The FBI recently raided the homes of two men who sponsored an invective-laced rally near the US Capitol a day before the deadly insurrection, the first known search warrants involving people who organized and spoke at rallies preceding the attack.
CNN learned of the raids through an eyewitness account, public records, a lawyer representing one of the rally organizers and an FBI spokeswoman who confirmed details of the searches.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller confirmed that federal agents executed search warrants last week at two properties in Orange County, California, which public records indicate belong to Russell Taylor and Alan Hostetter. The two men run the American Phoenix Project, which co-sponsored a pro-Donald Trump rally near the Supreme Court on January 5, one day before the attack.
Neither man has been charged with any crimes.
Footage of the rally shows the men spewing militant vitriol: Hostetter told the crowd to prepare for “war tomorrow” against “vipers” in Congress who refused to nullify President Joe Biden‘s win. Taylor said, “We will not return to our peaceful way of life until this election is made right.”
Court documents related to the search warrants are still under seal, but the raids are the first publicly known federal actions against people who organized rallies linked to the Capitol attack. Federal investigators have issued more than 500 subpoenas and search warrants in the probe.
A key question about the fledgling investigation has been how aggressively prosecutors will scrutinize the people who organized and spoke at rallies that preceded the stunning assault.
Taylor and Hostetter are well-documented promoters of conspiracy theories ranging from QAnon and the “deep state” to those related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 presidential election.
An FBI spokesperson told CNN the search was conducted at the property Taylor owns at 6 a.m. Wednesday. CNN obtained photos and videos of FBI agents at his house hours later.
Spokespeople for the FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment further about the raids or what investigators were searching for, noting that the case files are still sealed.
A lawyer for Taylor, Dyke Huish, told CNN that the agents were “just gathering information on people that were at or near the Capitol building on the day in question,” referring to January 6. Huish said Taylor “cooperated with investigators” and the search was finished “without incident.” Eimiller, the FBI spokeswoman, said “no arrests were made” during the searches.
Taylor acknowledged the raid on his Orange County home in a Telegram post on Friday. Using a pseudonym, Taylor urged his followers to “hold the line,” adding, “I am working with a lawyer and per his recommendation he said to keep on the down low for a bit to stay off any radars.”
Hostetter didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the raid or his DC rally.
The founder of the group that co-sponsored the rally, Virginia Women for Trump, told CNN that she hasn’t been interviewed by the FBI. An employee at Women for America First, a separate organization that held the rally near the White House with Trump one day later, told CNN that nobody at the organization had been interviewed by the FBI either.
Through their right-wing organization, Taylor and Hostetter secured speaking slots at the rally, and used their speeches to spew violent, battle-ready rhetoric.
Weeks earlier, they reached out to Virginia Women for Trump, which was planning an event at the Supreme Court on January 5, one day before Congress would tally the electoral votes and put the final nail in the coffin of Trump’s effort to overturn his loss.
Alice Butler-Short, founder of Virginia Women for Trump, said she primarily organized the rally and invited the speakers, but Taylor and Hostetter helped pay for the logistics and security.
“They kind of found me on Facebook,” Butler-Short said in an interview with CNN.
The lineup of speakers also included the far-right conspiracy theorist Ali Alexander, who ran a “Stop the Steal” group, and Trump ally Roger Stone, who supports the Proud Boys extremist group. They pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Trump. Though Stone said, “We renounce violence,” Hostetter ratcheted things up is his speech.
“We are at war in this country,” Hostetter said. “We are at war tomorrow.”
He continued, “Our voices tomorrow are going to put the fear of God in the cowards and the traitors, the (Republicans in name only), the communists of the Democrat Party, they need to know we as a people, a hundred million strong, are coming for them If they do the wrong thing.”
“I will see you all tomorrow at the frontlines,” Hostetter said as he ended the speech. “We are taking our country back.”
Taylor expressed support for QAnon in his speech and issued a call-to-arms, saying, “In these streets we will fight, and we will bleed before we allow our freedom to be taken from us.” (Huish, his attorney, later claimed he was speaking metaphorically and “has never called for violence.”)
Taylor’s lawyer tried to distance his client from the mob that invaded the Capitol, saying Taylor was “outside” but “never entered the building nor did he cause any damage to the building.”
“His sole purpose in going to Washington DC was to participate in a peaceful and patriotic protest in those things that he believes to be true and correct,” Huish told CNN in a statement.
In a since-deleted Instagram video from January 6, Hostetter said he was avoiding the Ellipse because he had “gear” that wouldn’t be allowed in. In another video obtained by CNN, Taylor said he was walking towards the Capitol and said he was just informed that rioters had breached barricades near the building. He is wearing a flak jacket with what looks like a knife sticking out.
“We’ll see if the Capitol Police are oath keepers of the Constitution,” Taylor is heard saying.
Photos from Hostetter’s Instagram and photojournalists place him and Taylor just outside the Capitol building during the riot. An AFP photographer snapped an image of Taylor giving police the finger around 4:30 p.m. near the North side of the Capitol, near the entrance to the Senate.
Two other photos show Taylor near a police line on the North side of the Capitol. One photo shows him using his body to push against a police line; the other shows him near a police line with what appears to be a gas mask.
He later wrote on Facebook that he never made it inside.