Capitol Riot

California man who testified against Capitol riot companion is sentenced to home detention

Prosecutors recommended a prison term of over four years for Taylor, but U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced him on Friday to three years of probation

Stephanie Keith | Reuters

A California man who organized a “group of fighters” to storm the U.S. Capitol — and later testified against one of his companions during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack — was sentenced on Friday to six months of home detention.

Russell Taylor had a knife on his chest and was carrying a hatchet in his backpack when he helped other rioters overrun a police line outside the Capitol.

Taylor, 42, of Ladera Ranch, California, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to obstruct the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory. He was a key witness for prosecutors in the trial of Alan Hostetter, a former police chief who also was convicted of a conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors recommended a prison term of four years and four months for Taylor, but U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth spared him from incarceration and sentenced him to three years of probation. He also ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service.

Lamberth, who has been one of the toughest punishers of the Jan. 6 riot defendants, said a probation sentence “comes once in a lifetime in my courtroom” and warned Taylor that he will be imprisoned if he violates his probation terms.

“You can be the poster child now for how these cases should be done,” the judge said.

Lamberth said he believes Taylor testified truthfully and expressed sincere remorse. He described Taylor's cooperation as “essential" and said he earned a chance to avoid prison time.

“There's hope at the end of the tunnel,” the judge said.

Taylor fought back tears as he recalled spending time jailed in solitary confinement after his arrest.

“I thought about why I was there and the mistake I made on January 6th,” he said. “I thought about being charged with a crime by a country that I do love.”

Prosecutors cited Taylor's cooperation as grounds for leniency but argued that his role in the Jan. 6 attack merited a prison sentence.

“Taylor understood that his decision would not only sever his relationship with former associates but expose him to potential harassment and threats as well,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Taylor and Hostetter served together on the board of the American Phoenix Project. Hostetter founded the group to protest government restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, but its focus later shifted to conspiracy theories about election fraud.

“After then-President (Donald) Trump lost the 2020 election, Taylor and Hostetter discussed how to respond, and Taylor asked: 'How do we have a show of force? Motorcade? Rally? Riot?'” prosecutors wrote.

Before the riot, Taylor organized a Telegram group that he called “The California Patriots—DC Brigade” for those “that are traveling to DC for Jan 6th event that are comfortable with violence.” Taylor told members they would use the Telegram channel "to organize a group of fighters.”

Taylor flew to Washington while Hostetter drove across the country with weapons that Taylor would carry when he stormed the Capitol.

A day before Trump's “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on Jan. 6, Taylor and Hostetter gave speeches with violent rhetoric at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I will see all tomorrow at the front lines. We are taking our country back!” Hostetter told the crowd.

After attending the rally, Hostetter and Taylor marched to the Capitol and approached a police line on the Lower West Terrace. Taylor cheered on rioters who broke through the police line, shouting, “Move forward, Americans!”

Taylor then pushed against a police line on a stage set up for Biden's inauguration. An officer deployed pepper spray in Taylor’s face, briefly causing him to retreat.

Hostetter and Taylor didn't enter the Capitol but remained on the Upper West Terrace for hours before police cleared the area. Taylor later celebrated on Telegram, posting, “I was pushing through traitors all day today. WE STORMED THE CAPITAL! Freedom was fully demonstrated today!”

Taylor was charged with Hostetter and four other defendants — Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio Martinez, Derek Kinnison and Ronald Mele — whom authorities have linked to the anti-government Three Percenters militia movement.

Lamberth sentenced Hostetter to over 11 years in prison after convicting him on all four counts, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and entering a restricted area with a deadly or dangerous weapon. After a jury separately convicted the four other defendants, Lamberth sentenced them to terms of imprisonment ranging from 21 to 33 months.

Taylor said he thought he was “answering the call of a president that I believed in.”

“I was wrong to follow and listen to many people like Alan, who had their own agendas,” he told the judge.

Defense attorney Dyke Huish said Taylor already has performed 300 hours of community service and took citizenship classes "to remind him of the true value of being an American.”

Taylor's cooperation with the government created an “unusual conundrum,” his lawyer said.

“Those who still support the events of January 6th see him in hostile terms for his admissions and cooperation. He has been treated harshly by some people and had veiled personal threats. At the same time those on the other side of the issue shun him because he went to Washington D.C. in the first place,” Huish wrote.

More than 1,350 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Over 850 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds receiving a term of imprisonment ranging from a few days to 22 years.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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