The Far-Right Paramilitary Wannabes Feeding Mike Flynn’s Conspiracy Machine

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Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

When QAnon conspiracy theorists descended on a Dallas event hall in late May for their convention, they were met at the door by members of 1st Amendment Praetorian, a tough-talking new volunteer group devoted to running security at MAGA events, assembling “intelligence” dossiers on perceived Trumpist foes, and foiling threats from “antifa” protesters, real or imagined.

Decked out in black shirts bearing their group’s Roman-helmet logo, the self-proclaimed Praetorian members soon found that Dallas was light on antifa. Instead, they helped to bounce a few reporters, including one from The Daily Beast.

The QAnon conference marked a new high-profile stage for the group. Its co-founder, former Green Beret Robert Patrick Lewis, tweeted a photo of himself unfurling a Pine Tree flag—a Revolutionary War-era emblem appropriated by the far right—with disgraced former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and then-Texas GOP Chairman Allen West.

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Lewis has worked security for prominent pro-Trump figures before, including Flynn. Tracy “Beanz” Diaz, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and early QAnon evangelist, has called the Praetorians “absolutely life saving.” But Lewis isn’t just a bodyguard. Through his group, Lewis has become a rising right-wing pundit with an apocalyptic vision about antifa “Tet Offensives” and suburban massacres palling around with QAnon promoters convinced top Democrats will soon be arrested. In memos, Lewis has imagined a continent-wide “syndicate” of liberals collaborating with Chinese special forces units to bring down America.

And when that happens, Lewis promises, 1st Amendment Praetorian—named for the elite cadre of centurions charged with guarding the Roman emperor and purporting to consist entirely of veterans of the military, law enforcement, and the intelligence community—will be ready. “There’s a shadow underbelly to all of our society,” Lewis warned in a May video to his fans, adding: “We can’t allow things to continue as they are.”

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In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lewis tried to take a tamer tone, insisting he has never wanted to see political bloodshed—and accused leftists and Democrats of trying to provoke it.

“It does seem like there are groups in this country that very much want to see any number of outcomes of violence,” he said. “I am surprised and happy—pleasantly surprised—that the American public has been able to manage their temper, for the lack of a better word.”

A decorated former staff sergeant, Lewis claims to have once held a top secret security clearance and been part of the tactical medical care team attached to Vice President Dick Cheney during his 2008 visit to Kabul. The U.S. Army confirmed Lewis’ rank and his receipt of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, but could not verify further details of his service record.

Lewis came home from his service in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009 and began a new career in conservative media and veterans issues. He wrote a series of novels about a team of former Special Forces soldiers, including a thinly veiled stand-in for Lewis himself, fending off a joint Chinese-Russian-Hezbollah invasion of America. In 2013, he appeared on the radio shows of conservative personalities like Adam Carolla, Dennis Miller, and Herman Cain promoting a memoir of his time in the special forces.

Still, Lewis remained a mostly obscure figure, despite his fiery social media support for ex-President Donald Trump and hatred of left-wing groups like antifa.

But with the launch of 1A Praetorian, incorporated in Delaware in September 2020, it was clear Lewis wasn’t content to remain obscure any longer. The group initially worked security for several gatherings of the #Walkaway Foundation, which encourages traditionally Democratic constituencies to abandon the party.

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Lewis reported in his YouTube and Facebook Live streams that he was in contact with Walkaway founder Brandon Straka. Months later, Straka—who once opened rallies for Trump—would be among those arrested for allegedly breaching the Capitol building on Jan. 6 to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

In the lead-up to the presidential election, Lewis appeared on several right-wing media outlets to make dire predictions about looming antifa violence. In one appearance on a QAnon online show on Nov. 2, Lewis claimed that he had evidence that antifa agents planned to attack the suburbs, and agreed with a host’s claim that antifa activists were getting lists of Trump voters from corrupt government officials with plans to carry out some kind of nationwide purge.

“We had seen in the intelligence that they were planning on going after the suburbs, and they never really had,” Lewis told the pro-QAnon host. “But now in the last several weeks we have seen that they have.”

During the show, Lewis listened as the host and another guest speculated about whether flights to Guantanamo Bay meant top Democrats were being imprisoned, and dissected QAnon “clues.” But it wasn’t Lewis’ last brush with QAnon.

In a May 2021 video to his fans, Lewis dabbled in some QAnon theorizing of his own. In the video, Lewis asked his audience to ponder what it would mean if claims made by various right-wing conspiracy theorists were real, and how they would respond. Lewis’s list included Isaac Kappy, a Hollywood D-lister who became a QAnon star after baselessly accusing Hollywood figures of being Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

“What if part of it’s real?” Lewis asked in the video.

Amid the escalating paranoia and conspiracy-mongering of late 2020, Lewis gave an interview to Fox News on the eve of the general election. Lewis claimed that his group had netted intelligence from across the dark web, including “encrypted forums” where leftists congregate, that revealed massive upcoming antifa attacks.

“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 told the conservative network, comparing the alleged plot to the largely failed 1968 series of attacks communist forces in Vietnam launched against the U.S. military and local troops.

