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The Hybrid Hatchet Conspiracy: A Premeditated Plan to Surround the Capitol on January 6

Contrary to what you might read on Twitter, I have not been predicting that Trump will be held accountable for January 6. Rather, I am observing–based on actual court filings and the evidence in them–that if he or his associates were to be held accountable, that would happen via conspiracy indictments, indictments that have already reached within two degrees of Trump’s closest associates. In a hearing yesterday, Christopher Wray answered one after another question about holding Trump accountable by talking about conspiracy indictments, so it seems he may agree with me.

Just the other day, for example, I suggested we might see prosecutions of those involved in the rallies, as opposed to busting into the Capitol.

Together, those posts argue that if any kingpins will be held accountable, it will be through a conspiracy prosecution. I note that one of the conspiracies has already reached back to the Willard Hotel, where Roger Stone was staying and where the call patterns suggest possible consultation with people present at the hotel. And I suggest that not only will there will be further conspiracies (I’m pretty confident about that prediction) but there may be more complex prosecutions tied to people who were involved in the rallies rather than the riot or who were discussed explicitly with Rudy Giuliani (I’m far less confident about that possibility).

That doesn’t mean Donald Trump, or even Roger Stone or Rudy Giuliani, are going to prison. It’s not clear what kind of evidence is out there. It’s not clear how loyal these famously paranoid people will be without the constant dangle of pardons that Trump used to buy silence during the Mueller investigation.

Earlier in the week, I noted that DOJ had already charged one of the speakers on January 5, Brandon Straka, and has been holding him in a kind of limbo awaiting what look like possible charges of obstruction and civil disorder.

Then there’s the case of Brandon Straka. He’s the head of the Walkaway campaign, and was a speaker on January 5. There’s no allegation he entered the door of the Capitol, though at a time when he was on the stairs, he was involved in attempting to take a shield from an officer and for that got charged with civil disorder (in addition to the standard trespass crimes). He obviously could be charged with obstruction, but that hasn’t been charged yet.

Last night, DOJ rolled out a conspiracy indictment that alleges that Alan Hostetter, another of the speakers on January 5, conspired with five other Three Percenters to “corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit: the Certification of the Electoral College vote.”

The indictment is slightly different than the other conspiracies charged against militias thus far (and therefore may be yet another degree more vulnerable to challenge), insofar as it charges 18 U.S.C. § 1512(k), the conspiracy charge tied to obstruction, rather than conspiracy itself 18 U.S.C. §371. Plus, just one of the accused defendants — Erik Warner — managed to enter the Capitol (another, Russell Taylor, chose not to enter because he didn’t want to do so while armed), so even the trespassing charges may be more vulnerable to challenge. Two of the men — Derek Kinnison and Warner — are also charged with obstruction for trying to delete the Telegram chat they used for organizational purposes.

But if this indictment withstands legal challenge, it is in some ways far more provocative than the existing militia conspiracies. That’s because it’s not just a militia conspiracy indictment.

The indictment is a hybrid: one that charges a group that is both a militia, the Three Percenters, but also men who played an organizational role in the larger event via an anti-mask turned into election conspiracy group, the American Phoenix Project. The conspiracy language of the indictment repeatedly describes the men flashing their Three Percenter signs or otherwise identifying themselves as such.

KINNISON attached a picture of himself, MARTINEZ, and WARNER with the following message: “From left to right, I’m Derek aka midnightrider the short guy, Tony aka blue collar patriot, Erik aka silvir surfer…. We are 3 percent so cal. Also coming with us is redline Ron [MELE].” In the photo, all three are flashing a hand signal that designates affiliation with a Three Percenter group.

[snip]

On January 2, 2021, KINNISON, MELE, WARNER, and MARTINEZ met at MELE’S house in Temecula, California. Before leaving in the SUV, the four men posed for a photograph in which they all made a hand gesture signaling affiliation with a Three Percenter group.

[snip]

MELE, MARTINEZ, KINNISON, and WARNER also congregated on the National Mall and posed for a photo there. In the photo, MARTINEZ, KINNISON, and WARNER made a hand signal showing affiliation with a Three Percenter group.

