I must admit I did not take seriously the prospect of meeting Roger Stone, the Trump-besotted political consultant and former adviser, until the day of the interview. I knew little about the man beyond the basic narrative: that he was a vocal lobbyist and a fierce supporter of Nixon, Reagan and Trump. To give me a bit more perspective, I decided to watch some extracts of ‘Get Me Roger Stone’, the recent Netflix documentary, as well as footage from Alex Jones’ ‘Infowars’ (which, I must admit, was more of a curious indulgence than a fact-sourcing venture); none of the clips seemed to present him in a good light. Yet the more I thought about Stone’s attitude and his demeanour in these segments, the more I found the whole thing intriguing. One particular video had over a million views; its like-to-dislike ratio was also staggeringly supportive.
The online endorsement of Stone cannot be explained away by simply dismissing the audience as bots or trolls; Stone, despite (or, perhaps, by) his inflammatory statements and reputation, has garnered a following and an acceptance here that was denied to him by many media platforms.
This is not to say he is not in the spotlight for other reasons: the former Trump adviser has been in hot water recently over allegations surrounding supposed links to the hacking of the DNC servers, and the subsequent release of the ‘Podesta leaks’ in 2016 by Wikileaks. Back in January, he visited the Ecuadorian embassy where Julian Assange is staying. On the night of the talk, Stone was quick to jump into the fray and immediately dismiss any claims of illegal skulduggery, preferring instead to settle for just skulduggery: “The allegations that I knew of the disclosures by WikiLeaks in advance are simply false. What I said is that I had a back channel to Assange… I’ve often said I’ll do anything to get my candidates elected, short of breaking the law.”
He was similarly eager to rubbish the claims that Trump’s victory was due to Russian connections:
“First of all there is no evidence that anybody involved in the Trump campaign, neither Trump’s family nor Trump’s friends, such as myself, colluded, conspired or co-ordinated with the Russians. It is a falsehood and a false narrative.”
The meetings with a Russian lawyer by Donald Trump Junior don’t constitute collusion, he claims, as that talk “…appears to have produced nothing.” What such discussions do amount to, he claims, are detractions from the blatant wrongdoings and failures of the Obama administration and the Clinton dynasty, as exemplified in the way they unashamedly treated the incriminating Steele dossier “…as absolute truth, as fact.”
It seems, as with his idol Trump, that the extremely belligerent political style Stone employed is paying off. His theories, outlined in books such as ‘Jeb! And The Bush Crime Family’ and ‘The Clintons’ War On Women’, do not shy away from confrontation, and have consequently earned him something of a pedestal in the Alt Right community. However, he is quite adept at being able to read a room and tailor himself accordingly.
It was something of a surprise when, after our interview was over, he began to speak to the Union audience in a very reserved manner – there was a certain calmness, accentuated by his crisp pinstripe suit. He peppered the talk with all the key buzzwords a British libertarian such as myself would find appealing – ‘free speech’ and ‘small government’ to name a couple. He was quite happy to discuss his support for liberal causes, talking in detail about his backing of same-sex marriages, his hatred of the war on drugs and the conflict in Iraq, his work with the Libertarian Party from 2010 – 2014, and his praise of Gary Johnson. I struggled to associate this man with the same campaigner who had proclaimed himself a ‘dirty trickster’, and had turned up to the RNC in a Bill Clinton ‘Rape’ t shirt (in reference to the former president’s sexual misconduct).
Essentially however, that is what Stone is – not so much a melting pot as a thin gruel of traditional political thought and respectability, seasoned with a newfound, sensational, and largely populist approach. I could not decide whether to be amazed or terrified by this twisting of my ideals. It also seemed as if the audience was likewise struck – the evening was a lot more reserved than I imagined it would be. The questions from the audience were much more amicable than I had predicted: ‘Did you help create Trump?’ and ‘Are globalist governments a bad thing?’ being prime examples. Little to no air time was given to his thoughts on recent Trump controversies, such as the President’s comments concerning immigration from Haiti and African nations, nor did the audience question his North Korea policy or his own dismissal of ‘fake news’ – seemingly the antithesis of Stone’s earlier appeal for open and tolerant discourse.
Such inconsistencies, I feel, had yet to register with the audience until well after the event had concluded (as Olivia Gillman noted in her recent article). I suspect this is not because of a misplaced politeness, but a general inability to grasp a genuinely slippery man, cloaked in the tenets of liberalism yet representing something entirely anathema to the members of the old guard of American party politics.
It is perhaps appropriate that Stone’s true darling, and the man that he talked about the most that evening, is not Trump, nor Reagan, but Nixon: who better for a trickster to worship than Tricky Dicky? The man who blended conservative values with a veneer of respectability and liberalism, whilst engaging in some of the most underhanded tactics ever utilised in American politics (to date). Stone jokingly revealed to the audience at the end of the evening that he has a Nixon tattoo between his shoulder blades, and is thus “… the only man you’ll meet with a Dick on the back and a dick on the front.” One imagines that very few of his countrymen would think of giving the same reverence to the man at the heart of the Watergate Scandal.
If there is then something to be learned from Roger Stone, whether you like him or hate him, it is this: politics is changing very fast; yesterday’s fool is today’s victor. The alternative media provided by the internet, Stone noted, makes publicising a campaign that much easier, and the fact that news outlets clamp onto confrontation and controversy doesn’t hurt either. Unless mainstream political parties recognise this, and confront the difficult reality facing them, more and more populists will rise up to take their place.
Trying to “…put the toothpaste back into the tube” and revert to the old ways will not work anymore, he claims. It seems as if he has a certain point – the shock jocks of politics are doing a lot better of late than the more principled and moderate party politicians of yesteryear. Trump is a prime example of this. He is not a quintessential Republican, and thus managed to garner a support base that was once that of the Democrats – the white, working class voter. The last Republican to have achieved that, Stone noted, was Nixon. “The support of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Rust Belt ‘Brexit states’ as [Michael] Moore called them, was the absolute key to victory. If the Democrats don’t accept their failure and fail to give these people a good candidate, who promises meaningful change and also delivers on it, unlike Obama, then Trump will win again.”