WASHINGTON — For decades, mainstream Republicans mocked Roger Stone Jr. for his seersucker suits and outlandish affection for Richard Nixon, whose face he has tattooed on his back. They shrugged when he made outrageous claims during the 2016 election cycle, including the assertion that Chelsea Clinton’s real father was not, in fact, former president Bill Clinton. They laughed when he said Donald Trump could be president and joined his campaign as an informal adviser.
But now, with the Trump era underway, Stone is thriving. The proof: This week, Stone headlined a speaking event for young Beltway conservatives held at a private Republican social club on Capitol Hill, where he was welcomed as a hero.
Who’s laughing now?
“This is a great sentimental journey for me,” Stone said as he opened his address to a packed house of 20-somethings from the Young Republicans club of Washington, Maryland, and Virginia.
In the wide-ranging, hourlong speech, Stone denounced Trump’s detractors and said Democrats were on a witch hunt, but also returned to some of his familiar, more conspiratorial themes, calling for former president Barack Obama to be jailed and questioning the events of Sept. 11 and the JFK assassination.
What is different now is the reaction to his statements. Instead of being met with derision from the mainstream Republican audience — made up mostly of young congressional aides, researchers, or policy nerds — Stone was lauded with standing ovations and cheers. Along with the “alt-right” and Breitbart News, Stone — the man behind the debunked conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Kenya — is another example of how formerly fringe conservative voices have been thrust into the center of the political fray.
He did not change, but the Republican Party around him had.
“If you’re persistent about an idea and you stick with the promotion of that idea, no matter how long it takes you, you can succeed,” Stone said.
A former political aide to Nixon and key consultant for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, Stone said the election of Trump, a longtime friend, was his greatest accomplishment in politics to date. He encouraged fellow Republicans to be defiant in the face of the multiple investigations of Trump, and to punch back harder against Democrats, who he says are engaging in a witch hunt based on a fairy tale.
Stone defended Donald Trump Jr.’s contact with Russian officials, saying it would be malpractice for him to turn down any information someone offered him on his campaign opponent, no matter the source.
He also used an antigay slur, questioned The Washington Post’s reporting on Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and, as always, made inflammatory remarks about the Clinton family.
The Boston Globe reached out to the event’s host, the DC Young Republicans, who were initially responsive but ultimately ignored questions about why Stone was invited or whether they endorsed his beliefs. Stone did not respond to an interview request, but a Globe reporter attended the speaking engagement, which was held Tuesday evening at the ritzy Capitol Hill Club.
The juxtaposition was jarring. At the private club adorned with portraits of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and other longtime Republican leaders, Stone was the unquestioned star of the show. Buoyed by the recently released Netflix documentary about his life, called “Get Me Roger Stone,” the libertarian conservative reveled in his newfound celebrity.
“The idea that Donald Trump or members of the Trump family or members of the Trump campaign colluded with representatives of the Russian state to affect the outcome of the 2016 election . . . this is a fairy tale,” Stone said. “This is a steaming plate of bull[crap].
“There was a presidential candidate blackmailable by the Russians,” Stone added. “That candidate was Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Asked why Infowars, the conspiratorial news and opinion site, was a better news network than CNN, Stone said CNN “had ceased to be a news organization” and that “big media was in bed with the establishment.” Infowars famously said that the killing of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a “completely fake” hoax.
And when asked whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job, Stone said there are questions that “need to be explored.”
He also said President Trump agreed with him on that point. Trump “shares your curiosity about 9/11, and I think he believes there are a number of unanswered questions,” Stone told a member of the audience who identified herself as a member of the DC 9/11 Truth Commission. “Why the third building collapsed is one that I have wondered.”
Other Stone statements: the unfounded claim that immigrants will soon infiltrate America’s “open borders” and bring rape and crime. He said The Washington Post left out “inconvenient facts” about the Watergate scandal to unfairly shame Nixon. Stone also said there was no question former president Lyndon B. Johnson was involved in the JFK assassination.
“Some have referred to it as Lyndon Johnson’s possible involvement,” Stone said. “There’s nothing possible about it, my friends. Motive, means, opportunity, eyewitness evidence, fingerprint evidence, Texas politics — it’s all there.”
Stone, who has insulted the Clinton family with unproven claims for decades, did not pass up the opportunity on Tuesday. The crowd laughed when he said Hillary Clinton was too busy choosing “swatches of materials for the curtains in the Oval Office” to campaign for the White House.
In defending Donald Trump Jr., he took aim at Chelsea Clinton, the former candidate’s daughter.
“One of the great lessons of Watergate, we were told, was that no one was above the law,” Stone said. “Then what about Bill and Hillary Clinton, and their greedy, nasty, foul-mouthed, abusive little daughter, Chelsea?’’
Again, the crowd laughed and cheered.
The attacks embodied one of Stone’s core strategies, he said, which was that “it is always better to be on offense than defense.”
Stone, who himself has been implicated as someone who may have been in contact with Russian officials throughout the election, scolded Republicans for not hitting back strong enough against Democrats who accuse the Trump campaign of colluding with Russian officials.
The gathered audience cut through the stereotypes of what is often seen as a typical Trump-friendly crowd. They were not rural or disaffected members of the working class but cosmopolitan white millennials splurging on drinks at a cash bar and browsing dating apps on their iPhones as they waited for Stone to arrive.
“I just think if we’re going to start winning we need to get a little unreasonable,” said one man, who identified himself as a member of a Washington policy firm.
Stone soon entered to rousing applause.Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon