Roger Stone Won't Let You Return to Politics as Usual
I regret to inform you that we need to talk about what Roger Stone is up to once again because his tactics keep working and his supporters are still listening.
I wrote this article on Medium in 2018 discussing Roger Stone and the way he manipulates the narrative around our political discourse. I think it’s relevant considering what we’re talking about on this publication and the recent leaked footage of Stone talking about “stopping the steal” prior to the 2020 election. The original post is too long to fit in Substack’s format, but you can read the archive I linked to above. Even though this piece is now over four years old, I still think it explains what we’re up against. I’m going to quote from it now (in italics below) with a particular focus on the tactics Stone and those around him employ. I’ll add an addendum at the end of this piece to discuss some of the recent news.
Here’s the piece.
By now, it’s clear the Overton Window has shifted since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president three years ago. Much of what was once unthinkable in political and media discourse is now the norm. Trump has accomplished much of this himself with outrageous statements and claims, but he hasn’t done so alone. An army of Alt-Right trolls have normalized Donald Trump’s behavior time and time again. Why have they done this? Who benefits from it? To understand the details of the operation, you have to understand Trump’s longest serving adviser, Roger Stone.
For starters, Roger Stone’s contacts with Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks meant he was communicating with a GRU officer (Guccifer 2.0) and a GRU cut-out, WikiLeaks. This was long suspected, but now we know for certain. Yet, it’s easy to see these contacts as a single instance, rather than a long running pattern of behavior. When we look at Stone’s history, we see that’s simply not the case. His connections with the Kremlin and Kremlin associates are numerous, and Stone often serves as a focal point for U.S. citizens working to further Russia’s interests in America. These actions are intended to help Donald Trump maintain his office. This is achieved with the Kremlin’s help, as well as American citizens working wittingly and unwittingly to further their cyber operations. These various factions on the right often appear independent of each other. Many times, they may not even like each other, but their goals overlap too often to be ignored.
Stone’s rules, as he described them in 2008 to Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker, still apply today. These rules are: “Attack, attack, attack — never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” Even if the game changes slightly, even as the names come and go, the rules for Stone don’t change. These tactics are a product of Stone and Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn. They spent years learning from Cohn together, and Trump and Stone’s relationship is full of many examples of dirty tricks together in the decades since.
In 2017, Stone described their relation to Trump this way: “Pro-Americanism,” Stone said, “is a common thread for McCarthy, Goldwater, Nixon, [and] Reagan. The heir to that tradition is Donald Trump. When you combine that with the bare-knuckled tactics of Roy Cohn — or a Roger Stone — that is how you win elections. So Roy has an impact on Donald’s understanding of how to deal with the media — attack, attack, attack, never defend.”
But really, it’s not Pro-Americanism. It’s Chekism…
I discussed how these tactics were deployed in relation to dirty tricks used to help Trump get elected and then evade responsibility for their actions. The people around Stone consistently denied Russia’s involvement in the DNC hack and falsely claimed a DNC employee, Seth Rich, had leaked the material to Wikileaks.
The blame for the hacks of the DNC and subsequent release of damaging info on Hillary Clinton’s campaign was put on Russia. Though the reporting linking the hack to Russia was presented by a non-partisan group of cyber experts at Crowdstrike, the Trump campaign and its surrogates denied these facts and counterattacked. Roger Stone led this charge. He did this by claiming the Clintons had Seth Rich, a DNC employee, murdered.
Why did Stone do this? To cast doubt on Russia as the source for the hacks on the DNC. Instead, from Stone’s telling of events, the material was “leaked” from Seth Rich and given to WikiLeaks. In Stone’s version, Russia wasn’t involved at all. Instead, according to Stone’s telling, it was a lone DNC official who decided to help Donald Trump, and once the Clintons discovered what he’d done, they had Seth Rich killed. Ridiculous as this story is, Stone was not alone in telling it. WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information on the person who murdered Seth Rich. This story became a rallying cry for Trump supporters online. The conspiracy was convenient in that, if true, it meant there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. If the information came from a DNC official and not Russian hackers, how could there be?
Now, over two years after his death, we can say with certainty that Seth Rich did not provide the material given to WikiLeaks. Robert Mueller’s recent indictment tells us this is the case. However, in the end, the lie served its purpose in obfuscating the truth of the releases by WikiLeaks before the election.
