The Washington Post

Au­thor­i­ties prob­ing ri­ot­ers’ pos­si­ble ties to Stone, Jones

DOJ seeks to de­ter­mine in­flu­ence of high-pro­file right-wing fig­ures

- BY SPENCER S. HSU AND DEVLIN BAR­RETT Crime · U.S. News · White-collar Crime · Politics · Quincy Jones · United States Department of Justice · Philippines Department of Justice · Capitol Records · Donald Trump · United States of America · Jones · Newtown, CT · Washington · Joe Biden · Joe · Philadelphia Union · White House · Florida · Freedom · U.S. Supreme Court · Smith · Republican Party (United States) · Republican · Ohio · Henry · Seattle · Instagram · Roger Stone · Alex Jones · Alexander · Lyndon B. Johnson · Lyndon · John F. Kennedy · Elementary · Oath Inc. · InfoWars · Rooster Teeth · Grant · Periscope · Rhodes, Michigan · Watkins, Iowa

The Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether high-pro­file right-wing fig­ures — in­clud­ing Roger Stone and Alex Jones — may have played a role in the Jan. 6 Capi­tol breach as part of a broader look into the mind­set of those who com­mit­ted vi­o­lence and their ap­par­ent paths to rad­i­cal­iza­tion, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial ties be­tween key fig­ures in the riot and those who pro­moted for­mer pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s false as­ser­tions that the elec­tion was stolen from him does not mean those who may have in­flu­enced ri­ot­ers will face crim­i­nal charges, par­tic­u­larly given U.S. case law sur­round­ing in­cite­ment and free speech, the peo­ple said. Of­fi­cials at this stage said they are prin­ci­pally seek­ing to un­der­stand what the ri­ot­ers were think­ing — and who may have in­flu­enced be­liefs — which could be crit­i­cal to show­ing their in­ten­tions at trial.

How­ever, in­ves­ti­ga­tors also want to de­ter­mine whether any­one who in­flu­enced them bears enough re­spon­si­bil­ity to jus­tify po­ten­tial crim­i­nal charges, such as con­spir­acy or aid­ing the ef­fort, the of­fi­cials said. That prospect is still dis­tant and un­cer­tain, they em­pha­sized.

Nev­er­the­less, while Trump’s im­peach­ment trial fo­cused on the de­gree of his cul­pa­bil­ity for the vi­o­lence, this facet of the case shows in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ on­go­ing in­ter­est in other in­di­vid­u­als who never set foot in the Capi­tol but may have played an out­sized role in what hap­pened there through their in­flu­ence, net­works or ac­tion.

“We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­ten­tial ties be­tween those phys­i­cally in­volved in the at­tack on the Capi­tol and in­di­vid­u­als who may have in­flu­enced them, such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and [Stop the Steal or­ga­nizer] Ali Alexan­der,” said a U.S. of­fi­cial, who, like oth­ers in­ter­viewed for this re­port, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Stone is a long­time ad­viser to Trump, while Jones is a ra­dio and Web-stream­ing host be­hind In­fowars.com. Both are fre­quent pur­vey­ors of con­spir­acy the­o­ries: Stone wrote a book sug­gest­ing Lyn­don B. Johnson was be­hind John F. Kennedy’s as­sas­si­na­tion; Jones has spread and re­tracted claims that the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing was a “hoax.”

All three am­pli­fied and in­ten­si­fied Trump’s in­cen­di­ary and base­less claims that the 2020 elec­tion was il­le­git­i­mate in the weeks lead­ing up to the riot. But Stone and Alexan­der have di­rectly cred­ited each other with in­spir­ing and plan­ning the pro-trump Stop the Steal cam­paign, with Alexan­der say­ing he came up with the idea and helped or­ga­nize the Jan. 6 rally that drew Trump sup­port­ers to Washington. Stone and Jones also pro­moted the ex­trem­ist groups Proud Boys and Oath Keep­ers and had pre­ex­ist­ing busi­ness or per­sonal ties with mem­bers the gov­ern­ment has charged with co­or­di­nat­ing and plan­ning cer­tain parts of the breach or in con­nec­tion with vi­o­lence at an ear­lier Trump rally, records and doc­u­ments show.

