I’ve just walked out of a morning screening of Netflix’s new documentary Get Me Roger Stone, and I count myself lucky I skipped breakfast, because if I hadn’t I’d have vomited. My revulsion at its titular subject is that body-rattlingly violent. I’m shaking. My fingernails, pristinely lacquered and decently long just this morning are now whittled to bloody nubs, as it’s my habit to pick at them when I’m anxious or annoyed. Over the course of these unnerving 90-minutes, I was relentless in my tearing. This documentary, which charts Stone’s rise from ambitious Watergate lackey to the Dr. Frankenstein of monster that is President* Donald Trump, has so unnerved me that I feel hollow and a bit hopeless.
Making its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of its Netflix bow, Get Me Roger Stone is absolutely informative about the smiling Slenderman lurking in the darkest corners of Republican politics for decades. And in doing so, it’s gut-wrenchingly terrifying. Directors Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme wade through rumors, boasts, allegations, and dark truths to uncover the repugnant underbelly to the rise of Trump America. It’s largely a story you know: Republicans pandering to an everyman pride that has festered into a long litany of bigotry, from anti-intellectualism to anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, Islamaphobia, and homophobia. The filmmakers speak to political experts, reporters, and even such “big names” in the GOP machine as Tucker Carlson, Paul Manafort (before his public ousting and shaming), and pre-POTUS* Trump. But the most shocking revelations don’t come from the journalists who have doggedly striven to shine a light on this “Prince of Darkness.” Instead, they come from Stone himself.
Draped in a garish pinstripe suit, shot from a low-angle—as if submitting to his ravenous ego—and accompanied by a two-olive martini, the one-of-a-kind “body-building dandy” Stone happily speaks to the directors, whom he gleefully calls “liberal filmmakers who cannot be trusted.” He gamely spills out his “Stone Rules” to success, which include such telling gems as “Attack, attack, attack. Never defend.” “Deny deny deny,” and “hate is a more powerful motivator than love.” With the grin of a hyena, this self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” spools out stories of loopholes leapt through, scandals sparked, and the dizzying power of disinformation. He mocks the idea of ethics. He ghoulishly grins recounting a student mock election he swung in favor of John F. Kennedy by telling his classmates that Richard M. Nixon supported school on Saturdays. He describes being named in the Watergate trials as “pretty cool” for his 19-year-old self. Stone takes immense pride in building the swamp Trump would later claim he’d drain. He created pioneering PAC smear campaigns, and established the current lobbying culture in Washington D.C. that Trump railed against on his campaign trail (while hiring both Stone and his lobbying buddy Manafort).
At one point, his first wife shares an anecdote about his mother declaring, “You’re not a Catholic. Your religion is Republicanism. Your god is Richard Nixon.” It’s a convincing claim as every corner of his homes and offices are dripping in unironic Nixon memorabilia, from campaign posters to photos and a pair of big-nosed bongs. Even Stone’s skin has become a showcase for his idolatry to the disgraced former president. Between his shoulder blades, he brandishes a detailed portrait of Nixon, and one of his detractors suggest this eccentricity is really all you need to know of Stone to understand him. I mean, if Nixon—a man who sought to win at all cost and would break laws and affront ethics to do it—is his self-proclaimed idol, what are we to expect from Stone?
But as you watch the film unfold, you realize even Nixon is not Stone’s true god. In the movie where he eagerly offers up his preening wives (past and present), smiling stepdaughters, a jittery dog, and befuddled mother, Stone cares not about the insults that’ll be thrown his way, nor the 1996 sex scandal that forced him into the shadows being resurrected. For the most telling Stone Rule is the driving edict of his life: “It’s better to be infamous than to never be famous at all.”
In the course of Get Me Roger Stone, he’ll be called “soulless,” “the Dark Prince,” and “the sinister Forrest Gump of American politics.” Stone happily refers to himself as a “dirty trickster,” and calls Trump the “prime piece of political horse flesh” that’s made his twisted dreams come true. Now, Stone—who has a snake oil salesman’s charm that even his harshest critics can’t deny—will confound you on what those dreams might actually be. A long-time Republican who has dedicated himself to embarrassing Democrats and spoiling their races, he has recently declared himself a Libertarian who supports gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, and legalizing marijuana, all issues Trump’s administration is currently undermining. Yet Stone seems as happy as the cat who caught the canary. After decades of prepping, his horsemeat has won. And as a white man with power, wealth and infamy, he has all he wants, including this documentary.
Stone welcomes your hate. As he tells the director before Get Me Roger Stone crashes into the credits, “I revel in your hatred. If I wasn’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.” So in a sickening sense, to watch this doc and loathe Stone is to play into his hand. But to ignore it is to turn a blind eye to the dirty dealings and Machiavellian mastermind who paved the way to Trump America with outrage, lies, and manipulation. As stomach-churning, and nail-biting as watching this intense expose is, its viewing is essential to being an awake American who chooses to resist the machinations of this immoral Prince of Darkness, whose only God—much like his prize pony—is his own ego.