This is how Russia wins the information war. There is no concern for truth, only reaction to what we perceive to be true. Once the truth comes out, it hardly matters. The next round of propaganda is already out being pushed. Disproving these lies is always going to take time. Making up stories and lying to your audience is quick and easy. As I’ve discussed before, the reporting in the lead up to the election was a case of reflexive control for the mainstream media. They reported the documents put out by WikiLeaks ad nauseum, believing this to be journalism. It wasn’t, but they believed it was, so they did it and kept doing it. WikiLeaks disclosures were never as damning as they were promised to be, but the releases continued to be a story, a focus of attention away from the horrible things the voters could have learned about Donald Trump. Instead of more coverage of Trump’s mob connections, racism or sexual assault, all the media kept talking about was WikiLeaks…
I then discussed Stone and his associate’s roles in pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Roger, being Roger, didn’t posted about Pizzagate on his verified Twitter account. Instead, the Twitter account for Stone’s personal website, @StoneColdTruth, posted about Pizzagate extensively. Who ran that Twitter account? Who knows, but we know Roger maintained access to it. He said so himself.
The conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate ultimately ended with gunshots and a police standoff at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. in December 2016, but it all started with the tweet seen above by an account claiming to be operated by a Jewish lawyer in New York. The account would turn out to be fake, and the Pizzagate conspiracy theory ultimately resulted in an arrest at Comet Pizza. However, the momentum around the movement online really took off on November 16, 2016 when Jack Posobiec decided to dine there. He recorded himself and streamed the video but was eventually asked to leave the restaurant. It created a scene, all of which was documented and posted online. In the hours after Posobiec left Comet Pizza, according to the Washington Post, #pizzagate peaked on Twitter.
When the dust settled, no “child prostitution ring” was uncovered. Nothing was discovered at all, because the allegations were pulled out of thin air. Even Alex Jones issued an apology on his website to Comet Ping Pong, which is bizarrely now deleted.
As expected, the usual suspects in Stone’s orbit were involved in pushing Pizzagate — Jack Posobiec, Mike Cernovich, Mike Flynn Jr. and others. Pizzagate was a ridiculous idea on its face, but to at least some voters or potential voters, it was real, at least for as long as Trump’s people needed it to be. Why push these lies days before the 2016 election? Because this is how Stone and his army of trolls defended Trump.
This is achieved not by disproving the worst stories or theories about him, but by offering alternative narratives about Hillary Clinton and her associates that were just as bad or worse. Facts are never important to Stone’s closest allies.
The Access Hollywood tape on which Donald Trump boasts about grabbing women by the pussy nearly cost him his candidacy, but when it didn’t, his supporters needed to hit back and defend him. One way was to push a conspiracy theory like Pizzagate. The idea being that, yes, Donald Trump does like to brag about grabbing women by the pussy, but “Hillary Clinton runs a child sex ring.” If both were actually true, which would be worse? Obviously, the child sex ring would be worse, but it was also obviously FALSE to the mainstream media. Those who did call out these lies were instantly labeled as “fake news.”
No matter how Pizzagate started, the trend continues
Once a gun-firing Pizzagate-believer found no evidence of the conspiracy taking place and was arrested after surrendering to police, the Pizzagate movement stopped being pushed online. Even in the world of conspiracy theories, there are leaps some people can never make. This was one of them. However, that hasn’t stopped other conspiracy theories from by this same group of trolls. Mike Flynn’s son, in particular, was fired from his job on the Trump transition team for his advocacy of Pizzagate. After it was thoroughly debunked, Flynn Jr. has not stopped tweeting, and he moved on from Pizzagate to Pedogate. The name changed, but the narrative has stayed the same.
Of course, the senior Flynn ended up going full QAnon himself. I’ll conclude this recap with a mention of Infowars role in Trumpism, because they’re still a force in that media space and continue to aid Stone today.
The rise in popularity of pro-Trump news outlets like Infowars and Breitbart have been instrumental in making this happen. How so? These sites remain fiercely loyal to Donald Trump. They rarely criticize him and find creative ways to blame Democrats or shift the focus away from Trump’s corruption, poor decisions and failures. They do this in spite of the absurdity of their argument because, again, the goal isn’t truth. It’s changing what people are talking about. It’s about protecting their guy. It’s about reflexive control and forcing the “liberal media” to respond to their actions, no matter how absurd.