A key task for pros­e­cu­tors and agents is to sift through the mul­ti­tude of mo­tives and in­ten­tions of the roughly 800 peo­ple in the mob that de­scended upon the Capi­tol — from those who came as in­di­vid­u­als drawn to the idea of de­rail­ing Joe Bi­den’s pres­i­dency be­fore it be­gan, to those who al­legedly be­gan or­ga­niz­ing im­me­di­ately af­ter the elec­tion to show up in Washington in large num­bers to use force to try to keep Trump in power.

The U.S. of­fi­cial and oth­ers fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion cau­tioned that the role of fire­brands like Stone and Jones may be im­por­tant mostly to paint­ing a com­plete pic­ture of that day’s events, re­gard­less of whether they ul­ti­mately rise to the level of con­spir­acy or other crimes.

Stone and Jones helped pro­mote Trump’s false elec­tion fraud claims and ear­lier ral­lies in Washington and par­tic­i­pated in pro-Trump events Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, but each has de­nied in­tend­ing any­thing be­yond peace­ful protest.

Shortly af­ter the riot, Jones said on In­fowars that he was

in­vited by the White House on about Jan. 3 to “lead the march” to the Capi­tol, and that he paid nearly $500,000, mostly do­nated, to help or­ga­nize the event on the El­lipse.

Jones pro­moted the event vig­or­ously, called for 1 mil­lion marchers and told his view­ers on Jan. 1, “Roger Stone spent some sub­stan­tial time with Trump in Florida just a few days ago, and I’m told big things are afoot and Trump’s got ma­jor ac­tions up his sleeve.”

A day be­fore the in­sur­rec­tion, Jones urged a pro-trump crowd at Free­dom Plaza in down­town Washington “to re­sist the glob­al­ists” with his re­frain, “I don’t know how all this is all going to end, but if they want to fight, they bet­ter be­lieve they’ve got one!” In a Jan. 6 post from near the same spot, he de­clared “1776” — a term co-opted by Trump fans urg­ing a kind of sec­ond rev­o­lu­tion against the gov­ern­ment. “We’re un­der at­tack, and we need to un­der­stand this is 21st-cen­tury war­fare and get on a war foot­ing,” Jones said.

On that day, how­ever, Jones said, he fol­lowed, not led, the rally crowd as peo­ple moved to­ward the Capi­tol, and be­came alarmed by the chaos.

“Let’s not fight the po­lice and give the sys­tem what they want,” Jones was recorded shout­ing. His at­tor­ney Marc Ran­dazza said the video shows Jones urged calm, adding, “If you wish to know what Alex Jones’ role was [on Jan. 6] you need look no fur­ther than the video.”

Later Jones ap­pears to at­tempt to dis­tract and move a crowd away from the build­ing.

Stone has also pub­licly dis­tanced him­self from the vi­o­lence and crit­i­cized it, telling Moscow­funded RT tele­vi­sion on Jan. 8 that he was in­vited to lead a march but “I de­clined.” He said in the same in­ter­view that when he ad­dressed a rally at the Supreme Court on Jan. 5, he in­tended “peace­ful protest” and added, “I have specif­i­cally de­nounced the vi­o­lence at the Capi­tol, the in­tru­sion in the Capi­tol. That’s not how we set­tle things in Amer­ica.”

In the Jan. 5 speech, Stone char­ac­ter­ized the next day’s events as “an epic strug­gle for the fu­ture of this coun­try be­tween dark and light . . . the godly and the god­less . . . good and evil.”

