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EXCLUSIVE: 1st Amendment Praetorian Goes After Jan. 6 Committee For ‘McCarthy-esque’ Defamation Tactics

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In short, the committee’s treatment of 1AP ‘is a gross affront to the First Amendment.’ 

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A lawyer for 1st Amendment Praetorian, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting free speech rights, is slamming the Jan. 6 Committee for its McCarthyite and anti-American tactics, in a letter obtained exclusively by The Federalist. Subpoenas shared exclusively with The Federalist confirm the congressional inquiry is McCarthyism on steroids. 

To the public, the Jan. 6 Committee pushes false narratives premised on guilt-by-association, while behind the scenes the committee demands its targets abandon their constitutional rights. But now, 1st Amendment Praetorian is pushing back, with the group’s lawyer going public with the committee’s anti-American machinations.

On Thursday before the long Independence Day weekend, the New York Times reported that Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin stated that when the Jan. 6 Committee reconvenes public hearings in July, “he intends to lead a presentation that will focus on the roles far-right groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and 1st Amendment Praetorian played in the Capitol attack.” According to the Times, “Mr. Raskin has also promised to explore the connections between those groups and the people in Mr. Trump’s orbit.” 

“No matter what you think of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, 1st Amendment Praetorian in no way resembles those groups,” Leslie McAdoo Gordon, an attorney for 1st Amendment Praetorian, told The Federalist. 1st Amendment Praetorian provides pro bono security services at events to ensure a heckler’s veto does not interfere with the speakers’ constitutional right to express their viewpoint, McAdoo Gordon explained. 

Court documents obtained by The Federalist provide more background on the organization, which Robert Lewis, a retired United States Army Green Beret and recipient of the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, founded in 2020 as a Delaware nonprofit. In the legal filing, Lewis explained that he started the nonprofit “to ensure that every American can freely associate, freely gather and freely speak on matters of public concern to them without threat or fear of intimidation, retribution, bodily harm or death.” 

However, for the last year, the Jan. 6 Committee and a complicit press have falsely portrayed 1st Amendment Praetorian, also known as 1AP, as right-wing, paramilitary, or even a militia, McAdoo Gordon said. “They are none of those things,” the lawyer told The Federalist.

She further stressed this point in her Thursday letter to the Jan. 6 Committee, noting that 1st Amendment Praetorian is not an “anti-government” group and “did not, would not, and will not advocate, condone, or excuse violence in the pursuit of political aims. Doing so contradicts its core mission and values.” The letter continued: “Any suggestion that Mr. Lewis or Mr. Luelsdorff would do so is categorically false and deeply offensive.”

Nor does the politics of the volunteers or speakers enter the equation, McAdoo Gordon added, saying: “1st Amendment Praetorian screens individuals interested in helping protect free speech, most of whom are former military or law enforcement officers, to confirm they are who they say they are, that they have been honorably discharged, and have no criminal record or other concerning background information.”

Raskin’s reported comments to the Times, however, indicate that the Jan. 6 Committee is poised to feed the country more false and misleading information, this time about 1st Amendment Praetorian. Raskin’s assertion that 1st Amendment Praetorian played any role in the Capitol attack is blatantly false, McAdoo Gordon said. “My clients had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 riot,” McAdoo Gordon told The Federalist, adding that their planned tasking to provide security in D.C. ended after the Jan. 5 rally. 

“While the Committee and its members may be able to defame American citizens and organizations from the floor of the Congress with impunity due to the Speech and Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” McAdoo Gordon noted in the letter she sent to the committee yesterday, she reminded the “members that they are not legally at liberty to do so in the media.” And the remarks attributed to Raskin by the Times last week, that the 1st Amendment Praetorian is a “far-right” group with a “role” in the “Capitol attack,” are “false and defamatory,” the letter stressed. “1AP is a mainstream, nonpartisan group with no role whatsoever in the attack on the Capitol.”

1st Amendment Praetorian’s letter added that it “will vigorously defend its reputation, including through defamation lawsuits.” Here, the group noted that “1AP has sued lawyer/Twitterer Seth Abramson for defamation in federal court in New Hampshire (where Mr. Abramson resides) for his defamatory statements that 1AP and its members were involved in the Capitol riot and are ‘insurrectionists’ or ‘seditionists.’” The nonprofit “will be no less vigorous in pursuing its rights against others who defame it, Mr. Lewis, or Mr. Luelsdorff,” the letter continued.

In her letter, McAdoo Gordon also corrected many of the false stories being peddled about the group by detailing exactly what they did and did not do on Jan. 6. Most of the members of 1st Amendment Praetorian had left D.C. after the Jan. 5 rally. But the next day, Lewis and other members of 1st Amendment Praetorian, who had remained in D.C., including Philip Luelsdorff, who is a former U.S. Army Ranger, were asked to provide some additional protection services for the media outlets covering the protest at the Ellipse, which they did, according to McAdoo Gordon. When the rally ended, 1st Amendment Praetorian released the remaining volunteers.

“My clients, Lewis and Luelsdorff, then returned to Willard Hotel, where they were spending the day with the sponsors of the Jan. 5 rally,” McAdoo Gordon told The Federalist. While there, she explained, the hotel staff asked if 1st Amendment Praetorian could help maintain order given the flood of people into the lobby and around the hotel after the Ellipse events ended. 1st Amendment Praetorian agreed, and Luelsdorff voluntarily escorted three individuals to a hotel room where Trump’s lawyers were working and then left a minute later. Neither Luelsdorff nor Lewis had anything to do with the legal team’s work at the Willard Hotel. Nor did they enter the Capitol, Capitol grounds, or even march to the Capitol, McAdoo Gordon stated.

