While his supporters (and even some of his detractors) love to think of Donald Trump the political candidate as a sort of anti-elite, grassroots movement that coalesced spontaneously out of dissatisfaction with the status quo, that ignores all the old school political insiders working for years to make it happen. Foremost among them is Roger Stone who, along with Roger Ailes, had been trying to get Trump to run for president for years. That was a laughable proposition basically up until now, when it still makes you laugh but also fills your mouth with blood.
And now that so many of his predictions have come true, the world must begrudgingly admit that Roger Stone may have been onto something. Netflix’s new documentary, Get Me Roger Stone, examines Stone’s past as a “dirty trickster,” from masterminding the “Brooks Brothers riot” during the 2000 recount, to helping create the Infowars/mainstream Republican coalition, his involvement with Paul Manafort doing PR for murderous dictatorships, and his present incarnation as a misshapen, supervillainous dandy. There’s also the interlude about his sex scandal over some swinger ads, somewhat ironic for a guy who’s so often seen palling around with people for whom “cuck” is their favorite insult.
Of course, when Dan DiMauro and his co-directors Dylan Bank and Morgan Pehme began shooting five and half years ago, Stone seemed more like a colorful crank than a kingmaker. That means they had to watch with increasing panic as their movie evolved from comedy to horror — even as those events turned their documentary into a must-see. I spoke to Get Me Roger Stone co-director Dan DiMauro about what this was like being on the frontlines of the shit-show, and whether it’s true what they say about dancing with the devil.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and when you started this project.
I’ve worked in documentary films for a long time. My friend Morgan, basically he met Roger Stone one day when he was hosting a political event. He just found his profile by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker. Just the idea that Roger is this unique person who embraces infamy and likes to be the villain and talks about all these dirty things he’s done in politics — I think we all agree that both sides of the aisle do a lot of dirty things but they generally try to pretend they’re virtuous and never own up to them. That’s what kind of made Roger a fascinating figure. We contacted him and figured since he’d let The New Yorker, a very liberal magazine do a profile of him, we thought he would let a bunch of liberal filmmakers make a film about him. It took some convincing, but he agreed. That was about five and a half years ago.
When we started, he was kind of at a low point in his career. He was this guy who was so transformative in the shaping of our politics and how they operate today, yet he was kind of down and out looking for his next big score on the fringe of politics. One of his schemes he had going was running Donald Trump for president. We thought it was absolutely ludicrous five and a half years ago, just like everyone else did. It kind of in the end proved his brilliance as a political operator, and he proved everyone wrong. I think a lot of us are still scratching our heads.
Is it hard to give someone like that credit when their main skill seems to be a lesser opinion of the general public’s intelligence?
Yeah, a lot of times you don’t want to ascribe brilliance to despicable people, but I think we can’t deny the brilliance of this guy, because over and over he just proved that he was right and everyone else was wrong. He said Trump was going to get the nomination and didn’t just say it, kind of laid out all the steps that would happen. He was right and we were wrong. We had to kind of go back and re-edit the film a couple of times because even just within the scope of Trump, it’s like, “Oh, you know, he’ll be like the down-and-out dirty trickster.” His journey to get back into being relevant and being a part of politics, because that’s what kind of drives him. Then it’s like, “Oh, he finally got his dream of 30 years of running Donald Trump for president in a real way. Then it will just fizzle out of course because Trump’s ridiculous.”
Then, Trump got the nomination. We’re like, “Okay, well then like maybe the film ends at the Republican convention.” It’s like, “Look how close he got to coming back to relevance.” Of course then, Trump won the presidency and we had to rethink it all over again. Luckily, kind of the story we were telling all along was [Stone] kind of transformed our politics. As it turns out, it in many ways tells the story of how the conditions were set for someone like Trump to rise to power.
So then were you kind of witness all this horrified, but then also happy for your documentary?
Yeah, Trump being elected was kind of lucky for us in a way. It made this film a lot more timely, but of course very unlucky for the country. We joke around in general that a lot of times what is bad for the country is good for documentary filmmakers. We’re just happy that we could add a little bit to the discourse and operate on this idea that sunlight is kind of the best disinfectant because Roger is only 64. He’s got a lot of years left in him to pull a lot more dirty tricks and do a lot more damage to our system.
Hopefully, by kind of exposing his tactics and kind of telling the story of the degradation of our politics, maybe we could get through to a couple of people and make them understand and kind of educate them about what’s going on, while at the same time doing it through this character who’s kind of accessible in a non-academic sense. He’s just a very charming, entertaining individual. That’s what drew us to him because he’s a pot-smoking, body-building dandy who looks like a cartoon character, a supervillain, if you will. We always kind of thought that it would be great, and people who aren’t even interested in politics could maybe learn a bit about where we were and how we got here.
Was it at all demoralizing hanging out with him and having to watch him continuously win?