Much like Russia Today (RT) functions for Vladimir Putin, Infowars bases its messaging on what Donald Trump is saying or doing. They justify his absurd statements. They normalize his irrational behavior. They attack Trump’s enemies and condemn those who would call out his lies. This is how propaganda works, and it’s why Roger Stone has become Alex Jones’s partner at Infowars over the last few years. To be clear, they do not hide their love for Vladimir Putin.
Yet, successfully moving the Overton Window always requires one thing: a more extreme view than the slightly-less-extreme message being put out. So, as absurd as this seems to the average person, there is in fact a more extreme message than Infowars being put out there. It comes from the founder of the Alt-Right, Richard Spencer.
Yes, you read that right. Richard Spencer’s message is too extreme for Infowars. On more than one occasion, Infowars has denounced or attacked Spencer for his white nationalist message. Why? Because doing so makes Infowars seem less extreme and thus more “normal” to its viewers. In essence, as crazy as Alex Jones sounds to objective listeners, his audience knows “at least we’re not supporting Nazis like Richard Spencer.”
Where we are today
Keeping all of the above in mind, let’s jump into the recently leaked audio of Roger Stone and see how he’s decided to deal with the potentially bad press around his own words.
In one clip where he’s discussing the upcoming 2020 Presidential election, Stone is heard saying, “Even if [Trump] wins an honest election, we’re not gonna have an honest election. [Democrats are] gonna steal — they’re stealing us blind in Florida right now.” When I heard this, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the DNC leak in 2016 and Stone’s continued efforts to muddy the waters with the insistence that Seth Rich, not Russia, was responsible for removing the data and handing it over to Wikileaks. Admitting that Russia hacked the DNC would’ve meant admitting that by coordinating the release of the hacked material with Wikileaks, Roger Stone would have, in fact, done something wrong. However, the false and (thoroughly debunked) theory that Seth Rich was a “whistleblower” who worked at the DNC and handed over this information freely to WikiLeaks was not only a way to absolve Stone (and his associates) of any guilt, it was a way of employing his “attack, attack, attack, never defend” and “admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack” strategy. The Seth Rich conspiracy theory was the counterattack, and even though it was untrue, it served its purpose. The bad press about Russia’s assistance to Trump was drowned out by noise that amounted to nothing but pain for the Rich family in the end.
The same can be seen in the recently release video wherein Stone claims that the “Stop the Steal” movement he created was not about “stealing” the election from Donald Trump’s opponents. According to Stone, the left was already in the process of stealing the 2020 election. Falsely framing this as a “steal” started by the left shows us Stone once again using attack as the best form of defense. Stone and those around knew what they were doing and what they’re going to be accused of doing to help Trump win. They knew that the potential crimes he and the people around him were committing could result in convictions. People have been sent to jail for trying to manipulate voting machines, fake elector schemes and their actions related to January 6th. The investigations that followed the 2020 election were really a foregone conclusion for Stone and the people around him who have been under intense public scrutiny since (at least) 2016. If you know what you’re doing is (at least possibly) illegal, and you know you’ll be investigated for doing that possibly illegal thing, why not go ahead and accuse the left of what you’re already doing? Doing this preemptively frames your defense for all your supporters. It tells them the narrative Stone wants them to sell once he’s caught.
Stone’s leaked comments about the tactics the right would use to illegally keep Trump in power after the 2020 election did ring true then and now, but it’s worth considering what he said in 2020 could be true of that election or any subsequent election. If there’s even a hint of a Democrat doing the slightest bit wrong in the 2022 or 2024 election, Stone or his associates can point back to that 2020 clip and remind everyone that, “Roger Stone was right,” and if Roger Stone was “right,” then surely he did nothing wrong.
Stone’s comments on violence
When Roger says, “let’s get right to the violence,” he’s telling people who support him and the MAGA movement that it’s okay to start openly discussing violence. Stone also said, “Shoot to kill. See an antifa? Shoot to kill. Fuck ’em. Done with this bullshit.” Given that Stone recently admitted to advising the Proud Boys for years, this is no real surprise. The Proud Boys’s constant refrain is that ANTIFA is this violent behemoth burning down our cities and violently terrorizing the real Americans who want to go about their everyday lives. Stone wants his followers to see their mission, like Trump’s, as “Saving America,” and saving America to them means defeating the enemy out to destroy America. That’s Dems, the mainstream media and boogeymen like ANTIFA. (Whatever your feeling on “Antifa”, when Stone talks about them, it is a fictionalized version of them.)