Stone’s at­tor­ney Grant Smith said in a state­ment, “There is no ev­i­dence what­so­ever that Roger Stone was in­volved in any way, or had ad­vance knowl­edge about the shock­ing at­tack that took place at the US Capi­tol on Jan­uary 6th. Any im­pli­ca­tion to the con­trary us­ing ‘guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion’ is both dis­hon­est and in­ac­cu­rate.”

Alexan­der, in a since-deleted video on Periscope weeks be­fore the Jan. 6 rally, said he and three hard-line Repub­li­can Trump sup­port­ers “schemed up of putting max­i­mum pres­sure on Congress while they were vot­ing” to change the minds of those who wouldn’t go against cer­ti­fy­ing Bi­den’s win.

Alexan­der did not re­spond to an emailed re­quest for com­ment for this story. But in an email to The Washington Post in mid-jan­uary, Alexan­der said he had “re­mained peace­ful” dur­ing the riot.

“Con­flat­ing our legally, peace­ful per­mit­ted events with the breach of the US Capi­tol build­ing is defam­a­tory and false,” he said.

Right-wing con­nec­tions

In recorded videos and on In­fowars, Stone and Jones have lifted the profiles of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a his­tory of vi­o­lence, and Oath Keep­ers — a loose net­work of self-styled mili­tias — brand­ing them as street-level se­cu­rity forces for right-wing causes and VIPS. The gov­ern­ment has charged nine al­leged af­fil­i­ates of the Oath Keep­ers with con­spir­acy, and ac­cused an Ohio mem­ber of lead­ing up to 30 to 40 oth­ers in the break-in. Oath Keep­ers founder Ste­wart Rhodes has said he gave no di­rec­tion or sig­nals to mem­bers to storm the Capi­tol. The leader of the Proud Boys has said the group did not plan to in­ter­rupt Congress.

Stone was recorded on video both at the Supreme Court and at his D.C. ho­tel on Jan. 5 and 6 with sev­eral Oath Keep­ers mem­bers who he has said were pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity. The charged Ohio leader, Jes­sica Watkins, told a court Satur­day that af­ter fall­ing “prey to the false and in­flam­ma­tory claims” of Trump, his sup­port­ers and right-wing me­dia, she was as­signed to es­cort law­mak­ers and oth­ers both days, was given a VIP pass to the Jan. 6 rally, and en­coun­tered Se­cret Ser­vice agents that day.

Stone in online col­umns ac­cused news or­ga­ni­za­tions that re­ported the record­ings of en­gag­ing in guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion and “more ‘Rus­sian-col­lu­sion hoaxstyle’ smears.” Stone wrote that he knew of “no wrong­do­ing by the Oath Keep­ers or the Proud Boys” and that if cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion were to emerge re­veal­ing a con­spir­acy, every­one in­volved should be pros­e­cuted.

Al­ready, of­fi­cials have charged three Proud Boys lead­ers in con­nec­tion with the Capi­tol riot or an ear­lier pro-trump rally in Washington — Proud Boys chair­man Henry “En­rique” Tar­rio, or­ga­nizer Joe Biggs and Seat­tle leader Ethan Nordean. The three reg­is­tered a com­pany together last year, and Tar­rio and Biggs also have pre­ex­ist­ing per­sonal or busi­ness con­nec­tions to Stone and Jones, re­spec­tively, ac­cord­ing to records and doc­u­ments.

In pro­ceed­ings while charged with ob­struct­ing Congress, Stone tes­ti­fied that Tar­rio was one of a hand­ful of aides he en­trusted with his phones and so­cial me­dia ac­counts, ex­plain­ing why Stone’s In­sta­gram ac­count had posted an im­age of the judge’s head next to what ap­peared to be gun­sight crosshairs. Stone was con­victed but par­doned by Trump last year.

Tar­rio, 33, pro­moted Stone’s le­gal de­fense fund, launched an online store sell­ing Stone and Proud Boys gear, and led Lati­nos for Trump in Florida. Dur­ing last year’s cam­paign, Trump fa­mously en­cour­aged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

On Dec. 29, Tar­rio took to Par­ler to en­cour­age the Proud Boys to “turn out in record num­bers” to the Jan. 6 demon­stra­tion, adding in a Jan. 3 Tele­gram post, “What if we in­vade it?”

