The following is an excerpt from the new book “We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism,” by HuffPost senior editor Andy Campbell.
Roger Stone has been the troll sitting on the shoulder of powerful Republicans since Richard Nixon’s presidency. His “dirty trickster” moniker derives from a career of cutthroat weaseling for the right people. Throughout the Trump years, Stone remained one of the president’s closest friends and loyal allies.
He also has close ties to multiple Proud Boys and chapters, especially those most involved in Florida politics near his home in Fort Lauderdale, and he remains without a doubt the gang’s closest connection to Trump’s inner circle. In an exclusive interview, Stone gave a rare, candid look at his relationship to the notorious far-right street gang.
He’s a friend and confidant to Enrique Tarrio, the gang’s chairman, who’s now sitting in jail awaiting trial on seditious conspiracy charges, over what the Justice Department calls his outsize role in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The pair has appeared together on numerous occasions dating back to 2018, and they make no secret of their mutual respect. Tarrio makes press appearances in defense of Stone whenever he ends up in court, and Stone boosts the Proud Boys and attends their events. In December 2018, the pair stood together in a video address to the gang, and Stone called on the Proud Boys to fight back against “globalists” and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was at the time leading the investigation into election meddling and ties between Trump’s camp and Russian officials.
“Keep the faith. Don’t let them wear you down ― the globalists, the two-party duopoly, Robert Mueller, the deep state, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post,” Stone said. “They want to wear us down. Never give up the fight. We will prevail.”
Stone agreed to an interview with me in May 2021, during a time when he was under immense public scrutiny over his proximity to the insurrection. He maintains that he was in his D.C. hotel during the riots at the Capitol. But he made various appearances with the Proud Boys in the days surrounding the event and, on the morning of, was captured on video flanked by a group of Oath Keepers, some of the gang’s closest allies. He was later subpoenaed by the House panel investigating the Capitol attacks, though he refused to cooperate with the probe.
Interviewing people like Stone is a complex and confounding kind of dance. He’s a celebrity, a convicted liar, and a Trump sycophant, and like a child born of all three, he’s prone to self-serving word salads sandwiched between half-truths and deflections. He couldn’t decide from question to question whether he was close to the Proud Boys or not; in one breath he said he didn’t associate with the gang but “befriended specific individuals who happened to be members of that organization.”
In another, he lamented that the Proud Boys, and Tarrio in particular, had been “stigmatized” by the media. He suggested that the Proud Boys were never violent or racist, despite a mountain of evidence proving otherwise.
“When a lie is repeated enough times over and over again by these powerful assets, you get unfairly labeled. And I think that’s what has happened to the Proud Boys,” Stone told me. “‘They’re racist, they’re white supremacists, they’re violent, they’re criminal.’ No, none of these things are true. Not in my experience.”
From the start, and throughout the 25-minute conversation, Stone repeated the claim that if the Proud Boys were a criminal enterprise capable of carrying out violence or an insurrection, he had no idea about any of it, and he had no part in it. And in any case, he argued, anything criminal attributed to the Proud Boys was the act of an individual, not the group.
“You can’t condemn everybody who’s an Italian American because some Italian Americans broke the law. It just doesn’t work that way.”
He worked hard to deflect for the Proud Boys, even when there wasn’t any apparent need to do so. Some of that seemed to be for the sake of self-preservation; whenever he’s asked about his relation to the gang or his whereabouts during a Proud Boys event, he launches into a spiel about the media’s mismanagement of his and the Proud Boys’ image.
But it was also clear that he had invested a considerable amount of emotional and professional capital in Tarrio. In fact, Stone admitted that he’s been advising Tarrio and the Proud Boys directly for years, perhaps much in the same way he might have advised Trump. He said he provided his professional and personal input on their political goals and on several occasions gave them advice when they got into legal trouble or did something that was bad for their optics.
“I encouraged [Tarrio] when he wanted to run for Congress, even though I thought it was probably a hopeless exercise,” Stone said. “Enrique is somebody who’s had a tough life. But he is charismatic. And I do think he’s got a great future if he wants one. Although I fear [he] will constantly be stigmatized by the creeps at CNN, the real haters, the folks who really are intolerant, the folks at MSNBC ... It’s a false imagery. And it’s really tremendously unfair.”
Asked whether he thought the Proud Boys could make a solid collective run for office going forward, Stone suggested they might be too “radical” to earn his support.
“I don’t see them as an elective political force. That’s just not how I see them. I see them as individual patriots who support Western values,” he said. “If you’re on the left, you can transcend your radical past. It’s not clear whether you can transcend a radical past on the right for a political future. Just not clear. Too early to say.”
Stone also gave the gang advice after several of their members were jailed following an attack on protesters outside a GOP event in Manhattan in 2018. He said he believes the convicted Proud Boys might have been exonerated completely if they’d listened to him and hired a better lawyer, one who could cast the blame on antifa and stand up to the New York establishment. He pushed Gavin McInnes, the group’s founder, to get new representation for the assailants.
“They should have hired a former state attorney general who could have taken [New York Gov.] Andrew Cuomo on frontally,” he said. “If the Proud Boys are violent, then antifa and [Black Lives Matter] are violent. You can’t have it one way. Gavin [McInnes] knows I feel this way: I think they should have been better represented.”
After Tarrio took the reins, Stone told him that the gang’s image was growing too toxic for public consumption and suggested that he should just change their name and start over.
“Candidly I told him a good two years ago that I think he should change the name of the organization and completely rebrand them. I think they’ve been so thoroughly stigmatized.”
When I asked whether he had any ideas for their new name, he shot back immediately. “Yes, I would have called them the Ancient Order of the Orange Men.”
It was obviously a reference to Trump and his iconic orange hue that comes from a thick layer of TV makeup. Was Tarrio receptive to the new name?
“Not in the slightest,” he said. “I would say completely disinterested.”
While Stone didn’t seem super optimistic about their chances at real political success, he didn’t count the Proud Boys out completely, though he said he wasn’t aware of any other members running for public office. Asked whether he’d endorse another Tarrio run, Stone said he would wait to gauge how the charges stemming from Jan. 6 affected him and the rest of the Proud Boys.
“I’d like to see the results of the current situation. I mean, you know, every American is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”
Even his openness to endorsement means a lot. The Proud Boys climbed to higher heights in their first few years of existence than any other extremist group around them, specifically because of their high-level political connections. And those relationships have helped launder the Proud Boys’ image for the general public. They’re now celebrated on the right as freedom fighters and sought out for their security.
Excerpted from “We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism” by Andy Campbell. Copyright © 2022. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.