It was generally known as F.O.S. — or Pals of Stone — and whereas its members shifted over time, they had been a motley solid of characters.
There have been “Cease the Steal” organizers, right-wing influencers, Florida state legislative aides and multiple failed candidate loyal to former President Donald J. Trump. One participant ran a web site that promoted disinformation concerning the Capitol assault. One other was an officer within the Military Reserve allied with Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former nationwide safety adviser.
Not less than three members of the group chat are actually dealing with prices in reference to the riot on the Capitol in January 2021. They embrace Owen Shroyer, the right-hand man of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones; Enrique Tarrio, the onetime chairman of the Proud Boys; and Stewart Rhodes, the chief of the Oath Keepers militia.
However the focus of the chat was all the time the person whose photograph topped its dwelling web page: Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime political operative and adviser to Mr. Trump.
Whereas little is thought about what was mentioned on the chat, the membership checklist of Pals of Stone, offered to The New York Instances by one in every of its individuals, presents a form of highway map to Mr. Stone’s associations, exhibiting their scope and nature within the essential interval after the 2020 election. Throughout that point, Mr. Stone was concerned with a strikingly big range of people that participated in efforts to problem the vote rely and maintain Mr. Trump within the White Home.
Among the 47 individuals on the checklist are recognized solely by nicknames or initials, and Mr. Stone had pre-existing political ties with a lot of them. Nonetheless, as prosecutors deepen their inquiry into the storming of Capitol, the checklist means that Mr. Stone had the means to be in non-public contact with key gamers within the occasions of Jan. 6 — political organizers, far-right extremists and influential media figures who subsequently performed down the assault.
Reached by electronic mail, Mr. Stone mentioned that he didn’t management who was admitted to the group chat and famous that Cease the Steal actions had been protected by the First Modification.
“There isn’t a story,” he wrote. “Simply harassment.”
Whereas the origins of the group chat stay considerably obscure, Pals of Stone has existed since a minimum of 2019, when Mr. Stone was indicted in reference to the Russia investigation by the particular counsel Robert S. Mueller III, mentioned one in every of its individuals, Pete Santilli, a veteran right-wing radio host. In accordance with Mr. Santilli, the group chat — hosted on the encrypted app Sign — was a form of protected area the place pro-Stone figures in politics and media, a lot of whom had been banned from social media, may get collectively and commerce hyperlinks and tales about their mutual buddy.
“The first purpose for the chat was to have a spot for supporters to share stuff,” Mr. Santilli mentioned. “You drop a hyperlink and everybody shares it on their nontraditional channels.”
However after Mr. Trump’s defeat, Pals of Stone appeared to imagine one other function as Mr. Stone discovered himself in the midst of the accelerating Cease the Steal motion devised to problem the outcomes of the election. The Washington Submit, citing footage from a Danish documentary film crew that was following Mr. Stone, mentioned that in early November 2020, he requested his aides to direct these concerned within the effort to watch the chat for developments.
In latest weeks, the Justice Division has expanded its investigation of the riot from those that bodily attacked the Capitol to those that weren’t on the constructing however might have helped to form or information the violence. Investigators seem like all in favour of discovering any hyperlinks between organizers who deliberate pro-Trump rallies on the Capitol that day and right-wing militants who took half within the assault.
The group chat’s membership checklist contains a number of individuals who match that description.
Named on the checklist are activists like Marsha Lessard and Christina Skaggs, leaders of a bunch known as the Virginia Freedom Keepers who helped to arrange an anti-vaccine rally scheduled for the east facet of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Ms. Lessard and Ms. Skaggs labored with one other anti-vaccine activist, Ty Bollinger, who was additionally on the checklist.
Members of the group had been amongst those that took half in a conference call on Dec. 30, 2020, when a social media professional who previously labored for Mr. Stone urged his listeners to “descend on the Capitol” one week later, promising that Joseph R. Biden Jr. “won’t ever be in that White Home.”
Ms. Lessard, Ms. Skaggs and Mr. Bollinger didn’t return cellphone calls looking for remark.