But the indictment also describes how Hostetter formed the Phoenix Project as an anti-mask group and then used it to sow violence against those who supported the democratic result of the 2020 election.

In Spring, 2020, ALAN HOSTETTER (“HOSTETTER”) founded the American Phoenix Project to oppose government-mandated restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. After the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, HOSTETTER, RUSSELL TAYLOR (“TAYLOR”), and PERSON ONE used the American Phoenix Project to support former President Donald J. Trump and protest what they asserted was a stolen or fraudulent election result. TAYLOR and PERSON ONE became directors of the American Phoenix Project in the Fall of 2020.

From at least in and around November 2020, HOSTETTER used the American Phoenix Project as a platform to advocate violence against certain groups and individuals that supported the 2020 presidential election results.

It describes how in a post on November 27, Hostetter demanded that “tyrants and traitors need to be executed.” It explains that at a rally in Huntington Beach on December 12, Hostetter gave a speech calling for executions.

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.

This demand for long prison terms may come back to haunt Hostetter if he is ever sentenced for his attack on America.

Because of its hybrid structure, I suspect this indictment may serve as a node to connect other conspiracies together. Obviously, we should expect to see parallel Three Percenter conspiracies. Given how Guy Reffitt’s known actions that day parallel those of these conspirators, and given what prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said in a status hearing for Reffitt the other day, I would be unsurprised if the superseding indictment Nestler said was imminent was a conspiracy of the Texas Three Percenters Reffitt was organizing.

I also expect that some of the 30 other people described to have taken part in the The California-DC Brigade Telegram chat described in this indictment to be charged in their own conspiracy indictment.

This group will serve as the Comms for able bodied individuals that are going to DC on Jan 6. Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight. We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.

The indictment makes it clear that these Three Percenter defendants coordinated with other members of the DC Brigade using a coordinated radio channel, 142.422 on the day of the insurrection; they were conspiring with others, in addition to each other.

On the Telegram chat, Taylor explicitly talked about coming to DC armed.

I am assuming that you have some type of weaponry that you are bringing and plates as well.

Importantly, some of these other people from SoCal did engage in assault, and given Hostetter’s public statements plus the mention of “willing[ness] to fight” in this Telegram description and Taylor’s mention of weapons, the Three Percenter conspirators may be implicated by association in their violence (which, along with weapons charges that have not been charged, could serve as inducements for members of this conspiracy to flip).

So I believe this indictment will link in conspiracies with other Three Percenters and with other Southern Californian anti-maskers.

But the role of the rallies in the indictment is even more intriguing.

Hostetter set up an earlier organizational Telegram chat on November 10. It was used to plan travel to DC for the November Million MAGA March as well as the January 6 insurrection. In the language describing the overt acts in this conspiracy, the indictment focuses closely on posts and other events starting on December 19. It linked Trump’s Tweet calling for “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th.” It describes an Instagram post Hostetter posted under the Phoenix Project moniker the same day, calling for people to join him. It describes that Hostetter and Taylor reserved rooms in a Kimpton Hotel on December 20, earlier planning than many of the Oath Keepers. It describes how Taylor renamed the Telegram chat to “The Californian Patriots–Answer the Call Jan 6” on December 20.

Then, having tied the travel of these organizers of a network of radicalized Southern California Trump supporters to Trump’s call on December 20, the indictment describes that this group got booked to speak at the January 5 rally.

On December 30, 2020, KINNISON sent a text message to MELE, WARNER, and MARTINEZ in which he attached a flyer advertising the January 5, 2021 rally outside the Supreme Court, at which TAYLOR, HOSTETTER, and PERSON ONE were named speakers for the American Phoenix Project.

The indictment doesn’t describe how this happened, though the government obviously has enough comms to have some insight into it.

Then, that same day, December 30, Taylor posted his plans for the days of January 5 and 6. His post stated a clear plan to work with Stop the Steal to surround the Capitol.

