Jan. 6 Committee Focused on Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, 1A Praetorian - Rolling Stone
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Exclusive: Jan. 6 Committee ‘Locked In’ on Proud Boys

Investigators have obtained testimony linking rally organizers to First Amendment Praetorian and “four minutes” of footage that may contain audio of a key Proud Boys and Oath Keepers parking-garage meeting, sources say. 

2E79BDT Members of the Oath Keepers militia group, including Jessica Marie Watkins (Far Left) who has since been indicted by federal authorities for her role in the siege on the Capitol, stand among supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump occupying the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Bourg2E79BDT Members of the Oath Keepers militia group, including Jessica Marie Watkins (Far Left) who has since been indicted by federal authorities for her role in the siege on the Capitol, stand among supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump occupying the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Members of the Oath Keepers militia group stand among supporters of President Trump occupying the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.

Jim Bourg/REUTERS/Alamy

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building has been examining the role far-right militant groups played in efforts to overturn President Trump’s election loss and the violence that erupted that day. As part of the investigation, the committee has obtained footage of Proud Boys leaders — including four minutes that may contain audio of a key meeting — and testimony linking the right-wing group First Amendment Praetorian to the organizers of the Jan. 6, 2021, rally on the White House Ellipse, where Trump urged the crowd to “fight like hell” as his defeat was being certified at the Capitol. 

A source familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, confirmed the committee is focusing on specific militant groups.

“They’ve been locked in on Proud Boys and Oath Keepers,” the source said, adding that First Amendment Praetorian, which is also known as “1AP,” is a “major part” of the House investigation. 

The House select committee is separate from the criminal investigation into the attack that is being conducted by the Justice Department. Leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have both faced federal charges for alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 attack. A second source confirmed the committee’s interest in the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and First Amendment Praetorian. 

First Amendment Praetorian has been identified by both The New York Times and CNN as a far-right “paramilitary group.” The little-known organization presents itself as a boutique security consultancy for conservative causes. A LinkedIn page that appears to belong to Robert Patrick Lewis, the group’s chairman, describes First Amendment Praetorian as a group that is “dedicated to providing intelligence and security services to grassroots events in order to ensure Americans may express their 1st Amendment-protected rights to freedom of speech, religion, assembly and political affiliation.” The committee subpoenaed Lewis last November. In a statement announcing that subpoena, the committee said 1AP “provided security at multiple rallies leading up to January 6th that amplified the former President’s unsupported claim that the election was stolen.” Lewis did not respond to a request for comment. 

On March 20, The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell reported that the committee and the Justice Department have obtained “hours of nonpublic footage” from a Goldcrest Films documentary crew that filmed Enrique Tarrio, the former national chairman of the Proud Boys, and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes prior to Jan. 6. Three sources confirmed to Rolling Stone that the committee is in possession of the footage. 

The third source, who has seen the footage, said it largely features the Proud Boys and that Rhodes is only present during a meeting he had with Tarrio in a parking garage near the Capitol on Jan. 5. According to the third source, Oath Keepers general counsel Kellye SoRelle, Latinos for Trump President Bianca Gracia, and Vets for Trump co-founder Josh Macias also participated in the meeting. They further said the footage obtained by the committee includes approximately “four minutes” of B-roll that may contain audio of the parking-garage meeting. 

In addition to his position in the Proud Boys, Tarrio was the chief of staff of Latinos for Trump, an activist group. Through that organization, both Tarrio and Gracia had attended events at the White House. Macias reportedly spoke at a pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. At the time, he was out on bail on weapons charges related to a November 2020 incident where he and an alleged co-conspirator were arrested after police claimed they drove from Virginia to a vote-counting center in Philadelphia two days after the election in a Hummer loaded with handguns, an AR-15, over 100 rounds of ammo, and a samurai sword. 

Federal prosecutors described the parking-garage meeting in an indictment against Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders that charged them with conspiracy related to the Jan. 6 attack. According to that indictment, the meeting took place after approximately 5 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2021, when Tarrio was released from jail after having been arrested the day before on charges related to the destruction of a Black Lives Matter banner during a previous pro-Trump rally. Prosecutors alleged Tarrio met with Rhodes and other unnamed individuals in an underground garage near the Phoenix Park Hotel, which is located roughly a half mile from the Capitol.

“During this encounter, a participant referenced the Capitol,” according to the indictment. 

