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His enemies have numerous names for him, but “dirty trickster” is what right-wing political consultant Roger Stone proudly calls himself. A former advisor to President Trump, Stone’s influence in Republican politics dates to the campaign of Barry Goldwater, for whom he was a volunteer at the tender age of 12.
He has played major and minor roles in every Republican administration since then, whether it was tearing down liberal opponents (he claims to have been instrumental in the demise of disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer) or profanely attacking members of the media he deems unfriendly (Twitter suspended him last summer for comments about CNN reporters and others).
Stone is an unabashed conservative firebrand, a disinformation expert (liar), coddler of dictators and a pot-smoking, bodybuilding, wife-swapping dandy. It might sound like hyperbole, but it’s all there in Get Me Roger Stone, the documentary released by Netflix earlier this year from filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme.
“There are other people doing dirty tricks in politics, but they always say, ‘No, I didn’t do any dirty tricks. It was the other guy,” says Bank, whose previous credits include the feature film fantasy, Nothing Sacred, which he co-directed with Pehme. “Roger is the guy who likes to step forward and tap the mike to make sure it’s on and say, ‘I destroyed you.'”
By the time he was 20, Stone was working in Richard Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity and was later revealed to be one of the disgraced president’s “dirty tricksters” during the Watergate hearings. In the 1980s, he oversaw Ronald Reagan’s campaign in the Northeast, and a decade later became spokesman for Bob Dole’s presidential run. He takes credit for the so-called Brooks Brothers riot in which Republican operatives attempted to stop the recount during the disputed 2000 election of George W. Bush v. Al Gore, and has been a Trump associate since the 1990s, backing the real estate mogul’s aborted 2000 presidential bid.
A founding member of Black, Manafort and Stone, a lobbying firm that took on nefarious clients like Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos (both accused of torture and other human rights abuses), Stone was among the first to break unwritten rules by lobbying presidents he helped put in power.
“He did start off as an ideologue,” observes Pehme. “Over time his ideology has fallen away and it’s replaced by ‘Stone’s rules,’ which essentially are maxims defined by ‘win at all costs, destroy your enemies and do whatever is necessary for you to prevail.” The rules serve as chapter headings in the film, not only because they reflect Stone’s thinking, but that of the current president.
“Trump himself doesn’t have an ideology,” Pehme concludes. “But he does have an adherence to this political philosophy of ‘do anything it takes to win, be completely unscrupulous — whatever it takes to succeed — and admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattacks’ — all these rules that Roger has crystallized.”
According to Canadian psychologist Robert D. Hare, attributes like grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying and lack of remorse or guilt are just some of the symptoms of psychopathology. And while Stone checks a few of these boxes, the filmmakers hesitate to characterize him as such.
“Psychopaths are unable to see themselves. They don’t realize how amoral they are. So they’re driven by this desire to get anything they can, to achieve anything they can at any cost. Roger is much more self aware,” says DiMauro who, along with his co-directors, spent five years with Stone. “If anything that’s more applicable to Trump, who kind of lacks the self knowledge that Roger has.”
Reasons remain unclear about why Stone was either fired or left the Trump campaign in August 2015, but the filmmakers agree that when a Newsweek article mentioned him more than it mentioned Trump, the writing was on the wall. Since then, Stone has come under questioning before the House Intelligence committee on Russian meddling after he correctly forecast the release of DNC chair Tom Perez’s emails.
While Stone maintains he has access to Julian Assange through a secret back channel, (recently revealed to be New York radio personality Randy Credico), he admits no wrongdoing and remains confident that Russian collusion is a liberal-concocted chimera neither he nor the president need worry about.
“The story of Trump is about how the Republican Party became so hollow that somebody like Trump could take it over,” Pehme offers. “Ultimately it’s about how our country became so hollow that somebody like Stone and Trump could exploit all our weaknesses to become the rulers of a system that no longer can protect itself.”
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