Spread the word to other CALIFORNIA Patriots to join us as we March into the Capitol Jan 6. The Plan right now is to meet up at two occasions and locations: 1. Jan 5th 2pm at the Supreme Court steps for a rally. (Myself, Alan, [and others] will be speaking) 2. Jan 6th early 7am meet in front of the Kimpton George Hotel…we will leave at 7:30am shart and March (15 mins) to the Capital [sic] to meet up with the stop the steal organization and surround the capital. [sic] 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 part of. [my emphasis]

This plan is structurally the foundation in the indictment for the leadership role these men played in the SoCal contingent of anti-maskers. For example, the next section describes how just after this post, the men created the DC Brigade chat, including its calls for anti-maskers from Southern California to come to DC armed to and expecting a fight.

DOJ has been working on this indictment for six months. That’s still lightning fast for a conspiracy indictment, but unlike the other militia conspiracies, it has not been jury-rigged together as one after another co-conspirators’ phones get exploited.

And what it does, at a minimum, is to tie the anti-mask community in Southern California into a network with the Three Percenters.

More importantly, it suggests the organizing surrounding the rally on January 5 included a premeditated plan to surround the Capitol on January 6.

“I Started the Fire:” DOJ Reveals Another Missed Advance Warning about January 6

In a motion laying out why accused insurrectionist Guy Reffitt is so dangerous he must be detained pre-trial, the government revealed that, in December, one of his family members (likely his son) contacted the FBI and warned them about Reffitt’s dangerous plans for legislators.

In late December 2020, one of Reffitt’s family members informed the FBI that Reffitt was “going to do some serious damage” related to federal legislators in Washington, D.C.

At around the same time, Reffitt was bragging on a Telegram chat with fellow militia members that he was going to go to DC in “full battle rattle.”

After FBI had received that warning, Reffitt put his AR-15 and a pistol into his car, and drove to DC from Texas promising to “drag[] those people out of the Capitol by their ankles” and install a new government. He sent messages on Telegram about coming to the riot armed and arranged for a “rendezvous point.” He donned body armor and a helmet and brought zip ties. According to comments he made to his kid, he brought the pistol to the Capitol. According to his own description of events, he resisted two officers trying to keep him from climbing the stairs they were trying to protect. He claimed he “started the fire” that allowed others to breach the Capitol. And, in days after the attack, Reffitt promised his kid that he was not done, that the attack on the Capitol was just the beginning. He attempted to recruit two other rioters to join the Three Percenter militia. He threatened both his children that he would kill them if they reported him to the FBI. His adult son has since moved out of his house.

The government has since discovered that Reffitt had an unregistered silencer in his home and had set up a company as a front to use to obtain law enforcement grade weapons to stockpile for his revolution.

The government now argues, persuasively and using his own claims, some of them made prior to the insurrection, that Reffitt, “presents a serious danger to the community—not only to his family and Congress, but to the entire system of justice.”

And yet — unlike the case of QAnoner Kevin Strong after an associate reported him as a danger in advance of his participation in the insurrection, into whom the FBI at least opened an investigation — there’s no sign that the FBI took any action in response to a specific warning about plans to target Members of Congress.

The FBI has claimed that the only warning it got of the insurrection planned for January 6 came via a pseudonymous threat made on TheDonald chat list, one they didn’t have a chance to verify before the attack itself. They have claimed they had no advance warning to share with the Capitol Police and DC Police.

Except someone in Texas shared a specific warning about a threat to Congress at least a week before the attack, a warning that might have corroborated a different tip FBI had received about plans for World War III, and — by all appearances — FBI did nothing with that warning.

The Broken Windows Terrorism Enhancement and Detention of the January 6 Insurrectionists

In this post, I described how Jessica Watkins’ defense attorney, Michelle Peterson, admitted how damning her client’s own description of her actions was, but then invented a false timeline to explain away those statements. Peterson also said that evidence about Stewart Rhodes’ plans for the Oath Keepers to replicate January 6 can’t be held against her client because Watkins was already in jail when Rhodes made those comments, but also says Watkins — who in November, before the Trump rallies that Watkins’ own lawyer cited to explain Watkins’ actions, said she’d go underground if Biden assumed the Presidency — can be released while those plans are ongoing. (Peterson is also arguing that Watkins should go back to running the bar where she recruited co-conspirator Donovan Crowl.)

I think Peterson’s argument fails because the evidence doesn’t match her claims. But she makes an argument that I think will be compelling for some other Oath Keeper defendants.