Gracia and Macias did not respond to requests for comment. In an email to Rolling Stone, SoRelle suggested the prosecutors’ story of the meeting was “exaggerated.” SoRelle described it as a short encounter that took place as she and Rhodes were visiting Gracia’s hotel room to pick up our badges for the speaking event the next morning.” 

“I had located a couple of attorneys’ names and contact information when Enrique was arrested, because I had been contacted by multiple people about helping him … so Bianca thought we should all go down and make sure he had counsel information and to say hi,” SoRelle wrote.

SoRelle further claimed “the exchange was very brief” between Rhodes and Tarrio and that, in her estimation, it was “10 mins in the garage, tops.” 

“Stewart and Enrique were introduced and said their hellos,” SoRelle explained. 

Jon Moseley, an attorney who has represented Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder, has previously told this reporter that federal prosecutors’ claim the Capitol was “referenced” during this meeting was “absolutely false.”

“The only thing that was discussed was that Enrique Tarrio had just made bail and was looking for ideas on getting a lawyer,” Moseley wrote in an email earlier this month. “In general, all of the indictments are works of fiction, like John Grisham novels. So to say, that part of the indictment is false is really not saying much.”

Moseley went on to say, “Stewart Rhodes with Kellye Soirrelle [sic] was getting ready to leave a parking garage when she learned that Enrique Tarrio with Latinos for Trump leaders was entering the same parking garage on the ground floor.” 

“They were asked do you want to come meet Enrique Tarrio? Rhodes and Soirrelle answered (in my words) why not?” Moseley wrote. 

Moseley did not respond to an additional request for comment on Friday afternoon.

Dan Hull, an attorney who has represented Tarrio and other members of the Proud Boys also did not respond to a request for comment. Hull put up a post in January wherein he suggested the Proud Boys are not the same as the Oath Keepers.

“Proud Boys and The Oathkeepers are WAY different from each other. Way. One’s a working-class frat. One’s a demented militia. One is playful and fun. The other is paranoid and nuts,” the Instagram post said. “Learn the difference, folks.”

Scott Johnston, who was a member of the “March for Trump” team that helped stage months of protests against Trump’s loss around the country, tells Rolling Stone he has spoken to committee investigators and linked First Amendment Praetorian to the group that planned the Ellipse rally. According to Johnston, First Amendment Praetorian provided security for November and December 2020 March for Trump rallies in Washington. Johnston dismissed the group as “geritol security” and “a joke.” 

“Cindy Chafian had her husband Scott Chafian supposedly provide security using 1AP,” Johnston tells Rolling Stone. “They’re a bunch of 70-year-old men who just wanted VIP tickets.… If they were the security protecting everyone that day, well then, God help us all.”

According to Johnston, Scott Chafian was a leader of the group. A second, separate March for Trump source, who requested anonymity due to the investigation, also said they believed Scott Chafian played a top role in First Amendment Praetorian. 

“When we were introduced to 1AP, I thought Scott Chafian was running it,” the source said, adding, “He was introduced to us as having a government clearance and all of that.”

In a text message to Rolling Stone on Friday, Cindy Chafian denied she or her husband were members of First Amendment Praetorian.

“I am not part of 1AP and neither was my husband,” Cindy Chafian wrote. “They simply provided auxiliary security at the rallies.” 

Cindy Chafian said she first “met” First Amendment Praetorian during the lead-up to March for Trump’s Nov. 14, 2020, event in Washington. According to Cindy Chafian, she “used them” for a March for Trump event on Dec. 12, 2020 and her own “separate event” on Jan. 5, 2021. 

“That’s as far as the relationship goes. I haven’t worked with them since. Any other questions you would have to send to me and I would have to clear with my attorney since I have been subpoenaed. Thank you,” Cindy Chafian wrote, adding a smiley-face emoji. 

On a Linkedin page that appears to belong to Scott Chafian, he describes himself as an “organizational development specialist” who had “a 20 year career in the US Navy as a seagoing Surface Warfare Officer, and then on the ground as an Expeditionary Warfare Officer.” 

Cindy Chafian was subpoenaed by the committee last September after helping the pro-Trump group “Women for America First” secure a permit for the main Jan. 6 Ellipse rally. Women for America First is headed by Amy and Kylie Kremer, a mother-and-daughter team who also were leaders of the nationwide March for Trump protests against the former president’s election loss. 

Johnston worked as an aide and driver to Kylie Kremer. Rolling Stone has verified Johnston’s March for Trump involvement through multiple sources including group text messages. According to multiple sources, Johnston was in Washington, D.C., with the March for Trump group at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. He has provided financial statements that appear to confirm he was at the Willard. 

