Roger Stone is here to teach us a lesson — and it's one we should have learned years ago

What did your mom teach you about confronting a bully? We still haven't done that with Roger Stone, or his boss

By Kirk Swearingen

Contributing Writer

Published October 4, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Roger Stone speaking during a press conference at Beths Burger Bar, across the street from the Conservative Political Action Conference, on Feb. 25, 2022, in Orlando. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Roger Stone speaking during a press conference at Beths Burger Bar, across the street from the Conservative Political Action Conference, on Feb. 25, 2022, in Orlando. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In the annals of unheeded warnings about appeasing bullies, there's British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who literally cut a deal with Adolf Hitler and promised "peace in our time." Then we have toddler-man Donald Trump, with his endless hissy-fits about not being treated fairly and mob-speak threats about what a shame it would be if our nice democracy was to — well, was to run into a narcissistic, psychopathic compulsive liar. Somebody like him. 

 Trump was also impeached twice, let us note — and got off the hook both times.

With the recent revelation that Trump acolyte Roger Stone, a Republican dirty trickster clear back to the days of Richard Nixon — told his cronies, "Fuck the voting, let's get right to the violence," before the 2020 election had even happened — let alone any bullshit claims that it was stolen — we have yet another example of what happens when you give in to a bully. What happens? We've heard it a thousand times and more during the Trump era, so let's all say it together: He becomes emboldened.

Stone has long claimed credit for the faux-grassroots uprising against the hand recount of votes in Florida after the 2000 election, dubbed the Brooks Brothers riot because it was carried out by a bunch of frat-boy insurgent Republicans in polo shirts, who tried to intimidate election officials while chanting "Shut it down!" In memory of Hitler's 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, an attempted coup against the government of the Weimar Republic, we might well call that Miami event the Kegger Putsch.

As Chris Lehmann wrote recently in The Nation, the Kegger Putsch vividly refutes any claim that the Jan. 6 insurrection was some sort of unthinkable anomaly: 

The precedent set by the post-election uprising in Miami-Dade County gives the lie to the common depiction of the failed Trumpian coup as an isolated and outlying event in the annals of right-wing protest. In reality, the "Brooks Brothers riot," staged amid the surreal, fiercely contested battle over the Florida vote, laid out the blueprint. Then, as in 2020, key legal and political strategists on the right sought to disrupt a clear procedural mandate to preserve the integrity of a vote count. The symbolic staging of the right-wing uprising conveyed the clear message that the votes of a white, upscale electorate were innately more American, legitimate, and potent than the more numerous non-white coalition that broke for the Democratic presidential ticket.   

There's a salient difference between 1923 and 2000, not to mention 2021: Hitler was arrested a couple of days after the Beer Hall Putch and charged with treason. He even did time in prison (although that didn't stop him from rising to power nine years later). Roger Stone and his Izod-clad minions simply walked away from their shenanigans in Florida, which successfully altered the course of history — aided, as Lehmann notes, by three members of the Bush legal team at the time who now sit on the Supreme Court — and put George W. Bush in the White House.

Thus emboldened, Stone went from "Shut it down" to "Stop the steal" — a slogan he first tried out years before 2020 — and got away with it again. When you keep getting away with things, over and over again, you naturally get impatient with all the fussy preliminaries, like the actual voting. And it's human nature, in a perverse sort of way, to see just how far you can take things. "Fuck the voting. Let's get right to the violence." We must assume the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has been listening.

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The director of "A Storm Foretold," the Danish documentary that clip comes from, was interviewed recently on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and said Stone's remark was made in frustration, knowing that Trump was likely to lose the election. Stone has claimed that he was only joking, but his remarks about challenging all election results make it clear enough that he was serious about winning the election by any means necessary — starting with bluster, threat and well-placed judges.

Roger Stone's career is an object lesson in what happens when you keep getting away with things, over and over again, and just naturally get impatient with all the fussy preliminaries. Like actual voting.

What other bad actors have we issued a free pass, to the detriment of society or the world at large? Richard Nixon (whose face is tattooed on Roger Stone's back) got his pardon. Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch brought a level of propaganda and hate speech to America so shameless it might have made Joseph Goebbels blush. Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan have made enormous personal fortunes miseducating a generation of young male Americans about how to be a good citizen and a good man.

How about the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying the electoral votes of a free and fair election? Have literally any of them paid a price?

While one cannot count this, legally or perhaps morally, as "getting away with something," it's worth noting that Donald Trump himself reportedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination nearly 450 times in the New York civil case about his business practice of overstating (to lenders) or understating (to tax authorities) the value of his properties. Again, he took the Fifth over and over, during testimony in a civil case, where neither he nor anyone else was at risk of going to jail.

Justice seemed to catch up with Roger Stone in February 2020, when he was convicted of obstruction, witness-tampering and lying to Congress in its Russia probe and sentenced to three years in federal prison. Predictably, that justice was short-lived Trump commuted his sentence that July and then, in December, granted him a full pardon, along with a number of other felons, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, father of Jared. Stone reportedly sought a  pardon for his actions around the insurrection on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, while he was delivering end-of-the-world speeches to the Trump faithful and hanging around the Willard hotel with members of the Oath Keepers as "bodyguards." All six Oath Keepers seen with Stone on those two days reportedly later took part in the Capitol insurrection

How much more abuse from this bully do we have to take, before we're finally done appeasing him? 

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections George W. Bush Roger Stone Stop The Steal