A Jan. 6 rioter praised Vivek Ramaswamy at his sentencing for suggesting riot was an 'inside job'

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A former California police chief convicted of a conspiracy charge in the U.S. Capitol riot was sentenced Thursday to more than 11 years in prison after giving a speech that praised Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy's suggestion the Jan. 6, 2021, attack could have been an “inside job."

Alan Hostetter, who prosecutors say carried a hatchet in his backpack on Jan. 6, spun conspiracy theories as he spoke to a judge at his sentencing hearing, falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and referring to the riot as a “false flag” operation.

Only eight other Jan. 6 defendants have received a longer term so far. His is the third-longest Jan. 6 sentence among those who were not charged with seditious conspiracy.

Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur running his first political campaign, has drawn attention in the GOP field with his rapid-fire, wide-ranging speeches in which he often discusses things he says are “truths.”

In suggesting that federal agents were behind Jan. 6 during a GOP debate Wednesday, Ramaswamy promoted a conspiracy theory embraced by many on the far right who have argued Trump supporters were framed. There is no evidence to back up those claims, and FBI Director Christopher Wray has said the “notion that somehow the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and agents is ludicrous.”

Ramaswamy's campaign did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Hostetter, who defended himself at his bench trial with help from a standby attorney, said Ramaswamy’s mention shows ideas like his are “no longer fringe theories."

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Hostetter’s conviction wasn’t about his beliefs, but rather for crossing police lines being part of the riot that interrupted Congress as they certified the 2020 election. He handed down a 135-month sentence, close to the more than 12-year sentence prosecutors had requested.

Prosecutor Anthony Mariano pointed to posts Hostetter had made before Jan. 6, including one about putting “the fear of God into members of Congress.”

“This is not a case that’s just about words … this man took actions based on those words,” he said, detailing knives and other gear Hostetter also brought to Washington.

A defense attorney advising him, Karren Kenney, argued that Hostetter didn’t push against police lines or enter the Capitol building. Hostetter also maintained that he didn’t bring his hatchet to the Capitol.

Hostetter was convicted in July of four counts, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and entering a restricted area with a deadly or dangerous weapon.

Hostetter had previously served as police chief in La Habra, California, near Los Angeles, but had moved on to teaching yoga when he founded a nonprofit called the American Phoenix Project in the spring of 2020. He used the tax-exempt organization to oppose COVID-19 restrictions and to advocate for violence against political opponents after the 2020 presidential election.

Hostetter was arrested in June 2021 along with five other men. Their indictment linked four of Hostetter’s co-defendants to the Three Percenters wing of the militia movement. Their name refers to the myth that only 3% of Americans fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.

Hostetter said he doesn’t have any connection to the Three Percenters movement and accused prosecutors of falsely portraying him as “a caricature of some radical terrorist.”

Approximately 1,200 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Roughly 900 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a judge or jury after trials. Over 700 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds receiving prison sentences ranging from three days to 22 years.