the group for “fighters” who were expected to bring “weaponry” and “plates” with them to Washington on Jan. 6, according to prosecutors.
All six co-defendants entered restricted areas of the Capitol grounds during the riot, prosecutors said. Hostetter wasn't accused of entering the Capitol building.
On Instagram, Hostetter posted a photo of himself and Taylor on the building's Upper West Terrace with rioters in the background. A message under the photo said, "This was the ‘shot heard ‘round the world!’ … the 2021 version of 1776. That war lasted 8 years. We are just getting warmed up.”
Hostetter began teaching yoga after more than 20 years in law enforcement. In the spring of 2020, he founded a nonprofit called the American Phoenix Project. He used the tax-exempt organization to oppose COVID-19 restrictions and to advocate for violence against political opponents after the 2020 presidential election.
In November 2020, Hostetter drove from California to Washington to attend the “Million MAGA March" supporting Trump. On the way, he posted a video on his nonprofit's YouTube channel in which he expressed his belief that the election had been stolen from Trump and called for killing “tyrants and traitors.”
In December 2020, Hostetter's nonprofit hosted a “Stop the Steal” rally in Huntington Beach, California.
“The enemies and traitors of America both foreign and domestic must be held accountable. And they will,” he said at the rally. “There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of this group.”
A day before the riot, Taylor gave a speech at a “Virginia Women for Trump” rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in which he called for violence to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, prosecutors said.
“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,” Taylor said, according to the indictment.
More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Approximately 100 of them have been convicted after trials decided by judges or juries. More than 600 others have pleaded guilty.