When Roger Stone waived his Nixonian salute on the steps of a federal courthouse in Florida last week following his arrest on the orders of Robert Mueller, he was joined by some unusual supporters: the Proud Boys.
On Tuesday, Stone was arraigned in a Washington, D.C. courthouse on charges he lied about dealings with WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign in 2016. Stone has spent the past two years as the most outlandish character in the Trump-Russia saga, with his colorful quotes and flamboyant wardrobe. At the same time, he’s grown tighter with the violent ultra-nationalist group, hiring them as security and participating in the group’s videos—even repeating its slogan.
With Trumpworld distancing itself from Stone, it was up to Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio to defend him.
“This whole investigation started with the Russia collusion thing. These charges today are just obstruction, nothing to do with that… I believe nothing’s gonna come of it. I believe some of it is manufactured,” Tarrio told The Daily Beast in Florida on Friday.
On Tuesday morning in D.C., a handful of Proud Boys gathered outside, holding signs “Roger Stone did nothing wrong” and promoting InfoWars. The Proud Boys got in arguments with Stone hecklers and were separated by police.
The Proud Boys are a neo-fascist group that glorifies violence against opponents, particularly on the left. Designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group and its members have been involved in a series of bloody brawls across the country over the past three years, leading to the recent departure of founder Gavin McInnes.
Taking McInnes' place is Tarrio, who is especially close to Stone. They appeared together on Friday outside of court. On Sunday, Tarrio was photographed entering Stone’s house. Last month, Stone filmed a video with Tarrio where he told the group to “keep the faith.”
Tarrio’s Proud Boys count Stone as one of their own. The group posted a video last February showing Stone completing what has been described by the group as a low-level initiation. “Hi, I’m Roger Stone. I’m a Western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”
Stone denied being a Proud Boy in a text message to The Daily Beast: “For the record I am not a member. If fact I would never belong to an organization that would have someone like me as a member (Groucho Marx).”
When asked whether the Proud Boys mischaracterized his “1st degree” initiation in the video, Stone accused this reporter of being a member of the Communist Party and did not return further questions.
Some Proud Boys view Stone as an “influencer,” said Samantha Kutner, a University of Nevada researcher studying violent extremism. Kutner has conducted extensive interviews with Proud Boys. At one point during McInnes’ tenure, Stone was “one of the three approved media figures allowed to speak” about the group, she said.
Stone’s video represented the lowest of four “degrees” of Proud Boy initiation. The first degree comes with dubious membership. To reach the next level, initiants must shout the names of breakfast cereals while Proud Boys punch them.
“Anyone can post a video claiming their allegiance to the group in that fashion,” Kutner said of Stone. “I don’t know if there’s video of the cereal beat-in, but that is recognized among members as the way to consider yourself an official Proud Boy. You’re not given any rights at council meetings and don’t really have a say in the group until you get your second degree, which is the cereal beat-in.”
She added that she would characterize first-degree Proud Boys as “sympathizers. They have expressed enough commitment to the group to make a video claiming their allegiance, but they haven’t taken the next step to officially become a member. They could be considered a non-committal member of the Proud Boys.”
Indeed, Stone has repeatedly used the Proud Boys as a security force, sometimes with other Republicans’ blessing. The organizer of a GOP conference in Oregon last March defended Stone’s decision to bring the hate group, telling Willamette Week that Stone “was worried about getting killed… He gets death threats constantly.”
Stone previously told The Daily Beast that his Proud Boy security contingent was a volunteer force due to the “large number of death threats I have received and the many potentially violent and physical attacks on me in public spaces when I travel.”
Now the Proud Boys are helping Stone.
At Stone’s press conference outside a Fort Lauderdale courthouse on Friday, Tarrio was one of two Proud Boys to arrive in “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong” shirts. The back of the shirt advertises the link to a website where Stone’s supporters can donate to his legal defense fund.
Stone pushed his Facebook friends to buy the shirts, according to screenshots one of his friends shared with The Daily Beast. The friend said Stone sent him a Facebook message with a link to the 1776 Shop, a website for right-wing merchandise, including a range of Proud Boys gear.
At Stone’s Friday press conference, Tarrio identified himself to a Daily Beast reporter as the “business owner” of the 1776 Shop. When contacted via email, the 1776 Shop declined to confirm whether Tarrio owned the company. (The return email came from the email handle “fundthewest,” which is the name of an LLC Tarrio registered in October.)
Tarrio’s advice for Stone, who pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, was simple.
“Stick to your guns,” he said. “But I don’t have to tell him that.”