Yeah. He’s very surreal. We didn’t even know how he was going to react to the film because he’s so unpredictable. He likes it. He thinks it’s the best political documentary of all time. The main character is really handsome and has great suits. Of course, we never made any bones about who we were. In the film he pokes fun at us many times for being pinko commie liberals and such. Yeah, I mean it was hard at times. We were in Alex Jones’ secret bunker on Election Day, still like everyone else just assuming Hillary was going to win. Then, we’re in the belly of the beast watching them revel in this unexpected victory that even shocked them. We had to keep our cool and be journalistic about it, but I mean one of our producers was literally in tears and she had to leave just because she was crying. It was a surreal moment.
We kind of wanted to get into his vibe as like this entertaining character, but we never were unaware of kind of the despicable, disgusting things he’s done to our politics. I think our film kind of tells that story especially if you’re paying attention, that he degraded our politics so much in our political discourse, and the way our electoral system kind of operates that it just kind of set the stage for a demagogue like Trump.
How out there were you guys with your politics when you started, and how much did he want to know? How much did he test you about your views before he would agree to it?
It took a couple of months. I think he wanted to kind of get a feel for us. I mean part of what allowed this connection to happen is that he likes sparring with people. He gets off on getting into arguments with the people on the opposite side of the spectrum. He wakes up every day wanting to fight. He loves the game of politics. He thinks of it a bit as like a blood sport. We would challenge him a lot, but in the end he just goes into his talking points. It’s like he’s a very skilled communicator and interviewee. He would just launch into some line of bullshit, and we’d be like looking at our watches whenever we challenge him on certain things.
That’s just the way it goes when you’re dealing with someone that skilled. He knew where we were and where we were coming from. He kind of thrives on that. He’s smart enough to know that that was going to make the best documentary because when we approach him we’re like, “Look, if we did like a hit piece, we’d just be preaching to the choir. If we did something that kind of lionizes you, it’s like that’s going to be completely uninteresting and something we would never do anyway.” He gets it.
Do you find it ironic that such a prominent figure in a movement whose favorite insult is cuck was once thrown out of Washington for letting other men have sex with his wife?
Yes. You mentioned that on your podcast, right?
Yes. That was my big takeaway.
I hadn’t really thought about it that hard. Since then, I’ve noticed when he’s on Alex Jones. Alex Jones seems to say it a lot. I’ve never heard [Roger Stone] use the terminology because that would be the ultimate irony, I guess.
It seems like no one brings that up anymore, even when he’s publicly fighting with people.
Yeah. It’s definitely a good insult. I wonder how he would respond to it. I certainly had never seen that irony posed to him to respond to. I don’t know.
Discussing that seemed like the one time he was sort of uncomfortable.
That’s the major thing. He just doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on it. He knows it’s like part of his mystique. He’s kind of unique legacy that he has like all these interesting peccadillos, if you will. You ask him like, “What’s your sexuality?” He says, “I’m tri-sexual. I’ll try anything.” He doesn’t like probing in that area for sure. He also, to be completely honest, I think he wants to shield his wife from it. They’re still happily married and we were very lucky to film with her for the film. We got like a couple minutes there with her, but she knows how she’s connected to this infamous political figure.
Where does he get his evidence for the Hillary Clinton body count and all these other things that he comes up with? Did you not want to get too caught up in fact checking everything, like every theory that he puts out there, I guess?
That would be impossible. No one knows, but there’s actually an interesting story behind a lot of the sourcing for his book against Hillary Clinton, where he alleges that Bill Clinton’s a serial rapist in the vein of Bill Cosby. There’s this organization, Media Matters, a left wing organization run by this guy David Brock, who used to be Republican. He wrote a book, which I believe is called The Education of Hillary Rodham [The Seduction of Hillary Rodham –ed]. Roger actually sources a lot of his material from that book. David Brock kind of saw the light if you will at one time. He switched over to the other side, and in many ways he’s a dirty trickster like Roger and he brought a lot of those tactics over to the left.
It is this weird irony because he runs this organization that literally has staff members full time working on looking into all the dastardly things that Roger Stone is up to, and putting out articles on what a terrible person he is, and what he tweeted. He had racist or sexist tweets. It’s like they’re on him on a daily basis. It’s kind of ironic that he sourced a lot of his material from when David Brock was over on the other side.
Are there any left wing analogs to Infowars that you see out there or potential ones?
I mean that’s a really interesting question. I think there is a bit of Old West if you will, but we’ll see if they ever reach the prominence of Alex Jones. The power of Alex Jones is really phenomenal and incredible. We tried to capture that in the film because we were actually with Roger. One of the first books he wrote was pinning the JFK assassination on Lyndon Johnson. We went with him to Dallas for the 50th anniversary of the assassination. That’s where [Roger] met Alex Jones for the first time, and this is in 2013. We thought it was like a bit of a desperation move for Roger. How could you link up with this crazy conspiracy theorist guy? They’re literally marching around Dallas chanting Sandy Hook was a false flag.
Oh God, yeah.