The government conspiracy charge against nine Oath Keepers alleges a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding (the counting of the electoral vote), obstruction of that proceeding, and forcibly entering the Capitol while the Vice President was present. The evidence for those allegations is all clear cut.

But as I described in the post, the government also charges the nine Oath Keepers with destruction of government property and aiding and abetting such destruction.

The indictment only describes destruction in two places: in the general boilerplate description of the event used against all January 6 defendants, and describing the door through which The Stack entered the Capitol, around 40 minutes after the Capitol was initially breached.

In the course of these events, approximately 81 members of the Capitol Police and 58 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were assaulted. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage-including broken windows and doors, graffiti, and residue from pepper spray, tear gas, and fire extinguishers deployed both by crowd members who stormed the Capitol and by Capitol Police officers trying to restore order. Additionally, many media members were assaulted and had cameras and other news-gathering equipment destroyed.

[snip]

The Capitol building doors through which CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, YOUNG, STEELE, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, and the others in their group breached suffered significant damage.

The government implicates the Oath Keepers in this destruction via an aiding and abetting charge.

It’s on that basis that the government initially moved to detain Watkins.

Watkins made her initial appearance in the Southern District of Ohio on January 19, 2021, and the government moved for detention under 18 U.S.C § 3142(f)(1)(A), on the basis that 18 U.S.C. § 1361 is a crime of violence.

While they don’t explain it specifically in that motion (but the government does elsewhere for other defendants, such as for the Proud Boys’ Ethan Nordean), effectively the government is using the damage done to a government building to get presumption of detention under 18 USC 2332b‘s terrorism enhancement.

Peterson argues that the Watkins’ crimes are not crimes of violence.

The offenses charged are not crimes of violence. While violence was committed on January 6, 2021, and those responsible will be held accountable, that is not the issue before the Court in determining whether Ms. Watkins must be held in custody pending the outcome of her case. Rather the question is solely whether or not there are conditions that can reasonably assure the safety of the community and her appearance until this case is resolved in whatever manner it is resolved. Here, the government has not presented any evidence that Ms. Watkins committed any violence. Their evidence is that 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached, she went to the Capitol and entered the building. By that time, the door had already been opened. The government acknowledges that “the crowd aggressively and repeatedly pulled on and assaulted” the doors of the building to get inside, causing damage. Ms. Watkins is charged with aiding and abetting this offense, but there is no evidence that this was something she had a criminal intent to do. She would have to have shared in the intent to destroy property, when in fact, she attempted to stop people from destroying property.

Peterson argues that the body cameras of some of the cops with whom Watkins interacted will show her trying to prevent damage (though, as noted, Peterson’s explanation for Watkins’ description of the beauty of breaching the Capitol is utterly inconsistent with the actual comments Watkins made, which framed that beauty specifically in terms of fighting cops).

Peterson’s argument here is important, and it will be very compelling for those Oath Keeper defendants who didn’t leave tracks of messages describing efforts to train a militia to take out the federal government even before Trump’s incitement to violence cited by the defense started. While there might be evidence from other Oath Keepers the government is investigating (remember there is a busload of Oath Keepers from NC who were coordinating with the charged co-conspirators, along with the Quick Reaction Force ready to bring additional weapons, as well as a few more known Oath Keepers who directly confronted cops), nothing in the record thus far shows The Stack had a direct role in the damage to the Capitol.

Compare with the Proud Boys to understand the significance of this. In that case, Dominic Pezzola, in fairly obvious coordination with others, was the very first person to break a window allowing the breach of the Capitol. While the other Proud Boys are not yet charged in a conspiracy with Pezzola, there’s every likelihood they will be, in which case a claim that they worked together to break that window will be reasonable and detention claims based on that property damage against co-conspirators substantiated.

In the apparent Proud Boys plot to breach the Capitol and delay the vote count, breaking that window was a fundamental part of the conspiracy.

This is the same problem the government has — and will face on appeal — with Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother, Lisa Eisenhart. While mother and son clearly had intent to obstruct the counting of the vote and Munchel came armed with a taser, there’s no evidence that they were working in concert with those who committed the violence or did the damage to the Capitol.

