Who is Roger Stone (and why does he have Nixon’s face tattooed on his back?)

Self-proclaimed totally innocent rat fucker Roger Stone, one of Trump’s closest long-time advisors (unofficial! No legal connection to Trump!) and coiner of “Stop the Steal” (2000, 2016, 2020, 2024) appeared before the January 6 Select Committee for a few minutes yesterday to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He claimed that Democrats just want to trap people into fake perjury so they can persecute them. The multi-millionaire then began a crowd-funding campaign for his legal defense and to pay for around the clock security guards.

Dirty trickster Stone is an innovator in political dirty tricks who raked in a mountain of cash with his former partner Paul Manafort (no connection to Trump! He worked for free!). Stone has been integral to the disinformation, outright lying and threats of right-wing political violence culture we now live in.

Here is a capsule description of this cynical, destructive man’s career as a presidential campaign disinformation specialist from a recent episode of historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman’s Now and Then podcast called Disinformation and Democracy:

Heather Cox Richardson:

. . . And one of the things that’s interesting about the Nixon campaign . . . is that one of the people involved as a young man who carries an image of Nixon on his back to this day in a tattoo, and that is Roger Stone, who was a 20 year old operative in that campaign. And he did things in that, like making a donation from a fake organization called the Young Socialist Alliance, to somebody who was opposing Nixon in the primary, using things like that to go ahead and again, slime opponents. And that business of running politics by lying is going to make a huge difference in our lives in the year 2000. Thanks again to Roger Stone.

So Roger Stone, again, cuts his teeth in this idea of running politics by convincing people of things that are not true, by changing the trajectory of reality by creating narratives and creating images. And he is instrumental in, what’s known as the Brooks Brothers riot in 2000 after the election of that year. And the way that that played out was that the election of that year was on November 7th. And on that election, it became clear that the outcome of the 2000 election would depend on the electoral votes from Florida. There were a lot of problems with that Florida election; there was a butterfly ballot in which you didn’t actually read down one side of the page and then down the other, you were supposed to read page to page, which meant that a bunch of democratic voters get siphoned off to vote for a far-right candidate. There were a number of people kicked off the roles immediately before the election. But after the election, it becomes clear that Bush has a lead in the state, but as they continue to do recounts, the numbers of votes that put Bush in the lead start to drop, and they start up by a lot. Usually recounts don’t change the vote very much, but in fact, the recounts in Florida drop Bush’s lead in the state from 1,784 votes, to 327 votes,, then to 154 votes.

And finally, attention comes down to Miami-Dade County, which is a democratic stronghold. And there, it seems likely that Gore is going to pick up a lot of votes in a recount. So on November 21st, the Florida Supreme Court authorized a manual recount in four counties and set a deadline for November 26th on that. And then on November 22nd, the Miami-Dade County Canvasing Board decided to focus solely on the contested ballots in order to meet their deadline. And so, they’re trying to hunker down, and trying to avoid the media frenzy that’s descending on them. And so in order to go ahead and avoid that they move into a smaller room on the 19th floor of the County Building, so that they can be close to the ballot scanning machine. That day hundreds of people from around the country, including a bunch of Republican staffers descend into South Florida to protest the recount.

There’s a New York Congressman, for example, a man named John Sweeney who was working for the Bush campaign, who ordered protestors to shut it down, meaning to shut down the recount. And there’s more and more pressure on the Miami-Dade recount that eventually becomes known as the Brooks Brothers riot, because the protestors who were trying to shut it down, come dressed in buttoned shirts and sport jackets. And they appear at the room outside where the counting is taking place, and they start screaming, “Stop the count, stop the fraud, let us in.” And the protestors increasingly accuse the Miami-Dade counters of stealing ballots and of stealing the election. The guy in charge of that was the democratic county chairman, a guy named Joe Geller. And six days after the Brooks brothers riot, Geller told Salon, and this is a quote, “This was not a Miami moment. It was outsiders, Hitler Youth sent in by the Republicans to intimidate the election officials.”

And that’s actually exactly what it was. It was a Stone operation to go ahead and orchestrate that protest in Miami. He recruited a bunch of Cuban American protestors by warning on the radio, for example, that democratic candidate Al Gore was going to stage a coup, the same way that Fidel Castro had staged a coup in Cuba. He’d organized phone banks to encourage Miami Republicans to storm the counting site. And on the day of the rioting, he actually was in a Winnebago outside, organizing the protests. So there was this sense that by manipulating the media and getting people to think that there was something untoward going on in what was really quite a legitimate recounting, that he could go ahead and orchestrate and end to that recount. And that is exactly what happened.

Joanne Freeman:

And think about the layers of impact of that. So first of all, you have the people doing the recount who have the impression there’s this mass of people banging down the doors, wanting to end it all, and that there’s mass opposition. You’re getting an awareness outside of that place that somehow or other there’s a mass movement, mass opposition against what, of course, must be some kind of illicit attempt to steal the election. And that the fact that there’s that kind of protest shows that things not right down there in Florida. So on many, many levels, this out and out fabrication can spread to voters, can spread to the public, can have an impact in Florida, and in the counting of votes in Florida, it echoes, it resounds out in a lot of different ways. And it’s completely fabricated.

Heather Cox Richardson:

Well in a sense, we’re talking about information, and how in a democracy, you desperately need to have an informed public, but the manipulation of that information into disinformation that then can be transmitted increasingly quickly over first telegraph lines, then telephone lines, then radio, then television, and now the internet, means that we have a real problem with disinformation, and with its ability to whip people up to an emotional reaction to go ahead and change our history, change our political history. And in the case of 2000, stop a recount that looked as if it were going to put a Democrat who won the popular vote into the White House, rather than a Republican.

Joanne Freeman:

To act on impulse and act on emotion rather than to act on real information. So first of all, that in and of itself, not only is it disinformation, it’s anti-information. It’s trying to get people emotionally riled up. And that kind of emotion is always going to be more effective than plain old, boring truth when it comes to what’s being publicized and what’s catching the public eye. And as you just said, Heather, different forms of technology are helping that transformation, that spread of deliberately emotion rousing lies, to change the whole political picture and alter American political history.

You know, if you think about it, democracy in and of itself is a conversation of sorts between people who hold power, and the people who have given it to them. And the process of governing has to do with the communication back and forth of people with power, and the people who’ve given it to them, that’s where accountability comes in. But any form of technology that alters the nature of that conversation, alters democracy. It makes perfect sense, if democracy is a conversation between people with power and those who’ve given it, any technology that changes that conversation is going to transform democracy. And the question then really becomes: how does the nation adjust to that new technology? How is that new technology reigned in or accommodated what happens in that moment when people are trying to figure out in essence, a new language of politics. And depending on what happens there, really depends the direction of the nation’s politics.

WATCH: When drawing comparisons between Nixon and Trump ...
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