It was known as FOS – or Friends of Stone – and although the 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. One participant had a website promoting disinformation about the Capitol attack. Another was an army reserve officer affiliated with Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser.
At least three members of the group chat are now being charged in connection with the January 2021 Capitol riots. Among them are Owen Shroyer, the right-hand man of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones; Enrique Tarrio, the former president of the Proud Boys; and Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia.
But the focus of the chat has always been the man whose photo topped the homepage: Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime political associate and adviser to Mr. Trump.
While little is known about what was said on the chat, Friends of Stone’s list of members, provided by one of the contributors to DailyExpertNews, offers some sort of roadmap to Mr. Stone, who explored their scope and nature in the critical post-2020 election period. During that time, Mr. Stone was involved with a remarkably wide range of people taking part in efforts to challenge the vote count and Mr. Trump in the White to keep house.
Some of the 47 people on the list are identified only by nicknames or initials, and Mr. Stone had pre-existing political ties to many of them. But as prosecutors deepen their investigation into the storming of the Capitol, the list suggests that Mr. Stone had the means to have private contact with key players in the Jan. 6 events — political organizers, far-right extremists and influential media figures who went on to attack the attack. weakened.
Reached by email, Mr. Stone said he had no control over who was admitted to the group chat and noted that Stop the Steal activities were protected by the First Amendment.
“There is no story,” he wrote. “Just bullying.”
While the origins of the group chat remain somewhat obscure, Friends of Stone has been around at least since 2019, when Mr. Stone was charged in connection with the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, said one of the participants, Pete Santilli. , an experienced 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 in politics and the media, many of whom had been banned from social media, could come together and exchange links and stories about their mutual friend.
“The main reason for the chat was to have a place for supporters to share things,” said Mr. Santilli. “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 a different target, as Mr. Stone found himself in the midst of the accelerating Stop the Steal movement designed to challenge the results of the election. The Washington Post, citing footage from a Danish documentary film crew following Mr Stone, said it asked its aides in early November 2020 to send those involved in the effort to monitor the chat for developments.
In recent weeks, the Department of Justice has expanded its investigation into the riots from those who physically attacked the Capitol to those who were not at the building but may have helped shape or direct the violence. Investigators appear to be interested in finding links between organizers who planned pro-Trump demonstrations in the Capitol that day and right-wing militants who took part in the attack.
The group chat member list contains several people who fit that description.
The list includes activists such as Marsha Lessard and Christina Skaggs, leaders of a group called the Virginia Freedom Keepers who helped organize an anti-vaccination rally scheduled for the east side of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Ms. Lessard and Ms. Skaggs teamed up with another anti-vaccine activist, Ty Bollinger, who was also on the list.
Members of the group were among those who took part in a conference call on December 30, 2020, when a social media expert formerly working for Mr. Stone worked, urging his listeners to “descend onto the Capitol Building” a week later, promising Joseph R. Biden Jr. “will never be in that White House.”
Ms Lessard, Ms Skaggs and Mr Bollinger were not called back for comment.
Ali Alexander, one of the most prominent Stop the Steal organizers who hosted his own event at the Capitol that day, was also on the list. His lawyer did not call back to request comment.
In the days leading up to January 6, Mr. Stone speaking at both Mr. Alexander as the rally hosted by Ms. Lessard, Ms. Skaggs and others, including Bianca Gracia, the leader of a group called Latinos for Trump, according to permits and flyers. However, Mr. Stone never spoke at those events and rushed out of Washington while police were still securing the Capitol, according to the footage quoted by The Post.
Mr. Stone’s connections to Mr. Rhodes and the oath keepers were based, at least in part, on the militia group providing him safety on January 5 and 6. The oath officers also protected Mr. Alexander and his entourage on Jan. 6 and served as security at the events hosted by Ms. Skaggs, Ms. Lessard and Ms. Gracia, court papers say.
At least one of Mr Stone’s Oath Keeper’s bodyguards, Joshua James, has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges in the Capitol bombing and is cooperating with the government’s investigation. Kellye SoRelle, a lawyer for the Oath Keepers, was also part of the Friends of Stone chat and is also said to be working with prosecutors in the investigation into the riot.
A Florida native, Stone has long maintained close ties to the Proud Boys, especially Mr. Tarrio, who lived in Miami before his arrest. Members of the Proud Boys have acted as bodyguards for Mr. Stone and have served as some of his most outspoken supporters.
In 2019, after Mr. Stone was indicted by Mr. Mueller for, among other things, obstruction and witness tampering, Mr Tarrio responded by wearing a T-shirt that reads “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong” at one of Mr. Trump. At one point, Mr. Tarrio’s personal cellphone had recorded a message from Mr. Stone.
Nayib Hassan, the lawyer for Mr. Tarrio, declined to comment on his client’s role in the chat.
During his prosecution, Mr. Stone posted a social media image of the federal judge in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with a crosshairs next to her head. When questioned in court about the image, he admitted that he had been given a series of photos from Mr. Tarrio and two other Florida Proud Boys whose names are on the Friends of Stone list: 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 because of what he later described as a family emergency.
Another person who appeared on the Friends of Stone list — going by the name “Ivan” — was Ivan Raiklin, an Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who promoted a post-election plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to get voters. from several contested swing states. This plan, which Mr. Raiklin called the “Pence Card,” was eventually adopted by Mr. Trump and some of his legal advisers, such as attorney John Eastman.
Mr. Raiklin, who did not call back to ask for comment, was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but showed no sign of entering the building. Closely aligned with Mr Flynn, he has continued to question the results of the 2020 vote, performing at so-called election integrity events and arguing that Mr Trump was created by members of the “deep state.”
Although the government has accumulated thousands of pages of private messages in its extensive investigation into the Capitol attack, it remains unclear whether prosecutors gained access to the Friends of Stone group chat. Along with the member list, The Times got images of a few snippets of conversations to verify the authenticity of the chat.
In one, Ms. Skaggs told the group that she had just spoken to pro-Trump attorney L. Lin Wood, who was part of the bid to reverse the election. The message from Mrs Skaggs, which bears no date, said Mr Wood claimed that the Insurrection Act – a form of martial law – had been invoked the night before.
In response to her message, Mr. Rhodes, who had repeatedly urged Mr Trump to use the Insurrection Act to stay in power, replied in disbelief.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he wrote, dismissing the report with obscenity.