In both the Munchel case and the Oath Keepers case, the government might believe or might have believed they could rely on another terrorism enhancement, attempted kidnapping of  congressional or cabinet targets (18 USC 351), kidnapping of Presidential staff (18 USC 1751a) or hostage taking (18 USC 1203). The government has argued, for example, that Munchel and his mom are the only ones who saw the Capitol Police zip ties sitting out in public and seized them, after which Munchel headed to where the vote was being counted in the Senate chamber, supporting a supposition he would have detained Senators if he had had the chance.

One of the Oath Keepers on the Zello channel Watkins was using (it’s unclear whether the government has IDed this person yet) told her she was executing a citizens arrest based on probable cause for treason and election fraud, implying a plan to detain members of Congress.

An individual directed, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” WATKINS responded, “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.” An individual responded to WATKINS, telling her to be safe, and stated, “Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

That is, in both cases, there’s reason to suspect the intent was to detain members of Congress — possibly even Mike Pence himself — but that hasn’t been charged against either Munchel and his mom or the Oath Keepers.

The government also may have reason to believe the Oath Keepers conspiracy will ultimately merge with the Proud Boys conspiracy, putting the former on the hook for the violence of the latter.

There’s evidence, for example, that Oath Keeper co-conspirator Thomas Caldwell was trying to coordinate between the militias. By December 23, he described to someone what he knew of the Proud Boys’ plans.

Okay. I got your msg that maybe a whole bunch of you will be going to the rally which is great. [Person Two] and I are going for sure and as of now a bunch of the Oathkeepers from North Carolina whowe hosted here on the farm for the Million Maga march are coming up on one or two buses so that will be neat. I am expecting a big turn out of the Proud Boys (didn’t know until the last march that they had a chapter in Charlestown) and of course the local Vietnamese will probably have at least 2 bus loads like last time. We will keep in touch. I gotta get off my ass and get on parler. I picked up Signal which is a free app that is encrypted talk and text. Thats how I do some secure comms with the Oathkeepers.

On December 30, he reached out to someone in the Three Percenter movement and asked to be included in their plans.

“[A]re you and any of your fellow 3-percenters having any kind of meetings coming up to discuss the 6th of Jan in d.c. or just getting together? I would like to meet some of the guys if you think I ‘m cool enough.” That individual responded, “You can join our group if you want but you have to be veted before you can attend any training events or zoom meetings. Ill get with ya this evening.” In part, Caldwell replied, “Outstanding!”

While there’s no sign yet of a conspiracy charge against the Three Percenters, one of the three people charged together in beating a prone cop, Thomas Lopatic, wore Three Percenter clothes. The father who threatened to kill his kids if they reported his involvement (who mounted the scaffolding used in a flanking move in the breach), Guy Reffitt, is a member. Most intriguingly, Robert Gieswein, who marched with and coordinated with the Proud Boys in the original breach and is also charged with assaulting cops while wielding a baseball bat and some kind of spray, also has ties to the Three Percenters.

There’s also reason to believe that the December MAGA March provided a key networking opportunity in advance of January 6 — for example, Pezzola spent time there with Roger Stone bodyguard, Robert Minuta.

Indeed, one of the likely nodes between the two main militia groups charged with conspiracy is Roger Stone, who was hanging out with both of them. Heck, even Rudy Giuliani, a key proponent of a very different theory of law enforcement involving broken windows, could be such a node.

So it’s possible that as FBI exploits more communications and starts to flip cooperators, they’ll tie the coordinated actions of the various militia together. But they’re not there yet. And until they do that, it’s not clear that the government has the evidence to detain Oath Keeper foot soldiers or random militia sympathizers pre-trial.

The government makes a very good case that the far right — particularly these three groups — have plans to follow up on January 6, plans for which the existing leadership arrested as part of January 6 could play a key role. This is what I’ve pointed to repeatedly (most clearly with Munchel). January 6 was an unprecedented insurgent attack on the country. But that unprecedented attack can look like either civil disobedience involving legally owned weapons or a threat to the Republic. Because of that, it’s not entirely clear how the government’s attempts to detain key figures pre-trial will work out.