Sunday, June 20, 2021

Three Percenters militia members charged in U.S. Capitol attack

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By Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors have obtained a conspiracy indictment against six California men associated with the Three Percenters right-wing militia, the latest in a series of such charges arising from the Jan. 6 riot by former President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The indictment against the men was returned by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on Wednesday and made public on Thursday. They face charges including conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, which carries a 20-year maximum sentence,

The Justice Department said in a news release that four of the six men “identify as members of Three Percenter militias,” but that all of them chatted on the app Telegram to coordinate their actions on Jan. 6.

Two of the six men, Alan Hostetter and Russell Taylor, were seen a day before the riot with Roger Stone, a friend and adviser to Trump, during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court against the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

About 30 people – including members of two other right-wing groups, The Oath Keepers and The Proud Boys – have been accused of conspiracy, the most serious charges related to the riot. Those pending cases are the largest and most complex of the roughly 500 brought by the Justice Department since the attack.

The other men charged in the indictment were Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele.

Hostetter did not immediately respond to requests for comment and the names of defense counsel for the other five men were not immediately available.

Founded in 2008, the Three Percenters is a loosely organized anti-government group that takes its name from the idea that only 3% of American colonists took up arms against the British in the 18th century American Revolution.

According to the indictment, Hostetter founded a group in 2020 called the American Phoenix Project that protested restrictions on public gatherings imposed as a public health measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. That group became a platform to advocate violence against government leaders, according to the indictment.

‘BEARS SPRAY, KNIVES’

Beginning in December 2020, the six men hatched a plan using the encrypted messaging app Telegram to bring weapons to Washington and storm the Capitol, according to the indictment. Prosecutors said the men selected Jan. 6 because of a Dec. 19 Trump Twitter post stating: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Prosecutors said that on Dec. 29, Taylor told his accused co-conspirators on Telegram: “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!”

The pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, interrupted the formal congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory, clashed with an overwhelmed police force, and invaded the House of Representatives and Senate chambers. The violence left five dead, including a police officer.

Trump granted a pardon to Stone in December, wiping away his conviction arising from a federal investigation that documented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Stone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Four of the six men charged in the indictment — Warner, Martinez, Kinnison and Mele — traveled to Washington in a rented SUV, according to the court document.

Kinnison said in the Telegram group that they were driving rather than flying because they were bringing equipment including “multiple cans of bear spray” and “knives.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

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