Biggs, 37, be­came an on-air per­son­al­ity for Jones’s online In­fowars out­let start­ing in 2014, cov­er­ing armed Oath Keep­ers’ emer­gence at protests against po­lice bru­tal­ity at Fer­gu­son, Mo., and ranch­ers’ vi­o­lent stand­off against U.S. au­thor­i­ties at Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in Ore­gon.

In a Nov. 20 pod­cast pro­moted by Jones, Tar­rio sug­gested view­ers “kick off this [Bi­den] pres­i­dency with f------ fire­works,” in­fil­trate his in­au­gu­ra­tion and “turn [it] into a f------ cir­cus, a sign of re­sis­tance, a sign of rev­o­lu­tion.” That pod­cast, which fea­tured Biggs and Nordean, and was first re­ported by online news site the Daily Dot, was posted to Youtube but has since been re­moved. The Post has viewed the video.

Nordean, 30, who called him­self Ru­fio Pan­man online, be­came a Proud Boys spokesman af­ter a video of him punch­ing out a Port­land pro­tester in June 2018 went vi­ral and was fea­tured by Jones. Last July, Tar­rio, Biggs and Nordean started a Florida busi­ness called War­boys LLC, pro­mot­ing right-wing causes online in the foot­steps of Stone and Jones and through Tar­rio’s store, the 1776 Shop.

Amer­i­cans must “de­sen­si­tize” them­selves to vi­o­lence, Nordean said in a Par­ler-linked video Dec. 31 in which his guest called Proud Boys “sol­diers of the right wing” at war.

Biggs’s de­fense at­tor­ney Michael Ryan has called the al­le­ga­tions against Biggs “spec­u­la­tive” and said he is not ac­cused of dam­ag­ing the Capi­tol.

Nordean’s at­tor­ney, As­sis­tant Fed­eral De­fender Corey Endo of Seat­tle, has said his client is not ac­cused of vi­o­lence, and that pros­e­cu­tors were tar­get­ing Proud Boys via “guilt by as­so­ci­a­tion.”

Endo de­clined to com­ment, and Ryan did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Tar­rio was not at the Jan. 6 rally and has not been charged with any wrong­do­ing re­lated to the riot. He was ar­rested on Jan. 4 and pleaded not guilty to weapons and prop­erty de­struc­tion charges at a pre­vi­ous pro-trump protest in the District. Tar­rio said he posted “What if we in­vade it” in ref­er­ence to re­cruit­ing can­di­dates to take over lo­cal and na­tional Repub­li­can com­mit­tees, not the Capi­tol. He said he was in touch with Stone and oth­ers about his plans to at­tend the Jan. 6 rally, but that was all.

“There was no plan to go into the Capi­tol . . . There was no plan to even in­ter­rupt Congress.”

Re­view­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion

The Proud Boys have been a ma­jor fo­cus of the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion so far, in part be­cause of their state­ments in the run-up to the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. At least 18 Proud Boys or as­so­ciates also have been charged, in­clud­ing sev­eral who, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, al­legedly ap­peared to move in an or­ga­nized fash­ion at the head of crowds storm­ing po­lice, forc­ing en­try. Some also ap­peared to be wear­ing or us­ing ear­pieces and two-way walki­etalkie-style com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices, pros­e­cu­tors and the FBI said.

The group’s ac­tions pose an­other crit­i­cal ques­tion for pros­e­cu­tors and FBI agents: how in­di­vid­ual ri­ot­ers grew “rad­i­cal­ized” to al­legedly com­mit crimes that meet the text­book def­i­ni­tion of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism, and whether any crim­i­nal cul­pa­bil­ity ex­tends be­yond the ri­ot­ers to any­one who may have worked with them.

