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On the eve of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Roger Stone walked out on stage before hundreds of cheering Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., flashed his signature Nixon Victory pose, and then danced to the Deplorable Choir’s girlpop anthem “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong.”
But several members of his posse stayed backstage, their faces covered, wearing military tactical gear. They were members of Oath Keepers, a far-right militia steeped in anti-government conspiracies. And on that night, they appeared to be working as Stone’s security detail, according to photos taken that day and observers of the event.
“This is nothing less than an epic struggle for the future of this country between Dark and Light, between the godly and the godless, between Good and Evil,” Stone bellowed to the crowd on January 5. “And we will win this fight—or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness. We dare not fail!”
“I will be with you tomorrow—shoulder to shoulder!” he added.
Oath Keepers were also photographed escorting Stone in a golf buggy to an earlier speech by the Supreme Court. In those images, they are wearing “All access” passes on lanyards.
Stone, a onetime adviser to former President Donald Trump, spoke at protests the day before the official “Stop the Steal” or “Save America” rallies, which were scheduled to take place as lawmakers gathered to certify the results of the 2020 election on January 6.
And over the years, he has made no secret of his habit of fraternizing with extremists. He’s been photographed drinking with the Proud Boys, a far-right street gang, who acted as his security at a political event in Salem, Oregon, in 2018.
When Stone was arraigned on federal charges linked to the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, Proud Boys rallied at the federal courthouse in D.C., with signs that read “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong.” During court proceedings in 2019, Stone admitted to having extensive ties to Florida’s Proud Boy chapter, including the group’s self-styled chairman, Enrique Tarrio.
But Stone’s association with Oath Keepers just one night before the deadly insurrection may have been a particularly bad look for the long-time Trump ally, who received a pardon for witness tampering and lying to Congress.
Court documents unsealed last week revealed that three other members of Oath Keepers, Thomas Caldwell, 66, Donovan Crowl, 50, and Jessica Watkins, 38, have been charged with conspiracy in addition to obstructing government proceeding, unauthorized entry, and disorderly conduct in connection with their actions on January 6. The defendants have yet to respond to the charges.
To date, they’re the only individuals of the more than 145 people arrested to receive conspiracy charges—which means prosecutors believe their actions at the Capitol were premeditated and planned.
According to federal court documents, Caldwell helped organize eight to ten individuals, who were dressed in tactical gear, and helped push the crowd up the Capitol stairs and through the doors. Once inside the Capitol, Caldwell allegedly received a Facebook message (it’s unclear from who) informing him that lawmakers were in the tunnels under the building. “Seal them in. Turn on the gas.” the person wrote.
But just because Stone was photographed by Reuters and other agencies with Oath Keepers on January 5 doesn’t necessarily connect him to their actions at the Capitol the next day, according to Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor based in Washington, D.C.
“A red flag, yes. Proof of Stone’s involvement, no,” said Waxman. “Under conspiracy law, a person must take some affirmative act in furtherance of the conspiracy to be held accountable.”
Stone didn’t deny that Oath Keepers were acting as his security detail on January 5 but insisted he had nothing to do with what transpired at the Capitol the following day.
“Since I never left my hotel room at all on January 6, and since I was not at the Capitol and know nothing about the events there, I urge you to be very, very careful,” he wrote to VICE News in a text message.
Prior to the January 6 riot, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes had been spewing increasingly disturbing rhetoric with regards to the 2020 election. He also often echoes aspects of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
During his regular appearances on Infowars, Rhodes has made it repeatedly clear that Oath Keepers were prepared to act on Trump’s direction and take the “Deep State” into custody. (It’s also worth noting that Infowars host Alex Jones spoke to Trump supporters on the eve of the insurrection shortly before Stone did).
Rhodes, who founded Oath Keepers in 2009 five years after graduating from Yale Law School, also stoked conspiracies about a “Benghazi-style attack on the White House” before the 2020 election. Weeks later, he claimed to have armed men “already stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option in case they attempt to remove the president illegally.”
Since the Capitol insurrection, Rhodes has doubled down on his rhetoric and used Infowars to call on militia members to prepare for violence against the “illegitimate” Biden administration.
January 6 also wouldn’t be the first time Stone got close to a riot. In 2000, Stone helped lead Republican operatives in the so-called “Brooks Brothers Riot”—named for the fact everyone was wearing suits—with the ultimate goal of securing George Bush’s victory by preventing the recount of the vote in an election office in Miami-Dade County.