Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national security advisor who was convicted of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador and subsequently pardoned, emerged as one of the most high-profile inspirational figures in the effort to keep Trump in office, which culminated with the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
Flynn's private security force, a group called 1st Amendment Praetorian that was launched less than two months before the Nov. 3 election, played a key role trafficking propaganda to convince Trump's supporters that the election was stolen. The group also fielded members on the ground in Washington DC on Jan. 6, and then helped promote the revisionist falsehood that the assault on the Capitol was "staged," as insurrection apologists sought to whitewash the attempted coup.
The self-described "group of military, law enforcement and intelligence community" veterans has received relatively little attention, compared to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers — two right-wing paramilitary groups that have seen dozens of members charged with offenses related to the Capitol assault. In contrast, none of 1st Amendment Praetorian's members have been charged, although at least two are documented as being in a restricted area near the Capitol on Jan. 6. And to a much greater degree than the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, members of 1st Amendment Praetorian maintained direct contact with major Trump allies like Michael Flynn, his brother Joe Flynn, lawyer Sidney Powell, and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), is seeking information about 1st Amendment Praetorian founder Robert Patrick Lewis, along with Michael Flynn, Trump confidant Roger Stone, InfoWars hosts Alex Jones and Owen Schroyer, Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander, Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio, Oath Keeper leader Kenneth Harrelson and dozens of other high-profile Trump supporters. The committee's interest in the individuals is part of a probe into "recruitment, planning, coordination, and other preparations for the rallies leading up to and including January 6th and the violence on January 6th."
Much of the information about 1st Amendment Praetorian's involvement in the events of Jan. 6 come from the accounts of its own members in contemporaneous social media posts and retrospective interviews with sympathetic right-wing podcasters.
1st Amendment Praetorian's most conspicuous role in the run-up to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol was providing security for a string of gatherings in Washington DC that built momentum for the Save America Rally where Trump addressed supporters on the Ellipse on Jan. 6. 1st Amendment Praetorian was listed as "demonstration marshals" on event permit applications of the Million MAGA March on Nov. 14 and the Rally to Revival on Jan. 5, both of which took place at Freedom Plaza. And 1st Amendment Praetorian members accompanied Michael Flynn and his family members when Flynn spoke at the Supreme Court on Dec. 12. Following that assignment, Lewis lauded Flynn as a "personal hero and motivation in this fight," while saying that serving on his personal security detail "takes the cake."
Lewis has spoken openly about his involvement with both Flynn and Sidney Powell. Powell represented Flynn in his quest to have his case dismissed after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Following the Nov. 3 election — and while still representing Flynn — Powell briefly served on Trump's legal team. Representing Trump, alongside Rudy Giuliani thrusted Powell into the public spotlight, where she was to become one of the loudest and most persistent tribunes of baseless conspiracy theories, largely around the false claim that Dominion Voting Systems conspired with the Venezuelan government to steal the election.
"We also had our intelligence team working in a couple different aspects, assisting her team," Lewis, a retired US Army Special Forces operative with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a Dec. 9, 2021 YouTube video. "So, our intel team has been processing a lot of OSINT, doing a lot of open source intelligence, a lot of digging, a lot of collating of all these different things that people have been sharing on social media regarding different pieces of this election fraud puzzle, whether it be digging into the companies that we know are behind it — Dominion, Smartmatic, Scytl, and all their ownership and their connections to Venezuela and Iran and China and all these other places."
In an interview with "The Right Side with Doug Billings" in June, Lewis elaborated on 1st Amendment Praetorian's inside role in the multi-pronged effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
"You know, that's from November to January; we had a team in DC with General Flynn and Sidney Powell and Patrick Byrne, and so we got a front-row view to a lot of this stuff coming in, and really what was going on and how that was happening," Lewis told Billings.
As has been widely reported, Flynn, Powell and Byrne visited Trump in the White House for a Dec. 18 meeting that reportedly devolved "into shouting," with White House counsel Pat Cipollone pushing back against the trio's insistence that Trump take dramatic action to halt the transfer of executive power.
During the June 2021 interview, Lewis told a clearly star-struck Billings that 1st Amendment Praetorian had provided intelligence "directly to the president" during the same timeframe as the Dec. 18 meeting. Raw Story was unable to independently confirm that any information compiled by Lewis' group was consumed by Trump.
"But we have other things where we do national objectives, like the intelligence that we're delivering to the White House, right, directly to the president," Lewis said. "That was stuff based on China's influence in the United States, and specific propaganda that we were outlining, because we have former military intelligence and NSA people that were very Asia-focused, that can pick this up. That's their job, right? They were in the military for decades specifically doing that."
The notion that China engineered the election of Joe Biden, an extension of Powell's baseless claim that Dominion Voting Systems conspired with Venezuela to steal the election that is also false, was cited by many of the Capitol rioters as a justification for violence.
Joseph Flynn, who introduced his brother to Powell in early 2020, was also in close proximity to the propaganda stream as it unspooled.