“I was working with the Jan. 6 Committee staff to arrange for my clients to voluntary meet with investigators, within the limits of their First Amendment rights,” McAdoo Gordon explained, when news broke that the Jan. 6 Committee was arguing in federal court that Trump’s former campaign attorney John Eastman should be forced to turn over attorney-client-privileged emails because of a supposed criminal conspiracy between them. “The committee’s pushing of a preposterous Section 371 conspiracy theory left me with no option but to recommend that my clients assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” McAdoo Gordon told The Federalist.

This reference to a Section 371 conspiracy concerns a section of the federal criminal code that makes it a crime to “conspire to defraud” the United States. In litigation involving Eastman, the Jan. 6 Committee alleged “that President Trump, Dr. Eastman, and others conspired to defraud the United States by disrupting the electoral count,” supposedly in violation of Section 371. But McAdoo Gordon, a longtime white-collar criminal defense lawyer, eviscerated the theory, pointing to recent Supreme Court precedent holding that the scheme or artifice “to defraud” language in another criminal statute could not be interpreted so broadly. 

While 1st Amendment Praetorian had nothing to do with any disruption of the electoral count, much less the violence that occurred on Jan. 6, the committee’s McCarthyite tactics raise even graver concerns for McAdoo Gordon. In her letter, she noted her surprise “to see the Committee play a portion of the video testimony of its deposition/meeting with Lt. General Michael Flynn in one of its prior hearings, in which he apparently asserts his privilege under the Fifth Amendment.”

“The Government presenting a person asserting their Fifth Amendment privilege in order to imply to the public that the person is ‘guilty’ of some crime is a McCarthy-esque tactic that offends the Constitution and is unworthy of the United States Congress,” 1st Amendment Praetorian’s lawyer wrote. Given the Committee’s past actions, McAdoo Gordon noted in her Thursday letter that she is “forced to anticipate that the Committee will use the same totalitarian tactic to improperly smear 1AP.” 

1st Amendment Praetorian’s letter then stressed that it “has asserted its Fifth Amendment privilege before the Committee solely because the Committee is asserting that groups and persons who never went to the Capitol on January 6, 2021, but had some role in the events that led up to that ultimate riot there, are participants in a criminal conspiracy.” While 1AP “believes itself to be innocent of any wrongdoing or criminal conduct,” the group’s attorney stressed that “since it may find itself as a target of an unfounded criminal investigation, I have advised my clients to assert their Fifth Amendment privilege so that their truthful testimony is not twisted and used against them.”

Quoting from the Supreme Court, McAdoo Gordon then reminded the committee that the high court has described the Fifth Amendment privilege thusly:

[W]e have emphasized that one of the Fifth Amendment’s “basic functions . . . is to protect innocent men . . . `who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.'” 

The letter continued: 

“The circumstances in which an innocent citizen finds himself faced with an out-of-control prosecutor, or a mistaken theory of criminality, or an overzealous legislative inquiry — which is the situation 1AP finds itself in — is precisely when the citizen most needs the protection of the Fifth Amendment. For the Congress to attempt to turn that protection into a weapon against a citizen, or a group of citizens, is repellant. I urge the Committee not to engage in such un-American behaviors. Unfortunately, I have little faith that the Committee will heed my appeal. This leaves me with no choice but to pre-emptively speak publicly about these issues before the Committee engages in wholesale defamation of 1AP from its powerful national platform.”

The committee seeks to prove guilt by association, McAdoo Gordon told The Federalist, pointing to the subpoenas issued to 1AP, Lewis, and Luelsdorff, which demand that the nonprofit provide “all documents and communications concerning the participation of individuals employed by or in any way affiliated with 1AP” related to two other rallies in D.C. at which the group provided security, one in mid-November and the second in mid-December. Those rallies had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol, but the committee claims an interest in the material because of the identity of the speakers.

The subpoenas also demand that “documents sufficient to identify all employees, officers, and board members” of 1st Amendment Praetorian be turned over to the committee, as well as “all agendas, minutes, notes, or other records related to meetings” of the nonprofit.

The committee, in essence, is demanding a list of 1st Amendment Praetorian’s members — a clear violation of their 1st Amendment rights to free speech, association, and to petition the government, the non-profit’s lawyer told The Federalist: “I told the Committee that they should approach my client like they would the ACLU or the NAACP.”

“If you wouldn’t ask the ACLU or the NAACP the question, don’t ask my client either,” McAdoo Gordon told investigators.

McAdoo Gordon’s reference to the NAACP holds specific significance because the U.S. Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), unanimously ruled that the First Amendment protected the right of the organization and its members’ rights of association and assembly and that the government could not demand that the NAACP reveal its membership list. 

Further, for the committee to use subpoenas “to demand financial and fundraising records (including bank account information) and ‘recruitment’ information from a non-profit civic organization, especially a civil liberties group, is wholly unacceptable,” McAdoo Gordon added in the letter. In short, the committee’s treatment of 1AP “is a gross affront to 1st Amendment.” 

Every American should be outraged at the attack on our fellow citizens’ First Amendment rights of association, speech, and assembly, McAdoo Gordon, a former long-time member of the ACLU who resigned from the organization after the group abandoned its civil liberties mission, told The Federalist. “And now Congressman Raskin is telling the Times he plans to ‘explore the connection between those groups and the people in Mr. Trump’s orbit.’”

That is precisely what the First Amendment protects Americans from: being investigated because of the individuals with whom they associate. But not only does the Jan. 6 Committee not care, neither does the legacy media. The question remains whether Americans will, or whether they have lost their sense of decency.