Capitol Rioter used charity to promote violence, says federal government – NBC10 Philadelphia

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A Californian man accused of joining anti-government extremists in riots at the United States Capitol told the IRS last year that he formed a charity called the American Phoenix Project to defend “human rights and civilians ”and educate the public about vaccines.

Instead, Alan Hostetter used his tax-exempt nonprofit as a platform to oppose COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, protesting the theft of the 2020 election to former President Donald Trump and advocate for violence against political opponents, according to an eight-count indictment obtained by the US Department of Justice. He’s already charged with conspiring to stop Joe Biden’s certification as president, but Hostetter could also violate IRS rules governing tax-exempt nonprofits, which could exacerbate his serious legal problems.

The IRS prohibits charities like Hostetter from participating in any campaign activity for or against political candidates. In its May 2020 IRS tax exemption request, Hostetter wrote that the American Phoenix Project would not directly or indirectly engage in political campaigns.

However, when the American Phoenix Project held a “Stop the Steal” rally in Huntington Beach, Calif., In December, Hostetter gave a speech in which he called for a “debrief” and said Trump should lend. oath for a second term.

“There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the leaders of this coup,” Hostetter said, according to his June 9 indictment.

On Wednesday, the IRS classified the American Phoenix Project as a tax-exempt organization. It is also registered with California regulators to operate as a charity.

Hostetter’s attorney, Bilal Essayli, accused Justice Department prosecutors of pushing a “false story” by including the allegations regarding his client’s use of the charity. Hostettler is not accused of making political threats or abusing the association, he noted.

“They are launching really inflammatory rhetoric that they will never have to prove in court,” Essayli said.

But a tax expert who reviewed the indictment says it appears to link Hostetter’s use of the taxpayer-subsidized US project Phoenix, including the posts he posted on the organization’s Instagram account non-profit, crimes related to January 6 for which he is indicted.

“I think it’s fair and fairly objective to say that we don’t want taxpayer dollars to fund illegality,” added Samuel Brunson, professor of tax law at Loyola University in Chicago.

An IRS spokesperson said privacy laws prevent the agency from commenting on individual organizations. A spokesperson for the California attorney general’s office, Rob Bonta, declined to say whether his charitable trust section had received or investigated complaints about the U.S. Phoenix Project.

“To protect its integrity, we cannot discuss potential or ongoing investigations,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

The FBI has linked dozens of people indicted in the Jan.6 riot on Capitol Hill with far-right groups. Hostetter’s organization is perhaps the only one of the group to be authorized by the federal government to accept tax-deductible donations.

And the American Phoenix Project may not be the only tax-exempt group to challenge the 2020 election results: Defending the Republic, formed by former Trump attorney Sidney Powell, describes itself as an organization nonprofit but is not on the IRS tax exempt list. organizations.

Hostetter, 56, of San Clemente, was arrested on June 10, along with five other men from California, accused of plotting to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s election victory. The indictment binds four of his co-defendants to the Three Percent, a wing of the militia movement.

Another co-accused, Russell Taylor, joined the American Phoenix Project board last year, prosecutors said. On the eve of the Capitol Riot, Taylor spoke at a pro-Trump rally outside the United States Supreme Court as part of a panel of speakers from the U.S. Project Phoenix, according to the act of ‘charge.

“We are free Americans and in these streets we will fight and bleed before we allow our freedom to be taken from us,” Taylor said, according to the indictment.

In a video posted to his organization’s YouTube channel less than a month after the election, Hostetter expressed his belief that the votes for Trump had been “shifted” to Biden and that “some people at the highest levels should be seen as an example with one execution or two or three, ”indicates the indictment.

Three days before the riot, Hostetter posted on the American Phoenix Project’s Instagram account about an impending “battle”.

“Things are going to get worse in the United States in the coming days. Stay tuned! ”He wrote.

After the riot, Hostetter posted a self-same photo of himself and Taylor with rioters in the background. He called it “the 2021 version of 1776,” the indictment says.

“This war lasted 8 years. We’re just getting started, ”he wrote.

Brunson says it would be an “obvious and easy decision” for the IRS to revoke the US Project Phoenix’s tax exemption if it finds out he’s been using his property for illegal purposes. Whether the group violated the IRS ban on political campaigning is a more specific appeal in Brunson’s judgment, as the indictment accuses Hostetter of using it to support Trump after he lost the elections.

“At some point, Trump stops running for office,” Brunson said. “Based on the indictment, it is easier to say that they are acting illegally. It’s not going to be super controversial. It’s not going to be super difficult. “

Essayli accused prosecutors of attempting to punish Hostetter for expressing his “strong political views” with free speech protected by the First Amendment.

“They have a narrative, rhetoric in public, and then what they actually bring to court is totally different,” the defense attorney said.

In reports filed with the IRS and the California Attorney General’s office, the American Phoenix Project said it received $ 10,317 in contributions and spent a total of $ 53,342 in 2020. This includes $ 50,000 that he says he spent on a COVID lawsuit against California Governor Gavin Newsom. -19 restrictions.

More than 480 people have been charged with federal riot related crimes. As the case against Hostetter and his co-defendants has only just begun, federal prosecutors have started to strike plea deals with some rioters. Authorities have brought similar conspiracy cases against members and associates of extremist groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

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