Stone’s followers are meant to believe they’re constantly under siege by the forces of evil. It’s why they’re so obsessed with attacking democrats as pedophiles—since pedophilia is one of the few things we can all still universally agree is awful. So, Stone and his acolytes moved from Pizzagate to Pedogate to then QAnon, which—it may be somewhat hard to remember now—was based entirely around the premise of elite Democrat pedophiles getting away with their heinous acts with impunity. Stone and his protégés like Jack Posobiec will threaten to “embarrass you in court” if you try to claim they had some sort of role in creating QAnon, but Jack will, in 2022, call his political opponent “appealing to pedophiles” because he wants the same message to stick without all the baggage that comes along from supporting QAnon.
They’re going to keep alluding to things getting worse, violence increasing and painting our world as a dystopian hellscape because their supporters need to believe they’re always under siege. That is the constant refrain. “They’re not out to get me. They’re out to get you” was one of Trump’s favorites memes to share when he still had a Twitter account, and it worked because his supporters truly believed it. They believed it because they’re told this all day, every day. So defending Roger Stone from accusations of “collusion with Russia” during Trump’s presidency became “saving America” became “Dems stole the election” and will become something else in the future, and they will continue to defend themselves by attacking their enemies—both real and perceived—and projecting their crimes and potential crimes on those who stand in opposition to them. The violence, when it comes, won’t be their fault because in their supporters’ eyes, the left already did worse.
Stone has since claimed the leaked videos are “deep fakes”
The next logical question to tackle would be Stone’s subsequent claim after this was leaked that these clips of him weren’t real. He claimed they were “deep fakes” being used to frame him for something he didn’t say or do. He continues to deny any role in the January 6 insurrection, and you can bet he’ll go on denying that and a thousand other things he’s done until he’s dead. Infowars even published an article this week backing up Stone’s claim, and guess what? The people who watch Infowars don’t really care if it’s real or if it’s fake. They need a way to attack their real and perceived enemies, and Roger Stone gave them another talking point with which to do so. They would rather use lies to attack the mainstream media than explain or defend their actions. Who cares if Roger lied? Dems lie more about worse, they’ll say. The attacks can be a form of defense, but they’re not going to go out there and actually play defense. Did you see Alex Jones on the stand during his recent Sandy Hook defamation trial? He got on the stand and gave another show, another performance. He made it about the things his enemies had done. Stone’s claim of a “deep fake” isn’t believable, but he reminded the people who listen to him that these attacks came from the media. The media are, to them, the enemies of the people. Then what’s a good Trump supporter to do? Insult, attack and belittle the enemies of the people instead.
Stone’s tactics haven’t changed. He’s the same guy. The talking points have evolved, and the cast of characters has shifted somewhat over the last four years, but little has changed. One of the first people to endorse Matt Gaetz all the way back in 2016 was Roger Stone, and Gaetz recently told Bannon in an interview that GOP policies aren’t nearly as important as impeaching Biden and other planned investigations into Democrats after they (likely) take back the House next year. On the same night, Tucker Carlson—himself a longtime friend of Stone’s who defended Roger throughout the various investigations into Stone’s activities—lambasted future Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s new Commitment to America plan. Tucker started by saying the proposal is fine. There’s little for his viewers to disagree with, but really, according to Carlson, “Nobody really cares. Why? Because there’s nothing real in it.”
Tucker’s message was a warning to McCarthy and anyone else who thinks post-Trump politics will return to business as usual. With or without Trump, Trumpism is the new normal. Stone’s rules have spread from the fringes of discourse to the very center of GOP politics. Policy proposals aren’t going to satisfy the masses. They want to bring down their enemies, and those enemies are everywhere. They’re Democrats who oppose them or RINOs (Republicans in name only) who stand in their way. Kevin McCarthy can get on board or go the way of Paul Ryan. The crowd is hungry for blood, not another round of tax cuts.
The MAGA audience knows their role in this eternal struggle now. Roger Stone and other big right-wing influencers point out the enemy. They attack, attack, attack the enemy until ultimately ridding themselves of that enemy. These focused attacks pushed out Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Justin Amash, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney to name a few. Who’s next? Anyone who gets in the way.
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