Hostetter is a former infantryman, sheriff’s deputy, SWAT officer and police chief. That part of his background isn’t particularly surprising. President Donald Trump enjoyed broad support in the (White) law enforcement community, and the presence of former and active police officers and troops at the Stop the Steal rally and Capitol riot has been well documented. Although few if any of the other protesters who descended on Washington offered Hostetter’s combination of law enforcement and New Age-y mysticism, his presence at the rally illustrates the surprising, perhaps even unnerving width of hardcore Trump support.
After retiring as police chief of La Habra, Calif., in 2010, Hostetter’s career took an unusual turn. He took up yoga and liked it so much that he soon began teaching. Before the pandemic hit, Hostetter was guiding wealthy housewives and senior center classes into hypnotic trances through “sound bath yoga,” which aims to promote relaxation and meditation through the use of instruments such as Tibetan bowls, Aboriginal didgeridoos and Native American flutes. One thing he loved about his new career, Hostetter told the website Voyage L.A. in 2019, was helping newcomers discover that “‘epiphany’ of when you first feel like you have finally found and felt your own soul.”
A year after that interview, Hostetter was delivering an angry diatribe at an anti-lockdown rally in Orange County, a rally he helped organize. Eschewing billowy yoga attire for black jeans, a necklace made of scrap metal from the World Trade Center and a T-shirt with the words “Be the lion, not the sheep,” he urged the crowd to heed Trump’s call to head to Washington to protest certification of the electoral count on Jan. 6.
The “elected whores” in Congress could either “fix this mess and keep America, America,” Hostetter said, or they could make traitors of themselves, at which point “patriots” would drag them through the streets “and tie [them] to a f------ lamp post.”
The far right in Hostetter’s Orange County is a slurry of suburban wellness, law-and-order conservatism, white nationalist activity and five of the country’s 20 wealthiest cities. Hostetter and other activists have created a strange assemblage of yogis, “spiritualists,” business owners and conventional Republicans, harnessing the fear and anger of Orange County elites. They united it with Trump’s more working-class base to build a coalition of anti-lockdown, anti-mask and anti-vaccine activists, QAnon conspiracists, covid-19 truthers, wellness advocates, evangelicals, ultimate fighting fans and white nationalists, all under the MAGA banner.
“I watched over the last year as he spiraled from this calm yoga instructor to a nutty guy who would yell at you on the street if he caught you wearing a mask,” says one of Hostetter’s former yoga students. (Some of the Orange County residents I interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they fear retaliation from Hostetter and his supporters.) “He brought a lot of people from that [yoga] community with him. As his social media posts got crazier, he’d get support and likes from all these moms and housewives.”
A protest to open the beaches brought some surfers on board. A mask-burning rally to open restaurants attracted business owners and what one resident describes as the “wine moms.” The George Floyd protests sparked warnings that criminals and antifa violence were headed to the affluent suburbs.
On Jan. 5, Hostetter’s anti-lockdown group, the American Phoenix Project, co-sponsored a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court with Virginia Women for Trump. “We are at war,” he declared. He vowed to “put the fear of God in the cowards, the traitors, the RINOs, the communists of the Democrat Party.” Russ Taylor, another frequent speaker at Orange County anti-lockdown rallies and county board meetings, promised to “fight” and “bleed” before he’d ever take a knee to communists, “deep state” actors and antifa.
Video and photo evidence from the next day shows the two men on the Capitol steps or near the entrances. Hostetter and Taylor posed for a selfie on the Capitol steps. Taylor was seen carrying a knife as he marched toward Congress and posted a video in which he suggested he wouldn’t be able to attend Trump’s speech because he was armed and wouldn’t get through a security checkpoint. Taylor, who had recently posted selfies with the Orange County sheriff and often expresses support for law enforcement on social media, was later photographed flipping off a line of D.C. police officers on the Capitol steps, then in a group attempting to break through a police line. Neither Hostetter nor Taylor responded to a request for comment.
The most feverish of Trump supporters — the sort who could be persuaded to storm the Capitol — are often depicted as Proud Boys, Three Percenters and other members of similar groups. But they also included “wine moms,” lawyers, respected business owners, religious leaders and yogis. And they’re not going anywhere. Polling shows that the riot did little to diminish the enthusiasm of Trump’s core supporters or their evidence-free belief that the 2020 election was stolen.
In a video shortly after the riot began, Hostetter narrates while panning from the Capitol steps onto a red sea of Trump supporters: “The people have taken back their house! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful sight in my whole life.”
Seconds later, an off-camera voice exclaims, “Oh s---! They’re going inside!” Hostetter responds, “We hear they’re going inside. I’ll be back later.” As long as Republican leaders and elected officials refuse to confront the core pathologies of Trumpism that spawned the riot, the Alan Hostetters in this country will continue to radicalize, and they’ll continue to radicalize others. They’ll be back.
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