Four Inland Empire residents who traveled together to Washington, D.C. in January 2021 to attend then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally were convicted on Tuesday, Nov. 7, of various charges related to the breach of the Capitol grounds as Congress attempted to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory in the presidential election.
Convicted of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and obstruction of an official proceeding, both felonies, after a 17-day jury trial in Washington, the U.S. Department of Justice said, were: Erik Scott Warner, 48, of Menifee; Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, 50, of Lake Elsinore; Derek Kinnison, 42, of Lake Elsinore; and Ronald Mele, 54, of Temecula.
Warner and Kinnison were also convicted of tampering with documents or proceedings, a felony, after they erased social-media chats from their phone to hide them from a grand jury investigation.
All four were also found guilty of misdemeanor offenses of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds.
A sentencing date has not been set yet.
The men were members of the Three Percenters, a group that says it believes only 3% of American colonists took up arms against the British during the American Revolution. Some liken the current U.S. government to British authorities who infringed on civil liberties.
Attorney Nicolai Cocis, who is representing Kinnison, said his client viewed the drive to Washington as a “road trip” to back Trump.
“While I respect the jury’s decision, I’m disappointed with the verdict,” Cocis wrote in an email. “Mr. Kinnison is a patriotic citizen who wanted to show his support for President Trump, who he believed was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. He regrets his involvement in the events of January 6 at the Capitol. We will be reviewing the verdict carefully and considering all available legal options.”
Kira Anne West, who represents Warner, declined to comment until after sentencing. Messages were sent as well to attorneys for Mele and Martinez seeking comment.
According to the indictment, Mele on Dec. 27, 2020, posted to Facebook: “January 6, 2021 — Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes. The Vice President, as President of the Senate, presides over the count and announces the results of the Electoral Vote. We are going to be there to show support.”
Two days, later, Mele posted to Facebook: “Soldiers hitting the highway soon to be in DC on the 6th. Ready up!”
On Jan. 2, Kinnison sent a text message to the three others asking if they wanted to bring a “shotty” and “another long iron” in the SUV that Mele had rented, the indictment says. Mele responded: “Shorter the better. Mine will be able to be stashed under the seat. I’ll bring it. 18″ barrel,” according to the indictment.
The men met at Mele’s house later that day and posed for a photograph in which they all made a hand gesture signaling affiliation with the Three Percenters, the indictment says.
On Jan. 6, the men went to the Ellipse for the rally and afterward headed toward the Capitol. As they approached the Capitol at approximately 2 p.m., federal officials said, Kinnison announced, “This is the storm of the Capitol.”
Warner then joined protesters climbing the northwest stairs to the Upper West Terrace, where police had been defending moments earlier.
At the same time, Martinez, Kinnison, and Mele advanced on a police line on the northwest lawn. Mele called out for the crowd to “Push! Push! Push!” as the officers on the lawn were surrounded, a Department of Justice news release said.
At approximately 2:13 p.m., Warner entered the Capitol through a smashed window. When Martinez, Kinnison, and Mele heard by phone that Warner had entered the Capitol, they all moved together to ascend to the Upper West Terrace to join him, the indictment says.
As they ascended the northwest stairs, Mele shot a selfie-style video, in which he proclaims, “Storm the Capitol!” the release said.
Others then surged on the Capitol wearing tactical gear and carrying cans of bear spray, the release said. Martinez, Kinnison, and Mele were not accused of entering the building.
Cocis, the attorney for Kinnison, said some of the men were between jobs and “they thought it would be a good idea to go on a road trip. They called it like Cannonball Run 2021,” a reference to a 1981 movie about a cross-country car race.
Cocis acknowledged that the men brought with them ballistic vests, bear spray, gas masks, handguns and shotguns. But those items were for protection, Cocis said, because the men had “heard stories of Antifa attacking Trump supporters.”
More than 1,200 people have been charged so far with crimes related to the Jan. 6 breach, the DOJ said.
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