A retired California police chief, who led pro-Trump protests and called for "traitors" in government to be "executed as an example," was sentenced to 135 months — just over 11 years — in prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

After representing himself at his trial earlier this year, Alan Hostetter was convicted of conspiring to obstruct Congress' certification of Joe Biden's electoral victory, bringing a hatchet onto Capitol grounds, and disorderly conduct. While Hostetter joined the mob on the steps of the Capitol, he stopped short of entering the building and did not assault police officers during the riot.

"This defendant's conduct was terrorism," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mariano, who argued that Hostetter's lengthy career in law enforcement meant he should have known better.

"Through his words and deeds on Jan. 6, Alan Hostetter was a terrorist," Mariano said. "Nothing he did was patriotic."

Hostetter denied wrongdoing and gave a lengthy conspiratorial rant claiming that the Capitol riot was the result of a "false flag" attack engineered by the federal government. "I have full faith and confidence the truth will come out and when it does it will shock people," Hostetter told the court. He also praised Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy for saying at Wednesday's GOP primary debate that the Jan. 6 riot "now does look like it was an inside job."

At one point in his remarks to the court, Hostetter endorsed a baseless fringe theory that the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by a police officer while attempting to breach a locked door in the Capitol, was "staged."

"She wasn't actually killed that day," Hostetter said. That claim angered Babbitt's mother, Micki Witthoeft, who attended the hearing. Witthoeft confronted Hostetter outside the courtroom, calling him "arrogant" and telling him "you need help."

The Department of Justice had asked Judge Royce Lamberth to sentence Hostetter to just over 12 years in prison, arguing that his violent anti-government rhetoric, carrying of dangerous weapons, and extensive planning merited a harsh punishment.

Many participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot took unusual paths to the storming of the Capitol, but few were as singular as Hostetter's.

Hostetter served in the U.S. Army in the 1980s and deployed to Germany before going on to work for the Orange County Sheriff's Department and ultimately becoming police chief of La Habra, Calif. After he retired from that position due to what he said were spinal problems, Hostetter settled in the small beachside community of San Clemente and became a yoga instructor and sound healer. He posted videos of himself playing a gong in front of a sunset, and rhapsodizing about the search for inner peace.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, Hostetter began leading protests against what he viewed as tyrannical government overreach, and spoke in terms of violent anti-government revolution. He founded a nonprofit called the American Phoenix Project to support his protest efforts, and gained traction in Southern California's right-wing political scene, standing out with his signature trilby hat and goatee. Hostetter appeared at events with Republican politicians and partnered with the law firm of a prominent Republican attorney, Harmeet Dhillon, to challenge California's COVID-19 policies in court.

Throughout his case, Hostetter has appeared to endorse a wide range of baseless conspiracy theories while arguing that he is the target of a longstanding government plot.

At times, he has referenced the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy alongside claims about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the firing of Tucker Carlson from Fox News and the Freemasons.

After the 2020 election, Hostetter and his group turned their focus to rejecting Biden's electoral victory.

"President Trump must be inaugurated on January 20th, and he must be allowed to finish this historic job of cleaning out the corruption in the cesspool known as Washington, D.C.," Hostetter said in a speech in Huntington Beach, Calif. in Dec. 2020. "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."

Prosecutors say that Hostetter then "spent weeks rallying others, collecting weapons, and planning an attack on the U.S. Capitol on the day that the peaceful transfer of power was meant to take place."

Key evidence against Hostetter came from one of his co-defendants, a California man named Russell Taylor. He helped plan protests with Hostetter, and joined Hostetter in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 while armed with a knife, body armor and a stun baton. Taylor pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, cooperated with prosecutors and testified against his former friend.

Hostetter continued to dispute Taylor's testimony at his sentencing hearing. In wrapping his remarks, he thanked Judge Lamberth for allowing him to speak at length about his case. "You always have given me the opportunity to flap my gums," Hostetter told the court.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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