Days after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2017, federal criminal enforcement authorities went after two high-profile extremist groups: the far-right nationalist Proud Boys and the militia organisation Oath Keepers, both of which were active in the 2016 election. Member of each group was taken into custody immediately and charged with a slew of attention-grabbing crimes, including conspiring to tamper with the certification of the 2020 vote count.
Now, congressional investigators are looking into the role played by the 1st Amendment Praetorian, a right-wing paramilitary organisation that was engaged in a less apparent but no less extensive attempt to keep President Donald J. Trump in office.
Affectionately known as 1AP, the group spent much of the immediate aftermath of the election campaigning underground with pro-Trump lawyers, activists, business executives, and military veterans to undermine public confidence in the election and increase Mr. Trump’s chances of retaining the presidency.
Members of the 1st Amendment Praetorian, according to their own accounts, assisted in funnelling information about alleged election fraud to attorneys who were fighting to have the vote count overturned. A large audience gathered for “Stop the Steal” demonstrations to urge that Mr. Trump stay in office. They guarded celebrities such as Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security advisor, at the events. They also backed a controversial suggestion to urge the president to declare a state of emergency and confiscate the nation’s voting equipment in order to maintain control of the country.
The Capitol riot has not been solved, and it is unknown how much influence 1AP had or how seriously criminal investigators were looking into their activities. None of the organization’s senior agents have been arrested in connection with the incident. 6 and others at the Willard Hotel, which is located among some of Mr. Trump’s closest associates and supporters. In addition, in the days immediately up to the attack, 1AP’s Twitter account tweeted statements that suggested the organisation was aware that violence was on the way.
“It’s possible that some young National Guard captains may be faced with some really difficult decisions in the next 48 hours,” according to a statement issued by the organisation on Jan. 4.
According to some of these concerns, the House select committee investigating the Capitol assault sent a subpoena to Robert Patrick Lewis, the head of 1AP, last month, which he refused to comply with. Similar requests were issued the same day to Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys’ chairman, and Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers’ founder, both of whom responded the same day.
As part of their investigation, congressional investigators have collected a large number of audio recordings of members of the 1AP and are attempting to understand how they fit into the overall picture of the case. However, Mr. Lewis has shared sections of his narrative on the internet in videos and podcasts in recent months, and he has not responded to several requests for comment.
During the second huge pro-Trump event in Washington in mid-December 2020, 1AP was hired to provide security for one of Ms. Powell’s previous clients, General Michael Flynn. Cindy Chafian, an organiser for the pro-Trump organisation Women for America First, is credited with putting up the event, according to public records. Women for America First organised caravans of Trump supporters to gather around the nation following the election. It has also been requested that Ms. Chafian appear before the House Select Committee.)
This protest, which took place on December 12, 2020, contributed to the strengthening of 1AP’s connection with Mr. Flynn and Ms. Chafian. According to a televised interview that the militia’s commander, Mr. Rhodes, delivered that day, it also brought the group into touch with the Oath Keepers, who joined their security detail as a result of the encounter.
In public footage, at least one of Mr. Lewis’s lieutenants, Geoffrey Flohr, a former Michigan police officer, was shown wandering about outside the Capitol grounds and conversing on his cellphone shortly before the violence started. Mr. Lewis was shot and killed in the incident. In response to requests requesting comment from Mr. Flohr, he did not react. A group of people outside the building included Ms. Chafian and her husband, Scott Chafian, who were also among the throng.
The next day, another member of 1AP took to Twitter to claim he was in a “overwatch position” in Arlington County, Va., where prosecutors allege that the Oath Keepers had stationed an armed “rapid response force” in a hotel, ready to go into Washington if necessary.
Mr. Lewis, on the other hand, informed The Daily Beast last year that he would be at the Willard again on Jan. 6, away from the turmoil at the Capitol, and he was correct.