Ali Alexander, some of the outstanding Cease the Steal organizers who deliberate his personal occasion on the Capitol that day, was on the checklist as properly. His lawyer didn’t return a cellphone name looking for remark.
Within the days main as much as Jan. 6, Mr. Stone was scheduled to talk at each Mr. Alexander’s occasion and the rally hosted by Ms. Lessard, Ms. Skaggs and others, together with Bianca Gracia, the chief of a bunch known as Latinos for Trump, based on permits and occasion fliers. Mr. Stone by no means spoke at these occasions, nonetheless, and hurried out of Washington even because the police had been nonetheless securing the Capitol, based on the movie footage cited by The Submit.
Mr. Stone’s connections to Mr. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers had been primarily based, a minimum of partially, on the truth that the militia group offered safety for him on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6. The Oath Keepers additionally protected Mr. Alexander and his entourage on Jan. 6 and served as safety on the occasions hosted by Ms. Skaggs, Ms. Lessard and Ms. Gracia, court docket papers say.
Not less than one in every of Mr. Stone’s Oath Keeper bodyguards, Joshua James, has pleaded responsible to seditious conspiracy prices within the Capitol assault and is cooperating with the federal government’s inquiry. Kellye SoRelle, a lawyer for the Oath Keepers, was a part of the Pals of Stone chat as properly and can be mentioned to be cooperating with prosecutors within the riot investigation.
Mr. Stone, a Florida resident, has lengthy maintained shut ties to the Proud Boys, particularly to Mr. Tarrio, who lived in Miami earlier than his arrest. Members of the Proud Boys have acted as bodyguards for Mr. Stone and have served as a few of his most vocal supporters.
In 2019, after Mr. Stone was indicted by Mr. Mueller on prices together with obstruction and witness tampering, Mr. Tarrio responded by sporting a T-shirt studying “Roger Stone Did Nothing Flawed” at one in every of Mr. Trump’s political rallies. At one level, Mr. Tarrio’s private cellphone had a message recorded by Mr. Stone.
Nayib Hassan, Mr. Tarrio’s lawyer, declined to touch upon his shopper’s position within the chat.
Throughout his prosecution, Mr. Stone posted a picture on social media of the federal choose in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with cross hairs subsequent to her head. When questioned in court docket concerning the picture, he acknowledged that he had been despatched a sequence of images by Mr. Tarrio and two different Florida Proud Boys whose names seem on the Pals of Stone membership checklist: Jacobs Engels and Tyler Ziolkowski.
Mr. Engels was with Mr. Stone in Washington on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6. He initially agreed to speak concerning the group chat however then didn’t return a cellphone name looking for remark.
One other one that appeared on the Pals of Stone checklist — underneath the title “Ivan” — was Ivan Raiklin, an Military Reserve lieutenant colonel who promoted a plan after the election to stress Vice President Mike Pence to not certify electors from a number of disputed swing states. This plan, which Mr. Raiklin known as the “Pence Card,” was finally taken up by Mr. Trump and a few of his authorized advisers, like the lawyer John Eastman.
Mr. Raiklin, who didn’t return cellphone calls looking for remark, was on the Capitol on Jan. 6, however confirmed no signal of coming into the constructing. Closely aligned with Mr. Flynn, he has continued to query the outcomes of the 2020 vote, showing at so-called election integrity occasions and arguing that Mr. Trump was arrange by members of the “deep state.”
Whereas the federal government has gathered 1000’s of pages of personal messages in its huge investigation of the Capitol assault, it stays unclear if prosecutors have gotten entry to the Pals of Stone group chat. Together with the membership checklist, The Instances was given photos of some snippets of conversations to confirm the chat’s authenticity.
In one in every of them, Ms. Skaggs instructed the group that she had simply spoken with the pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wooden, who took half within the effort to overturn the election. Ms. Skaggs’s message, which doesn’t bear a date, mentioned Mr. Wooden was claiming that the Rebellion Act — a type of martial legislation — had been invoked the evening earlier than.
“I’ll consider it once I see it,” he wrote, dismissing the account with an obscenity.