Why is Roger Stone so interested in Cliven Bundy?

The Trump operative says he is heading to Nevada this week to call for a presidential pardon.

 

Roger Stone, an on-and-off adviser of President Donald Trump, says he will be in Las Vegas this Friday to demand a pardon for rancher Cliven Bundy and his co-defendants, who are currently awaiting federal trial. Stone also made public appearances in July in Nevada to urge Trump to intervene in the Bundy case, which is centered on the 2014 standoff between armed Bundy supporters and federal employees attempting to round up the rancher’s illegally grazing cattle. 

The case has become a symbol of longstanding disagreements in Western states over how public lands should be managed, as well as a rallying point for the “Patriot” movement, a loose network of militias and far-right individuals and groups across the country, including in the rural West. The arrival of Stone, a controversial political operative, in Las Vegas this week, is another strange turn to a series of cases that have vexed federal prosecutors from Oregon to Nevada.

Stone is in many ways an odd bedfellow for the Bundys, since he is a longtime Washington insider with no apparent connection to ranching or public-lands issues. The Florida resident is a men’s fashion editor of The Daily Caller, a conservative political website, who embraces his reputation as a “trickster” and who pushes the boundaries of ethical behavior farther than most. In contrast to Bundy’s reputation among his supporters as upstanding and salt-of-the-earth, “Stone sees morality as a synonym for weakness,” New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin says in the documentary Get Me Roger Stone released earlier this year.

Stone is nothing if not prolific: He consulted for presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon — whose face Stone has tattooed on his back. Stone has also consulted for foreign dictatorships in Zaire and the Philippines. Stone’s former lobbying firm “created the modern sleazeball lobbyist,” Toobin says. In the 1980s, Stone’s firm was among the first to help elect a political candidate, only to then lobby them. He readily takes credit for pioneering political attack advertising, now a stress-inducing mainstay of electoral politics. He also co-founded a political action committee, or PAC, which would eventually transform American politics by infusing massive donations into the process. 

Stone worked as a lobbyist on behalf of Trump businesses in the 1980s and last year served as a consultant during the presidential campaign. Stone is “one of (Trump’s) primary influences, perhaps the primary influence,” GOP strategist Michael Caputo says in the documentary.

Roger Stone speaks with media after meeting with then President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in December 2016. Stone plans to visit Las Vegas on Friday to publicly demand a pardon of Cliven Bundy.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images

Stone’s zealous commitment to the president veered close to a threat of violence when he told TMZ News last month that if the president were impeached, armed groups of Americans would start a civil war, creating “a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen.”

So what does Stone want with the Bundys? It’s not entirely clear. He isn’t known for pushing any particular political issue (though recently he’s been supporting more lenient marijuana laws), let alone Constitutional or property rights, which figure prominently the Bundys’ worldview. And while he has consulted for many GOP candidates, Stone is not driven by the values of the Republican Party, which he left to become a Libertarian.

No matter his motives, Stone’s appearance in Las Vegas this week will likely stir up a base of supporters for Bundy that could further align them with Stone — and Trump. And that would feed into a complex narrative of mistrust in the federal government, whose prosecutors have so far been unable to achieve significant convictions for either the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in 2016 or the Bunkerville standoff.

The trial of Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan is slated to begin Oct. 10 at the Las Vegas federal courthouse. Others who participated in the 2014 standoff, Eric Parker, Scott Drexler, Ryan Payne and Peter Santilli, will appear as co-defendants. Six more men will be tried one month following the end of the upcoming trial. These cases have ignited anger at the federal government over public lands issues, helping rally a coalition of militias and other “Patriot” groups. 

At a Las Vegas rally in July, Stone addressed a crowd of hundreds, saying the “jackbooted” government had “lost all sense of law or morality.” That kind of message would likely play well again, inciting the kind of anger and vitriol that have become the hallmarks of this presidential era. Whether it would yield a pardon remains to be seen. “Donald Trump is riding a crest of voter anger,” Stone explains in the documentary. New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer then adds: “Roger Stone is very smart about anger. It’s one of the things he understands best.”

Tay Wiles is an associate editor of High Country News and can be reached at [email protected]

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