A far-right paramilitary group linked to Donald Trump's one-time national security adviser, Michael Flynn, abruptly changed its name shortly before its leader was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.
The 1st Amendment Praetorian — which has provided bodyguards to Flynn and other conspiracy theorists, including on the eve of the insurrection — has rebranded itself as an “intelligence, investigations, security and support” firm, the Daily Beast reported Saturday.
"Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 19, multiple social-media accounts associated with a California-based company calling itself 'The Shepherd Group' went live, as did a website hawking its 'holistic, boutique approach' to digital forensics, physical security, surveillance/counter-surveillance, and corporate intelligence," the site reported. "But a little digging reveals that the Shepherd Group is not entirely new: rather, it appears to be a front for the militant group 1st Amendment Praetorian, previously a volunteer outfit that has deployed its self-described force of former armed forces and police personnel as security for right-wing leaders and events. The group’s name derives from the elite cadre of Roman soldiers who served as the emperor’s personal retinue."
The leader of the 1st Amendment Praetorian, Robert Patrick Lewis, was subpoenaed in the Capitol riot probe on Nov. 23. He now lists himself as CEO of the Shepherd Group on LinkedIn.
The 1st Amendment Praetorian chaperoned a pro-Trump rally at D.C's Freedom Plaza on Jan. 5, and Lewis reportedly had contact with both Flynn and "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander prior to the insurrection. The subpoena "alluded to Lewis’ social-media cheerleading of the rioters, which he previously told The Daily Beast he did from the Willard Hotel, where various Trump allies had established a 'war room' that day."
"Experts suggested the pivot to a for-profit business model might represent a bid for legitimacy in the face of public scrutiny," according to the Daily Beast.
Chuck Tanner of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights told the Daily Beast that other militia groups, including the Oath Keepers, also "present themselves as a protective service as a means of expanding further into the mainstream."
“Being a security firm and not a far-right paramilitary outfit can give you more legitimacy in that respect, for monetizing and recruiting, and putting on a public face as a more respectable entity,” Tanner said. “There’s a long history of violence stemming from far-right paramilitary organizations. So anything that can foster recruitment, or give them legitimacy, or inflate their sense of power potentially amps up the threat.”
Pointing to Lewis' promotion of conspiracy theories, Tanner added, "It’s terrifying: you combine the conspiracy framework that a lot of these groups operate under with far-right ideas and weapons training."