"Sidney is diving deeper into what went on in the election, the level of corruption, especially as it relates to the Dominion Voting Systems," Flynn told Alan Kielan, a 1st Amendment Praetorian member who hosts the "Uncensored Abe" podcast, in a Nov. 16, 2020 interview. Flynn went on to say that he considered Powell to be a member of the family.
"When she says, 'Release the Kraken,' she's talking about open the floodgates of hell," Flynn said, "because this is coming out, and if the courts aren't going to pay attention to it, we are absolutely looking at a situation where our vote will never count again."
Kielan has said on a recent episode of "Uncensored Abe" that he performs "volunteer security services for 1st Amendment Praetorian." A Marine Corps veteran, Kielan also identifies as a one of the "digital soldiers," a phrase coined by Michael Flynn that was embraced by the QAnon movement.
Both Michael Flynn and Lewis, the founder and chairman of 1st Amendment Praetorian, have occasionally applied the military language of counterinsurgency in discussing the controversy surrounding the 2020 presidential election.
Lamenting that the presidential election remained unsettled in a Jan. 5 interview with InfoWars host Alex Jones — although apparently missing the irony that he held as much responsibility as anyone else for fomenting the instability — Flynn said, "I have actually been part of taking over countries and running elections in countries — in other countries around the world, where we say, 'Hey, be more like us. Act more like us. In fact, we're going to show you how to do an election in your country, Iraq; in your country, Afghanistan; in your country, name the Central American country in the '80s and the '90s.'"
Similarly, Lewis ended an Oct. 11, 2020 Facebook Live by declaring: "Americans are standing up. We're taking our country back. We've activated the counterinsurgency."
In a Nov. 10 YouTube video previewing the Million MAGA March, Lewis explained low-intensity conflict to his audience.
"As a Green Beret, that was my job," he said. "Green Berets grow beards and long hair because we go to other countries where we want to get rid of dictators or leaders that are not on our side. And we want to do it without American fingerprints, right? So, our nation wants regime change, and they don't want it tied back to the United States of America. That's low-intensity conflict. That's where we send people there to ensure that a specific reaction takes place. You arm, you train, you equip rebel groups that are aligned with what you want. And you let them do it. You help them do it in some cases.
"Color revolutions — there's different formats that people have heard about lately that I've known about for 15 years, because it's what I did in the Special Forces; it's what Green Berets are there for and a lot of other groups," he added.
Lewis described people who voted for Joe Biden as a "populace" in thrall to "a small group of subversive, Marxist groups" and "propagandized by their media." He predicted — incorrectly, as it turned out — that once they realized that Donald Trump was the true winner of the election, the joy that Biden supporters were experiencing would turn to rage.
"All that positive energy is gonna change just like a chemical reaction, very quickly, and that's where we're in the danger zone," Lewis said.
On the eve of the attempted insurrection, Michael Flynn addressed Trump supporters at Freedom Plaza, telling them they were standing on "soil that we have fought over, fought for" and would continue to fight for.
"The members of Congress, the members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate, those of you who are feeling weak tonight, those of you that don't have the moral fiber in your body, get some tonight because tomorrow we the people are going to be here, and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie," Flynn said.
Flynn could not be reached for this story.
That night, Flynn joined Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Trump advisor Peter Navarro and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) at the Trump International Hotel, according to a Facebook post by Charles Herbster, then serving as national chairman of the Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee.
"These faithful servants of freedom need our prayers as well as US Congress," Herbster wrote. "Tomorrow on Capitol Hill, they open sealed electoral voting certificates from each state. This joint session is the last official chance for our members of Congress to object to the widespread voter fraud that happened on November 3."
The following day, Tuberville would take a call from President Trump as the US Senate was being evacuated, according to a report by USA Today. Tuberville said he had to hang up on the president; it remains unclear what motivated Trump's call.
Lewis, who attended Trump's speech at the Ellipse on the morning of Jan. 6, has acknowledged that 1st Amendment Praetorian members were at the Capitol later that day. Asked by Doug Billings in his June 2021 interview if he or other members of 1st Amendment Praetorian were "at the Capitol" on Jan. 6, Lewis answered in the affirmative while leaving the details ambiguous.
"We were," he said. "We had done a handful of events on the 5th, and then on the 6th we had some small kind of private things that we were doing around the city. And then because we had people that were in town, because of what we had done on the 5th, I got to hear a lot of different vantage points from people that were all around the city that saw it from multiple angles."
What, if anything, 1st Amendment Praetorian was trying to accomplish during the hours when the US Capitol was under assault remains unclear. Lewis tweeted four times from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. He has said that he was at the Willard Hotel. Lewis did not respond to attempts to reach him by email, Facebook message and Twitter direct message.
Lewis' messaging during the first few hours of the assault on the Capitol was decidedly affirmative.
"Today is the day true battles begin," he tweeted at 2:18 p.m., five minutes after Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola used a stolen police riot shield to bust out a window at the Capitol building.
At 2:51 p.m., Lewis re-shared a tweet announcing that "Trump supporters have breached the Capitol building," commenting, "You can only apply so much pressure to a system before it explodes."
