It was known as FOS – or Friends of Stone – and although its members changed over time, they were a motley cast of characters.
There were “Stop the Steal” organizers, right-wing influencers, Florida state legislative aides and more than one failed candidate loyal to former President Donald J. Trump. A participant ran a website that promoted misinformation about the Capitol attack. Another was an Army Reserve officer allied with Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser.
At least three members of the group chat are now facing charges in connection with the riot at the Capitol in January 2021. They include Owen Shroyer, the right-hand man of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones; Enrique Tarrio, former president of the Proud Boys; and Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia.
But the chat has always focused on the man whose photo topped its homepage: Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime political operative and adviser to Mr. Trump.
If we know little about what was said on the chat, the list of members of Friends of Stone, provided to the New York Times by one of its participants, offers a kind of roadmap for associations of Mr. Stone, showing their reach and nature in the critical period after the 2020 election. keep Mr. Trump in the White House.
Some of the 47 people on the list are only identified by nicknames or initials, and Mr Stone had pre-existing political ties to many of them. Yet as prosecutors deepen their investigation into the Capitol takeover, the list suggests that Mr. Stone had the means to be in private contact with key players in the events of January 6 – political organizers, far-right extremists and influential media personalities. who then downplayed the attack.
Reached by email, Mr Stone said he had no control over who was admitted to the group chat and noted that Stop the Steal’s activities were protected by the First Amendment.
“There is no story,” he wrote. “Just harassment.”
While the origins of the group chat remain somewhat murky, Friends of Stone has been around since at least 2019, when Mr. Stone was indicted as part of the Russia probe by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, said one of its participants, Pete Santilli, a veteran right-wing radio host. According to Mr Santilli, the group chat – hosted on the encrypted Signal app – was a kind of safe space where pro-Stone figures from politics and the media, many of whom were banned from social media, could meet and exchange links and stories. about their mutual friend.
“The main reason for the chat was to have a place where supporters could share things,” Mr Santilli said. “You drop a link and everyone shares it on their non-traditional channels.”
But after Mr Trump’s defeat, Friends of Stone seemed to take on another focus as Mr Stone found himself in the midst of the acceleration of the Stop the Steal movement designed to challenge the election results. The Washington Post, citing footage from a Danish documentary film crew that followed Mr Stone, said that in early November 2020 he asked his aides to direct those involved in the effort to monitor the chat for developments.
In recent weeks, the Justice Department has broadened its investigation into the riot from those who physically attacked the Capitol to those who were not in the building but who may have helped shape or guide the violence. Investigators appear interested in finding links between organizers who planned pro-Trump rallies at the Capitol that day and right-wing activists who took part in the assault.
The list of group chat members includes several people who fit this description.
On the list are activists like Marsha Lessard and Christina Skaggs, leaders of a group called the Virginia Freedom Keepers who helped organize a planned anti-vaccine rally on the east side of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Ms. Lessard and Ms. Skaggs worked with another anti-vaccine activist, Ty Bollinger, who was also on the list.
The band members were among those who took part in a conference call on Dec. 30, 2020, when a social media pundit who previously worked for Mr. Stone urged his listeners to “come down to Capitol Hill” a week later, promising that Joseph R. Biden Jr. “will never be in that White House.”
Ms. Lessard, Ms. Skaggs and Mr. Bollinger did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Also on the list was Ali Alexander, one of Stop the Steal’s most prominent organizers who planned his own event at the Capitol that day. His attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.
In the days leading up to Jan. 6, Mr. Stone was due to speak at both Mr. Alexander’s event and the rally hosted by Ms. Lessard, Ms. Skaggs and others, including leader Bianca Gracia. of a group called Latinos for Trump, according to permits and event flyers. However, Mr. Stone never spoke during those events and rushed out of Washington even as police still secured the Capitol, according to film footage cited by The Post.
Mr. Stone’s relationship with Mr. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers was based, at least in part, on the fact that the militia had provided him with security on January 5 and 6. The Oath Keepers also protected Mr Alexander and his entourage on January 6 and served as security at events hosted by Ms Skaggs, Ms Lessard and Ms Gracia, according to court documents.
At least one of Mr Stone’s Oath Keeper bodyguards, Joshua James, has pleaded guilty to charges of seditious conspiracy in the attack on the Capitol and is cooperating with the government investigation. Kellye SoRelle, a lawyer for the Oath Keepers, was also part of the Friends of Stone chat and is also believed to have been cooperating with prosecutors in the riot investigation.
Mr. Stone, a Florida resident, has long had close ties to the Proud Boys, particularly Mr. Tarrio, who lived in Miami before his arrest. Members of the Proud Boys acted as Mr Stone’s bodyguards and were among his most vocal supporters.
In 2019, after Mr. Stone was indicted by Mr. Mueller for obstruction and tampering with witnesses, Mr. Tarrio replied while wearing a t-shirt that read “Roger Stone did nothing wrong” at one of Mr Trump’s political rallies. At one point, Mr. Tarrio’s personal cell phone contained a recorded message from Mr. Stone.
Nayib Hassan, Mr Tarrio’s lawyer, declined to comment on his client’s role in the chat.
During his prosecution, Mr Stone posted on social media an image of the federal judge assigned to his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with a crosshair next to her head. Asked in court about the image, he admitted receiving a series of photos of Mr. Tarrio and two other Florida Proud Boys whose names are on the Friends of Stone roster: Jacobs Engels and Tyler Ziolkowski .
Mr. Engels was with Mr. Stone in Washington on January 5 and 6. He initially agreed to talk about the group chat, but then didn’t call back due to what he later described as a family emergency.
Another person who was on Stone’s friend list – as “Ivan” – was Ivan Raiklin, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who promoted a post-election plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence for not certifying voters in several contested swing states. This plan, which Mr. Raiklin called the “Pence Card”, was eventually picked up by Mr. Trump and some of his legal advisers, such as attorney John Eastman.
Mr. Raiklin, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but showed no sign of entering the building. Closely aligned with Mr. Flynn, he continued to question the results of the 2020 vote, appearing at so-called election integrity events and arguing that Mr. Trump was set up by members of “the Deep State”.
While the government has amassed thousands of pages of private messages in its extensive investigation into the Capitol attack, it remains unclear whether prosecutors had access to the Friends of Stone group chat. In addition to the list of members, the Times received images of some snippets of conversations to verify the authenticity of the chat.
In one, Ms. Skaggs told the group that she had just spoken with pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood, who was involved in the effort to overturn the election. Ms Skaggs’ message, which is undated, said Mr Wood claimed the Insurrection Act – a form of martial law – had been invoked the previous night.
Responding to her post, Mr Rhodes, who had repeatedly urged Mr Trump to use the Insurrection Act to stay in power, responded with disbelief.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he wrote, dismissing the account with obscenity.