A California man accused of coordinating a group of “armed fighters” to stop the electoral certification of President Joe Biden on Jan. 6 is just a “vanilla kind of guy” who was simply angry at having to wear a mask, his lawyers claimed Tuesday.
Russell Taylor, a 40-year-old from Ladera Ranch, is among six men federally indicted last week on a slew of charges, including conspiracy, for their role in the Capitol riot. Prosecutors allege the group, which contained at least four Three Percenters militia group members, arrived in D.C. armed with weapons, bear spray, and two-way radios in preparation for the siege.
The other indicted members of the group include Alan Hostetter, a 56-year-old former police chief; Erik Scott Warner, 45; Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, 47; Derek Kinnison, 39; and Ronald Mele, 51.
Prosecutors argue Taylor joined a “mob of protesters” to attack law enforcement officers attempting to secure the Capitol—while armed with a knife—and he should be kept in pre-trial detention.
But his defense team had a different theory on Tuesday: the family man simply had too much time on his hands during the coronavirus pandemic and acted out.
“He’s kind of boring, this is probably the most exciting thing that’ll happen in his life,” Taylor’s lawyer, Dyke Huish, said during a Tuesday detention hearing. “Really he’s kind of a vanilla kind of guy—though admittedly he was upset about the masks.”
Huish describing his client as “moderately successful,” and a religious man who doesn’t drink and went to Brigham Young University. He insisted that Taylor’s actions during the insurrection were unique and spurred by his anger over the state-wide lockdown and mask mandate. He denied that Taylor is a militiaman—just that his documented violent actions were misunderstood.
“This was a guy who got mad about the masks and so he got wound up and felt like this was an appropriate thing to do,” Huish said during the hearing.
Evidence collected by federal investigators since February, however, shows a different story.
In a Tuesday court filing arguing for detention, prosecutors further laid out Taylor’s coordinated efforts to plan an attack on the Capitol—including sharing a Jan. 5 photo Taylor took of his tactical vest, hatchets, knife, gloves, and backpack with the caption “now getting ready for tomorrow.”
From at least December, he texted Hostetter about travel plans to D.C. and whether they should bring firearms. Prosecutors allege the pair are leaders of the American Phoenix Project, described as a group that “advocate[s] for violence against individuals and groups who supported the 2020 presidential election results.”
“I truly believe that we were meant to come together to be engaged in this war at this time and as I have said before it is an honor to be shoulder to shoulder with you,” Taylor messaged Hostetter on Dec. 26, 2020, according to the court filing. Days later, he wrote: “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!”
On Jan. 1, Taylor started a Telegram group chat titled “The California Patriots—DC Brigade” as a way to organize a “group of ‘fighters’ to travel to D.C. with weapons for Jan. 6, 2021, to prevent the peaceful transfer of power that day,” the court filing states. In the chat, the group discussed the logistics of the operation, like what skills they could provide and when they were arriving in D.C.
The day before the riot, Taylor also spoke outside the Supreme Court, insisting “we will fight and we will bleed before we allow our freedoms to be taken from us.” The court filing states that, later that evening, Taylor sent the photo of his backpack and weapons. Photos of Taylor at the riots show him wearing most of what was seen in the photo.
After marching to the Capitol, prosecutors allege Taylor was “among an initial group of rioters who clashed with a line of law enforcement officers on the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol building.” He also took a “selfie” video, where he “urged on other rioters who were fighting with officers” to “move forward.”
Assistant United States Attorney Risa Berkower argued in court on Tuesday that the evidence shows that Taylor’s anger went far deeper than his angst over face masks. Berkower argued that since the 2020 election, Taylor had been posting about his anti-government ideology, and it would only continue if he is released.
“Taylor’s actions sought to undermine the peaceful transfer of power that is at the core of our democracy,” prosecutors said in their court filing, adding that Taylor has not shown any remorse for his actions. “The seriousness of the crimes with which he is charged cannot be overstated.”
Judge Royce Lamberth said he would make a decision on Taylor’s detention at a later date.