An obscure far-right paramilitary group is in the spotlight this week after getting subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
The committee subpoenaed the 1st Amendment Praetorian, a group founded in 2020 that recruits military veterans and former police officers to provide security at right-wing events.
Lawmakers also subpoenaed the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, extremist organizations with dozens of members who are facing criminal charges in connection with January 6. The panel said these subpoenas could shed light on how pro-Trump groups planned for violence that day.
Here’s what we know about the 1st Amendment Praetorian and its ties to January 6.
What does their name mean?
The group’s name and logo invoke ancient Rome and the Praetorian Guard of elite bodyguards and intelligence operatives that protected the Roman emperor. They are one of many far-right groups that appropriate Greco-Roman imagery to promote political violence, according to an analysis from Pharos, a group at Vassar College that studies these historical overlaps.
The 1st Amendment Praetorian’s website says the goal is to “protect the Republic and anyone who is willing to stand up on her behalf to voice their opinion or bring attention to something they’ve found, like voter fraud.” They do this by providing security at controversial events, including at three pro-Trump rallies in Washington, DC, during the presidential transition.
Like many paramilitary groups, they recruit US military veterans, retired law enforcement and ex-members of the intelligence community. Their website says their members must attend monthly training sessions.
The organization didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment Wednesday on the subpoena.
So far, no one affiliated with the 1st Amendment Praetorian has been charged by the Justice Department in connection with the attack on the US Capitol, according to CNN’s analysis of court filings.
Who is the group’s leader?
The group was founded by Robert Patrick Lewis, an Army veteran who served in the Special Forces, who describes himself as an “author… entrepreneur, political junkie (and) investor.”
In a letter to Lewis about the subpoena, the committee quoted some of his previous statements about January 6. He said he was coordinating with former Trump adviser Michael Flynn and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, who pushed voter fraud conspiracies before the attack.
“Today is the day the true battles begin,” Lewis tweeted at 2:18 p.m. on January 6, after the first wave of rioters breached the Capitol, which was broadcast live on national television.
A few hours later, the group’s Twitter account posted, “The cost of Truth is Pain. The greater the Truth, the greater potential for pain.” Rioters were still in the building at the time of this tweet.
Lewis has appeared on prominent QAnon online shows, and posted his own 10-minute video promoting some of the QAnon conspiracy theories, according to an investigation by The Daily Beast. His group provided security at a major QAnon conference held in Dallas earlier this year.
Lewis didn’t respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
How are they tied to January 6?
The group provided security at pro-Trump rallies in November and December 2020 that were followed by violence and arrests on the streets of DC. They were also present at a rally on January 5 that featured incendiary speeches from far-right provocateurs like Alexander and Roger Stone, and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones.
Lewis was a featured speaker at the January 5 event. He invoked the American Revolution in his brief address to the crowd, where he compared the “Stop the Steal” movement to George Washington’s surprise attack on pro-British troops after crossing the Delaware River in 1776.
“I am willing to get up here and walk into danger if we need if, if we need to be there, to make sure we don’t cede this country, and have my kids grow up in a Communist hellhole,” Lewis said. “And I need each of you to fight as hard as you can to ensure that does not happen.”
The official permit for the event, approved by the National Park Service, said 25 “marshals” from Lewis’ organization would be there to “help maintain order among participants.” The permit also said these paramilitary guards would be “unarmed” and would “not act as police.”
What does the committee want?
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, sent the subpoena directly to Lewis on Tuesday. The bipartisan panel is run by Democrats, along with two Republicans.
The subpoena demands that Lewis turn over documents by December 7. The public version of the letter doesn’t say what specific materials are being requested. The letter references the fact that Lewis has previously said that his members wear body cameras while providing security.
The subpoena also demanded that Lewis appear for a closed-door deposition on December 16. It is unclear how Lewis will respond or whether he will show up to answer the panel’s questions.
1st Amendment Praetorian provided security at events “that amplified the former President’s unsupported claim that the election was stolen,” Thompson said in a statement, adding that the group “suggested that violence was imminent” in a Twitter post two days before January 6.
CNN has previously reported that the committee has asked other witnesses for information about the organization. Many of the organizers and speakers at the January 5 rally, where some 1st Amendment Praetorian members provided security, have already received subpoenas.
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