We’ve known from early on in the investigation into the events of Jan. 6 that two “Patriot” movement paramilitary groups, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, played major roles in the attack on the Capitol that day, particularly in conspiring to besiege the building on multiple fronts. Now it appears that a lesser-known and more recently organized “militia” group, their ranks similarly filled with law enforcement and military veterans, may have played a significant role as well.
The 1st Amendment Praetorian (1AP), as the militia calls itself, first drew attention last summer by providing “security” for various far-right pro-Trump events. Now its role in the Capitol siege has come under the scrutiny of the House Jan. 6 committee, which has subpoenaed the organization’s leaders to answer questions about its participation in those events.
The organization, founded in September 2020 by a former U.S. Army staff sergeant named Robert Patrick Lewis, takes its name from the Roman imperial guard—notorious for its violent role in ancient authoritarian politics—of the same name. Like the Oath Keepers, it has specifically recruited veterans from the ranks of the military and law enforcement, calling itself a “volunteer force of military, Law Enforcement & intel agency community professionals standing up to protect the 1st Amendment and those who use it.”
Lewis was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee in November to answer questions about 1AP’s involvement in the Capitol siege. Unlike the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, no one from the group has yet been charged, largely because none of its members appear to have entered the building.
However, 1AP members appear to have been stationed outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, while its core members—including Lewis—were huddled with Trump’s “Command Center” inside the Willard Hotel, coordinating with administration insiders such as Michael Flynn and other “Stop the Steal” figures. These planning sessions appear to have been occurring at the Willard since at last Jan. 4, the day that 1AP’s Twitter account posted: “There may be some young National Guard captains facing some very, very tough choices in the next 48 hours.”
Lewis also had been a speaker the night before the insurrection at the pro-Trump “Rally to Revival” at Freedom Plaza, where he told the crowd they should not be “intimidated” by the “enemy at the gates.”
On Jan. 6, he told The Daily Beast, he was inside the Willard while the siege was under way. Just after 2 PM, shortly after the Capitol had been breached, he tweeted: “Today is the day the true battles begin.”
Two hours later, as while the mob was still inside, he added a tweet: “The cost of Truth is Pain. The greater the Truth, the greater the potential for pain.”
The next day, Jan. 7, Lewis claimed that he had been “war-gaming” with “constitutional scholars” regarding efforts to keep Donald Trump in the presidency despite Congress’ certification of the election results the day before.
The organization’s paranoid embrace of conspiracy theories, like all Patriot movement groups, was clear from the outset. In announcing its creation, Lewis tweeted that 1AP was intended to protect Trump supporters from harassment at his rallies, claiming they would safeguard free speech rights from “tyrannical, Marxist subversive groups.” The group claims that its membership primarily comprises Special Forces veterans and former intelligence officials.
Lewis’ predilection for wild conspiracy theories has been a primary feature of the group’s rhetoric. During the 2020 campaign, 1AP posted a memo on Telegram reporting on a series of train derailments across the country, all of them unrelated, and suggested that Chinese commandos were preparing an attack on the U.S.
“There are strong indications that foreign [special operations forces] are possibly working within US borders to disrupt supply lines,” the memo warned.
Lewis also gave an interview to Fox News claiming that he has uncovered a nefarious “antifa” network that was preparing coordinated attacks on the American public.
“Our intelligence shows that no matter who wins the election, they are planning a massive ‘Antifa Tet Offensive,’ bent on destroying the global order,” he said, a reference to a 1968 tactical campaign by Vietnamese communist forces.
Much of the group’s real-world activity has revolved around providing “security” for pro-Trump and QAnon-related events, which included the Nov. 14 “Million MAGA March” event and the Dec. 12 Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C., both widely considered far-right “test runs” for Jan. 6. 1AP reportedly provided security for Flynn at the latter rally.
On his Twitter account, Lewis continues to espouse the same conspiracist worldview that animated the insurrection: claiming that Biden is an illegitimate president in the control of Chinese communists, while defending the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as “political prisoners.” Like most Patriot movement participants, he also promotes COVID-19 denialism and “critical race theory” hysteria.
The 1AP presence at the scene on Jan. 6 underscores the larger context—namely, that the war on democracy being waged by the radical right has the Patriot movement at its nexus. One can only hope that the Jan. 6 committee investigation will shed some light on how all of these components worked together—and particularly whether they coordinated the attack on the Capitol with elements inside the Trump White House.