2 Years Ago, Alan Hostetter Taught Yoga. Now He Faces Charges Tied To The Jan. 6 Riot

Jul 6, 2021
Originally published on July 7, 2021 7:53 am
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been six months since insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. A top priority for the Department of Justice is unraveling the alleged conspiracies behind that attack. Prosecutors say one plot involved a group of militiamen from Southern California led by a former police chief turned yoga instructor. NPR's Tom Dreisbach has that story. And a warning - it features some offensive language.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Less than two years before he faced a sweeping criminal indictment for alleged conspiracy, this was Alan Hostetter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALAN HOSTETTER: Take a slow, full breath in through your nostrils. Hold it at the top, and then open your mouth and let the breath go.

DREISBACH: In the last several years, Hostetter has been a yoga and meditation teacher and self-described sound healer in Orange County. His life had actually taken several turns before then. He was in the army in the '80s, a cop in the '90s and 2000s, became a police chief in 2009 and retired less than a year later in the small beach city of San Clemente. It's the kind of place with benches engraved with sayings like, may every sunset bring you peace. And Hostetter seemed to fit in. He had long salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a ponytail, big beard, and in his videos, he would wear these flowing white tunics. One person who went to a Hostetter sound healing class in 2019 told me, quote, "he was like pure love." But that person did not want to go on tape. They were afraid of backlash because of what happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But I've never in my wildest dreams thought that I would actually be in a position to have to defend my fellow countrymen and women from domestic enemies.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yep.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But damn it, I'm doing it now.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: Yeah.

DREISBACH: When COVID-19 broke out, Orange County saw a surge of anti-lockdown protests. And Hostetter was there from the beginning. Most people I spoke to on the left and right agree that the moment that turned Hostetter into a leader of this movement came in May of 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

HOSTETTER: And I'm going to attempt to enter into that fence with a socket wrench and nine-sixteenth socket. And I'm going to begin the process of dismantling that fence.

(APPLAUSE)

DREISBACH: San Clemente had put up a chain-link fence by the city's pier to discourage people from congregating. So Hostetter grabbed a piece of that fence and held on. Sheriff's deputies eventually had to cut a hand-shaped hole in the fence so they could handcuff him and arrest him, while protesters cheered him on.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting) U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.

DREISBACH: The Orange County Sheriff's Department says eight people were arrested that day, including one man in his 70s. That man told me the experience made him view Hostetter as a hero. To others, it was a reckless act during a deadly pandemic. Now, more than 5,000 people have died of COVID in Orange County. Some people protested lockdowns because of the effect on their jobs. But Hostetter, records show, earns about $150,000 every year from his government pension. He was more focused on what he viewed as tyrannical government overreach. One of his protest targets was the Democratic mayor of Costa Mesa, Katrina Foley. He and others showed up at her house where she was leading a city council meeting by Zoom.

KATRINA FOLEY: You could hear them, you know, yelling fire Foley and no mask mandates, masks kill people. COVID isn't real.

DREISBACH: In all your career in politics, have you ever experienced something like that before?

FOLEY: Never.

DREISBACH: Foley said that during another protest outside her home, they harassed her son. Foley's family wasn't the only target. In the middle of a pandemic, Orange County's health officer resigned after receiving similar threats. This area has a history of far-right activism, but locals told me Hostetter is a uniquely compelling figure. He could bring together disparate groups - yoga students sometimes skeptical of mainstream medicine and pro-police conservatives. And Hostetter's rhetoric seemed to get increasingly violent. At a rally in July 2020, he said if the founding fathers were alive, they would violently overthrow California Governor Gavin Newsom.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

HOSTETTER: They would have dragged that bastard out by his hair.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: That's right.

HOSTETTER: They would have drug (ph) him into the town square. And they'd have give him a choice. They'd have said, Gavin, you can be hung, or you can be tarred and feathered and banished. Pick one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yeah. Hang him.

DREISBACH: One audience member yelled, hang him. Hostetter then said that he was not actually endorsing violence. After January 6, this type of language got the attention of federal prosecutors. But at the time, Hostetter campaigned alongside and introduced major candidates and office holders for city council, school board, state assembly and even Congress. After Joe Biden won the presidential election, Hostetter's focus turned from COVID to overturning what he viewed, against all evidence, as a stolen election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOSTETTER: That's not hyperbole when we call it tyranny. That's [expletive] tyranny. And tyrants and traitors need to be executed as an example.

DREISBACH: This is from a video Hostetter posted last November while driving to a pro-Trump rally. Prosecutors allege that around this time, Hostetter was participating in encrypted chats with members of a far-right militia group called the Three Percenters. They allegedly discussed plans to bring body armor, hatchets and guns to D.C. for January 6. It's unclear whether Hostetter actually did bring guns.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

HOSTETTER: We are at war in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: We are.

HOSTETTER: We are at war. Tomorrow a million...

DREISBACH: On the day before the insurrection, Hostetter spoke at the Rally to Save America in front of the Supreme Court. He was wearing a fedora with an American flag on it. Infowars host Alex Jones and Trump adviser Roger Stone also spoke at the event. One speaker said Hostetter's group helped pay for the event and said it could not have happened without him.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

HOSTETTER: I will see you all tomorrow at the front lines. We are taking our country back.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Yes.

HOSTETTER: Thank you all for being here.

DREISBACH: On the morning of January 6, Hostetter watched Donald Trump's speech and then marched to the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Right now, patriots dominate the city of Washington, D.C.

DREISBACH: Prosecutors say Hostetter pushed along with the mob into restricted areas on the West Terrace of the Capitol but did not go inside. He did post a photo of himself outside the building, along with a friend who was wearing body armor and a knife. Hostetter called the insurrection, quote, "the shot heard round the world" and said, we are just getting started.

Five months later, Hostetter was arrested on charges of conspiracy. He remains free, pending trial, and he has pleaded not guilty. He said he actually never met the militiamen he's been charged with and says the whole insurrection was a setup at the so-called deep state. So I stopped by his apartment in San Clemente to try to talk to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING, DOORBELL RINGING)

DREISBACH: I rang the doorbell twice.

OK. No answer.

So I stepped away to write a note and leave a business card. Then Hostetter came out.

Oh, sir. Mr. Hostetter.

HOSTETTER: Wrong guy.

DREISBACH: The former police officer turned yogi turned protest leader turned Capitol riot defendant is very recognizable.

I know it's not the wrong guy, but if you don't want to talk, I understand.

He got into an SUV, and before leaving, he rolled down his window to say something.

HOSTETTER: World's about to change, my friend.

DREISBACH: He said, the whole world's about to change, my friend.

What do you mean by that?

HOSTETTER: Watch the news. Things are about to get real interesting.

DREISBACH: Then he said, watch the news. Things are about to get real interesting. And he drove off. When I sent him a message later, he declined an interview because NPR is, quote, "fake news." He sent a link to a clip from a movie called "Law Abiding Citizen."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAW ABIDING CITIZEN")

GERARD BUTLER: (As Clyde Shelton) I'm going to bring the whole [expletive] deceased, corrupt temple down on your head.

DREISBACH: The movie's about a guy who goes on a vigilante rampage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAW ABIDING CITIZEN")

BUTLER: (As Clyde Shelton) It's going to be biblical.

DREISBACH: The guy tortures and kills police, prosecutors and even a judge. It's popular among believers of QAnon. I asked Hostetter if he was trying to imply something by sending it, and he did not reply. Tom Dreisbach, NPR News, San Clemente, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.