While Lewis was at the Willard Hotel, 1st Amendment Praetorian member Geoffrey Flohr walked around the Capitol. Nicknamed "Yoda," Flohr's LinkedIn page describes him as a private investigator, and a spokesperson for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department confirmed to Raw Story that Flohr worked as a polygrapher for the agency from 2007 to 2011.
Dressed in a tan-colored cap with a bent bill and sunglasses perched atop, a green handkerchief knotted around his neck and thick white beard, Flohr made a memorable impression in a Getty Images photograph showing him leading Michael Flynn and Joseph Flynn away from the protest at the Supreme Court on Dec. 12. Flohr is identifiable by the cap, sunglasses, handkerchief and beard strolling on the west side of the Capitol in a video originally posted on Facebook by Samuel Di Gangi, a political and entertainment writer. The original video is no longer posted, but Di Gangi confirmed by email to Raw Story that a copy republished by a Jan. 6 researcher is authentic. A compilation of open-source video shows Flohr, who was nicknamed #ShadowFlynn by Jan. 6 researchers, moving around both the west and east sides of the Capitol, periodically talking on a cell phone. It remains unclear who Flohr was calling and what they discussed.
Flohr earned accolades from Joseph Flynn and Alan Kielan, who expressed affection towards him during a March 24 episode of Kielan's podcast.
"I just want to say hi to Yoda," Flynn said. "God bless you, man. Miss you. It's been a while. Let's get in touch soon."
"There are rare people that are as great as Yoda is," he said. "Man, I miss him already, and I know he's got a lot going on in his personal life, but there are very few great people like Yoda, for sure."
Flohr could not be reached for this story.
Kielan himself acknowledged during the interview with Joseph Flynn that he was present at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"We were there on the steps," he said. "We watched as flashbangs got shot right over our heads." Kielan said he witnessed a man die at the Capitol, but that information could not be confirmed by Raw Story. Kielan could not be reached for this story.
Rick Briggs, a 1st Amendment Praetorian member who served in the US Army Airborne Special Operations Forces, documented his activities on Jan. 6 on Twitter. Like Lewis and Flohr, Briggs had served on Michael Flynn's personal security detail on Dec. 12. On Jan. 6, Briggs chronicled his day with a tweet stating: "Me? Today? Resting after yesterday's awesome event and performing 'Overwatch' duties and Lame MSM Propaganda dump reviews." One of the accompanying photos in the tweet shows Briggs looking out a window from his hotel room in Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from the Capitol.
Like Lewis, Briggs' tweets in the first couple hours of the assault on the Capitol appeared to embrace revolt.
Replying to a tweet by Tina Forte that showed the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's Republican challenger dressed in a tactical vest and gloves, Briggs tweeted at 3:42 p.m.: "Ma'am… Let's GO Patriots!"
In another tweet, at 3:06 p.m., Briggs celebrated an armed revolt that took place in Tennessee in 1946.
"Remember, I did drive from central Texas to Washington DC with a stop in Athens TN for that 'Message!'" he wrote. Accompanying the tweet, Briggs posted a photo of himself posing next to a historical marker for the "Battle of Athens, August 1-2, 1946." The marker describes the battle as "an armed revolt" involving "World War II veterans" who assaulted a local jail where authorities had sequestered ballots boxes, forcing a surrender and paving the way for a veterans' slate of candidates to take control of local government.
Then, after Trump released a video telling his supporters, "You have to go home now," Briggs and Lewis changed tack, signaling that the most violent rioters were impostors.
"I work with a group, @1st_praetorian, and as a retired US Army Airborne Special Operations Forces veteran with COunterINsurgency (COIN) experience AND based upon PHOTOGRAPHIC evidence of these same 'Agents Provocateurs' at other events… Proof," Briggs wrote. "Facts. Time will tell."
Accompanying the tweet, Briggs posted photos of Pezzola and Jacob Chansley, the so-called "QAnon Shaman" who recently pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding.
At 5:32 p.m., Lewis tweeted: "Getting a lot of reports that the Capitol bum rush was staged & not MAGA.
"Fits the color revolution play book to a T.
"Going to look at pics with the @1st_praetorian intel shed, but seems pretty likely- we've already IDd some people we've been tracking."
During his March 24 podcast, Kielan told Joseph Flynn that the FBI came to interview him at his house.
"Oh, I didn't know that," Flynn responded.
Kielan professed to have enjoyed the FBI visit, hinting preposterously that the chaos at the US Capitol was a setup by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"You wanna know what happened on this?" Kielan said he told the FBI. "Why don't you go talk to Nancy Pelosi and find out why she removed the Capitol police."
For his part, Flynn said he went back to his hotel after Trump's speech at the Ellipse because he was cold. He said described what happened at the Capitol as "a terrible disappointment."
"Yes, something went wrong with the Capitol police where something was fishy there," he said. "However, anybody who breached that building and broke laws and committed felonies, okay, made a massive mistake, number one, for themselves and their families. And, number two, for the movement, okay, because it sets us back when you commit crimes. It sets us back when you take the law into your own hands.
"We're not at that juncture yet," he added. "We're not at that juncture yet. Who knows down the road?"