Three days after the vote, when the antifa “Tet Offensive” failed to materialize, Lewis spoke with Fox again. Joined by an anonymous “military intelligence veteran” allegedly working with 1A Praetorian, Lewis described how he had gained access to secret communication networks through which antifa members relayed information and instructions.

The Praetorians’ right-wing rolodex continued to expand as outraged Trump supporters, spurred on by the president’s baseless claims of fraud, began to protest the electoral process. The group won plaudits from Diaz for its work at the “Million MAGA March” in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14.

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“There aren't any words to explain how absolutely life saving the guys of @1st_praetorian are,” Diaz tweeted on her now-suspended Twitter account. “They protected us yesterday during the March. These are absolute heroes.”

Diaz urged her supporters to donate to the group’s crowdfunding campaigns—a call that Flynn echoed on Twitter.

“1st Praetorian helps us; they now need our help. Consider donating to support these American Patriots,” Flynn wrote, tagging not just Lewis but right-wing pundits Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson.

Meanwhile, a photo posted to Facebook shows Lewis as apparently part of the retinue of right-wing activist Ali Alexander at the Nov. 14 event. In a subsequent YouTube dispatch, Lewis identified Alexander as the group’s “primary that we were guarding,” and would boast in future posts of their close coordination.

Alexander, who went into hiding in January after organizing a rally outside of Congress on the day of the Capitol riot, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Since Trump’s election defeat, Lewis’ relationship with Flynn appeared to deepen. The crowdfunding effort Flynn had supported eventually raised more than $125,000. Flynn’s brother, Joseph Flynn, tweeted his own admiration for the Praetorians in December, crediting the outfit with protecting voter fraud “whistleblowers.”

In videos posted to his social media feeds, Lewis asserted his relationship with Flynn and his conspiracy-boosting attorney Sidney Powell went even further. On Dec. 9, Lewis claimed that 1A Praetorian had collected open-source intelligence—that is, publicly available information—and material to back up her universally dismissed allegations of a vast international plot by voting machine companies and hostile foreign powers to rig the 2020 vote. (Powell did not respond to requests for comment regarding herself and her client, and neither did Flynn’s brother.)

Despite Lewis’s claims about 1A Praetorian’s intelligence-collecting abilities, their intelligence memos often read like something ripped from the thrillers Lewis once wrote. In the groups’ telling, the United States has been targeted by a “North American Insurgency Syndicate” that includes both liberal groups, antifa, and organizations described in another group’s document promoted by 1A Praetorians as “pro-choice extremists” and “Canadian extremists.”

In an memo posted on social media site Telegram in May, for example, the 1A Praetorian seized on a series of apparently unrelated train derailments across the country to suggest Chinese commandos were readying an attack on the country.

“There are strong indications that foreign [special operations forces] are possibly working within US borders to disrupt supply lines,” the memo warns.

As evidence, the 1A Praetorian memo linked to conspiracy theorist website ZeroHedge and pro-Trump newspaper The Epoch Times.

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On Dec. 12, Lewis tweeted that the 1A Praetorian were serving as Flynn’s personal security detail for the pro-Trump “Jericho March” in D.C.

Multiple photos and videos from the event show Lewis and at least two other individuals associated with the 1A Praetorian accompanying Flynn before his speech.

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In an interview that day with the right-wing station New Tang Dynasty, an Epoch Times affiliate, Lewis made an ominous prediction about the potential civil war in the United States—which he suggested might inspire a foreign invasion.

“If we do come to a point where there is violence in this country, our adversaries will start to come in and it will become a battleground, the United States will become a battleground,” he said. “I was in the army, I was a Green Beret, so I’ve been in warzones. I don’t want to see that here. I’ve got a family, I’ve got kids. I hope that we can stop it before it comes to that point, but if we don’t, there are a lot of people that are not going to go back to sleep, they’re not going to sit down, they’re not going to allow it to happen.”

At least part of Lewis’ prediction came true the next month. The night before the Capitol riot, Lewis was listed along with Alex Jones and Alexander among the speakers on the permit for the “Rally for Revival” on Freedom Plaza in D.C. The permit also stated that 25 members of 1A Praetorian would be on-site as “demonstration marshals.”

The next morning, Lewis tweeted photos of himself waiting for Trump to take the stage at his rally near the White House. The Daily Beast has not encountered any evidence that Lewis entered the Capitol building. But at 2:18 pm that day, within minutes of the mob bursting through the perimeter, Lewis tweeted ominously “Today is the day the true battles begin.”

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But by that evening, Lewis was spreading conspiracy theories about left-wing agent provocateurs he claimed had inspired the attack, including in an interview on the right-wing podcast Patriot Transition Voice. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Lewis insisted he never came near the Capitol building, and posted his tweet from the Willard Hotel several blocks away.

And though the violence of that day has given way to a more peaceful political climate, Lewis’ vision of a future conflagration has hardly cooled.

“People are trying to push to the point of violence breaking out, and it’s gross, because these are people that are supposed to be leaders in this country,” he said, citing the lawsuit Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) brought against Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) over his alleged role in stoking the Capitol riot. “Looking at a historical perspective, it seems like people are trying to purposely create more and more chaos for something, whether it’s a complete takeover of the nation, or just, who knows what it is.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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