He’s like, “Listen, you don’t understand. This guy is something special.” We’re like, “You’re f*cking crazy, man.” That was really a seminal moment, because Alex Jones was really looking for someone to validate him. You have this guy who’s worked for, at that point, like eight presidential campaigns, was close advisers to presidents. He kind of validated a lot of what Alex Jones was saying. I was watching Alex Jones the other day and he said, “Our viewership doubled once I started having Roger on.” Then of course, Roger got him behind Trump. He had never gotten behind a candidate before.
They really created this phenomenon, and Roger really tapped into that and was advising Trump to engage with that voting bloc, which no one even knew was a voting bloc. These are millions of people. I think he has 14 or 16 million viewers weekly or listeners to his show. This certainly could have been the factor. A lot of people talking about the hidden vote in these battleground states. These right people could have been the voters no one expected that came out of the woodwork. Roger really tapped into that in a way that’s brilliant. It’s hard to understand because all we hear about Alex Jones is how crazy the guy is, but it doesn’t make him any less powerful. In fact in a lot of ways, it makes him more powerful. It just continues this idea of just the complete polarization where there is no truth anymore. It’s just one side is lying and the other one is not. It’s just you have to choose a side. That’s how Trump is operating his entire administration.
Is there a big disconnect, where from far away it seems like dangerous and powerful, and then up close it just seems kind of comical and absurd?
There’s so much speculation of like, “Is this an act that Alex Jones puts on, is he just kind of playing this character to sell his brain juice and body supplements or whatever?” I mean he’s definitely an unapologetic capitalist and he’s made a lot of money off of what he’s become. It’s hard to tell with him. What I can say about Roger is he always has this line. It’s in the film. “Don’t confuse Roger Stone with the Roger Stone character that I play,” the Stephen Colbert character. We realize that might be giving him a pass to a degree because then he could play off his more despicable rabble-rousing activities as “I’m just doing that on purpose.” He really is just like playing the exaggerated version of himself, and where that line is. It’s very blurry with Alex Jones. We have no idea. His secret bunker, his undisclosed location. We had to sign an NDA, but it wasn’t exactly like a decommissioned missile silos, 60 stories underground or something.
It’s a glorified man cave.
How much do you think Roger Stone is driven by a persecution complex? That seems like the only thing that even connects Trump’s politics to Nixon’s.
That’s an interesting question. I think there’s similarities between Trump and Nixon with that idea. I think anyone who studies Trump even from afar as we all do it’s like, clearly, the guy is driven just by the idea, that he wants people to like him. He wants people to accept him. He was that billionaire who was never really accepted by the other billionaires for whatever reason. Nixon was self-made, but he always kind of saw himself as an outsider playing the insider’s game. For Roger, I mean I just think he just lives and breathes politics. Ever since he is 12 years old and he read Barry Goldwater, he just was fixated on being involved in politics. He did that like one of these people who were born to do something and actually did it and were brilliant at it.
I don’t think he feels the persecution although he may play that up on Infowars. People want to think like, “What’s his kind of deal? Was he molested as a child by a liberal? Did his liberal stepfather beat him every night and tell him to vote for Jimmy Carter or something?” I don’t know. He had like a pretty pedestrian, normal, middle class upbringing. I think he’s just driven to win. He wants to be in the game. He wants to play the game. He wants to win. He kind of had his ultimate triumph because he’s the guy ever since the early ’80s telling Trump he could be president and he could make him president. 30 plus years later, he made it happen. This was really what he’s been trying to do. This has really been his sort of child that he’s been grooming for years, and years, and years.
He makes this big show of acting like he loves to be hated and that he takes that as a badge of honor. How much does he worry that people are going to try and run him over when they see him crossing the street, or spit in his food when he goes to a restaurant?
He’s recently claimed that the deep state has tried to assassinate him. His car was T-boned and was hit and run. He’s been saying it’s the CIA trying to take him out because he’s going to expose the real story behind the Russian collusion canard and blah-blah-blah. It was interesting that he embraced the movie, because like I was saying before, it’s not the most flattering movie, but it plays into his whole, “I like being the villain” thing. He said before, he’s like, “I was at a restaurant last night. This guy is super drunk, he came over and try to punch me in the face. I stepped aside and he just kind of missed and fell to the floor. I loved it. That what it is to be Roger Stone.” He’s like, “You wake up every day, people yell at you. They curse at you. They spit at you. They try to punch you, and I f*cking love it.”
Is there any way you see this kind of politics and disinformation getting better? Have we hit bottom yet?
I think you can make a strong argument that we kind of have hit rock bottom. I think the silver lining there might be just like all addicts or people with extreme problems. They say you really have to hit rock bottom first then that’s where we might be as a country. It’s like we’ve hit rock bottom with Donald Trump. Maybe this will be the sort of impetus for us to get more involved in our politics. Be more aware and informed as a citizenry and just take our country back if you will.
I don’t know if I believe you, but that’s a nice thought. Thank you for talking to me.
Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. I’m a fan of the podcast. I listened for the first time last week.
I hope that worked out.
Yeah. It was great. I enjoyed the songs about bums and all of that good stuff.
I never know if our new listeners are still listening by that part of the show, but we do it anyway to entertain ourselves.
It was engaging, and I got there, and I was more engaged.