As detailed in the Rolling Stone story published on March 20, Johnston has claimed Kremer took part in a phone call with former top Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about whether they should obtain a permit for a march from the Ellipse rally to the Capitol. Ultimately, Johnston said the trio decided not to hold an official march and instead to “direct the people down there and make it look like they went down there on their own.”

Pierson responded to Rolling Stone’s reporting on Johnston’s allegations by saying “no such call took place” and that “phone records” would disprove Johnston’s “defamatory claims.” A spokesperson for Meadows declined to comment. 

Johnston said Kremer used a “burner phone” that was one of three he claims she directed him to purchase for her and her mother, Amy. Burner phones are cheap, prepaid cells that can be harder to trace. Johnston said Kremer told him she needed them to “communicate with high-level people.”

Johnston told Rolling Stone the initial meeting where he relayed these allegations to committee investigators took place last Dec. 20 and that it was an “informal” one, with a staffer taking handwritten notes. After the story on his claims ran in Rolling Stone, Johnston said committee investigators reached out to him to set up an on-the-record interview with a court reporter transcribing the conversation. 

Spokespeople for the committee did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Johnston showed Rolling Stone copies of communications with the committee indicating his next interview is set to take place on March 28. Investigators also asked Johnston to provide them with any “corroboration” he might have for his claims regarding “the use of a prepaid phone or the purchase of the phone in California” by the Kremers. During his communications with investigators, Johnston says he was reminded of the penalties for making false statements to Congress and informed that other committee witnesses have denied burner phones were used. A source familiar with the investigation has told Rolling Stone that Amy Kremer denied using burner phones to committee investigators. 

Chris Barron, a spokesperson for Amy and Kylie Kremer, offered a terse emailed response to a question about Johnston talking to the committee.

“We hope he tells the truth. Lying to Congress is a crime,” Barron wrote of Johnston. 

In a FaceTime call, Johnston showed Rolling Stone text messages he received from Kylie Kremer that he said he had provided to the committee. The messages appeared to be part of extensive communications between Johnston’s phone and a number used by Kremer. Johnston also displayed what appeared to be a history of messages with a number connected to Amy Kremer. 

One of the texts Johnston provided to the committee showed Kremer writing to a March for Trump group on Jan. 3, 2021, to say that she and another organizer were “overwhelmed with our phones.” A second text was dated Jan. 15, 2021. The latter message showed Kremer telling Johnston, “I’ll call Greg if I need a bat phone.” Johnston said this was referring to Greg Kurbatoff, a March for Trump security consultant, and that “bat phone” was a euphemism for a burner. 

“Even though it was coy, she was still alluding that there were other phones,” Johnston said of Kremer. 

In a phone call with Rolling Stone on Friday afternoon, Kurbatoff said there was “nothing at all that was underhanded” about the Kremers’ rally on Jan. 6. Kurbatoff specifically said he gets “a little upset” about allegations the pair were involved in plans to stage a march on the Capitol building. 

“Amy and Kylie, we all were on the same page the day of the sixth, under no circumstances do we exercise anything with the Capitol because our permit specifically said … there will be nothing going to the Capitol. It was not for the Capitol, it was just for the Ellipse. You know, it was a successful event. Afterwards, you know, that just — you know, that’s history,” Kurbatoff explained, his voice trailing off as he acknowledged the violence that followed the rally. 

Kurbatoff said he never saw the Kremers use “burner phones.” He attributed allegations the devices were used to people involved with the group who were “upset” they didn’t get to appear on the rally stage or weren’t paid more for their work.

“As far as burner phones, I’m not sure what the burner phones would have been used for because there was nothing nefarious going on,” Kurbatoff said. “I think you’ve got a couple people that have been scorned.… There’s some people that got scorned, and they were upset that they didn’t get their 15 minutes.” 

Johnston said his text-message conversations with the Kremers stopped by March 15 of last year. On that day, in one of the March for Trump group chats, Johnston complained to the Kremers about an order of MyPillows — the brand headed by Trump ally Mike Lindell — that rally organizers were supposed to receive. 

The dispute descended into Johnston accusing Kremer of taking him on a “weird and inappropriate” trip to go “bra shopping.” It appears Kremer subsequently removed him from the group chat. 

“That was the last communication I ever had with Kylie Kremer,” Johnston said. 

In This Article: Jan. 6, Oath Keepers, proud boys

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