Pros­e­cu­tors and the FBI have cast a wide net for ev­i­dence of rad­i­cal­iza­tion that led to vi­o­lent crim­i­nal con­duct at the Capi­tol, ob­tain­ing more than 500 search war­rants and grand jury sub­poe­nas and open­ing case files on more than 400 po­ten­tial sus­pects as of Jan. 26.

A Jan. 21 search war­rant for the home and elec­tronic de­vices of a Mary­land man charged with as­sault­ing po­lice on Jan. 6 sought in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to “rad­i­cal­iza­tion against the U.S. Congress, the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Jan. 6 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion . . . and the Jan. 20, 2021 pres­i­den­tial In­au­gu­ra­tion.”

Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­men re­ferred ques­tions to the FBI, which de­clined to com­ment.

First Amend­ment lit­i­ga­tor Ken White said the le­gal hur­dle for charg­ing in­cite­ment rises the fur­ther re­moved in time and dis­tance the speaker is from any law­less ac­tiv­ity.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly hard un­der cur­rent law to say that some­one like Alex Jones say­ing some­thing a day or a week be­fore is going to meet that stan­dard as the law has been in­ter­preted,” White said. “I an­tic­i­pate that you will see in­creas­ingly cre­ative al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors, like con­spir­acy.”

Cur­rent and for­mer U.S. au­thor­i­ties said in­ves­ti­ga­tors are prob­a­bly ex­ca­vat­ing “lay­ers” of ri­ot­ers’ mo­ti­va­tions, in­clud­ing whether any might have been part of any wider con­spir­acy. Those of­fi­cials likened the process to in­ves­ti­gat­ing street-level drug deal­ers or gang mem­bers who might “flip” and im­pli­cate higher-rank­ing cap­tains or ring­leaders.

“Ev­ery ter­ror­ism case I’ve ever worked on . . . has shown some­thing about the rad­i­cal­iza­tion process, or how a per­son came to har­bor the views, an­i­mos­ity and in­tent to com­mit a crime of vi­o­lence,” said Mary Mc­cord, a top na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial at the Jus­tice Depart­ment from 2014 to 2017.

Trump may have seeded and stoked ri­ot­ers’ griev­ances with false claims of elec­tion fraud and thinly veiled calls for vi­o­lence, said Mc­cord, now at Ge­orge­town Law School. But in­ves­ti­ga­tors are also prob­ing whether ri­ot­ers were lone ac­tors or co­or­di­nated by oth­ers who di­rected them or pro­vided re­sources such as money for travel, lodg­ing or weapons, she said.

“Just like the king­pin in a con­spir­acy, the fact he [ Trump] gave di­rec­tions doesn’t mean other con­spir­a­tors are not guilty,” Mc­cord said.

“We need to un­der­stand this is 21st-cen­tury war­fare and get on a war foot­ing.”

In­fowars host Alex Jones, in a video posted by the web­site Jan. 6

 ?? EVE­LYN HOCKSTEIN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Alex Jones, cen­ter, a far-right ra­dio and Web-stream­ing host and fre­quent pur­veyor of con­spir­acy the­o­ries, joins sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in D.C. on Dec. 12.
EVE­LYN HOCKSTEIN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Alex Jones, cen­ter, a far-right ra­dio and Web-stream­ing host and fre­quent pur­veyor of con­spir­acy the­o­ries, joins sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in D.C. on Dec. 12.
 ?? JIM URQUHART/REUTERS ?? A mem­ber of the Oath Keep­ers, left, pro­vides se­cu­rity to Roger Stone, cen­ter, at a pro-trump rally in D.C. on Jan. 5, the night be­fore the at­tack on the U.S. Capi­tol.
JIM URQUHART/REUTERS A mem­ber of the Oath Keep­ers, left, pro­vides se­cu­rity to Roger Stone, cen­ter, at a pro-trump rally in D.C. on Jan. 5, the night be­fore the at­tack on the U.S. Capi­tol.

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