CLEVELAND – Roger Stone, longtime confidant and informal adviser to Donald Trump, removed his all-access convention credentials and ascended the stage at Citizens for Trump’s America First Unity Rally on Monday afternoon.
Stone, wearing a yellow linen suit, white saddle shoes and suspenders, explained that he was late because “I had some meetings that I had to conclude over at the Westin with members of the Trump staff.”
And what did this boastful Trump consigliere, fresh from his meeting with Trump aides, wish to impart on this first day of the GOP convention?
He wished to revisit the Vince Foster murder conspiracy. “They told us that he died in Fort Marcy Park and his body was found 50 yards down a muddy trail,” Stone said of the Clinton family friend and aide who killed himself 23 years ago. “But there was no mud or dirt on his shoes. … There was carpet fiber all over his body because they rolled him in a carpet. Hillary Clinton ordered a guy named Sullivan and a guy named Kennedy, her hoodlums, her thugs, [to] move his body.”
Welcome to the Donald Trump Republican National Convention.
Stone chose this moment, when the party presents itself to the nation, to team up with Alex Jones – the conspiracy theorist and radio host – as “co-hosts” of the rally for a couple thousand Trump supporters. Like the Trump campaign itself, the convention has elevated those who bring the crazy.
Many Republican officials are avoiding Cleveland this week entirely. Others are tacitly supporting the Trump ticket, swallowing their reservations; a last-ditch rebellion on the floor Monday afternoon by anti-Trump delegates was easily put down.
This vacuum gives voice to Trump’s proudest and loudest supporters, those who, before Trump, resided on the fringes. It has legitimized people like Jones.
Jones is famous for asserting, among other things, that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. Trump, who has often appeared on Jones’ show, told its host in December that “your reputation is amazing.”
Jones, in black wayfarers and blue blazer, limped onto the stage at the Citizens for Trump rally to huge cheers. “Donald Trump is surging in every major poll across the country,” he exulted.Three men in the crowd, Trump supporters all, sounded notes on kudu horns in celebration.
He said that “Hillary is a foreign agent of the communist Chinese, the Saudi Arabians and others.” Noticing a disruption in the crowd, he denounced these “anti-freedom scum who need to get their ass to North Korea.”
He then called the “agitator” to the stage to confront him, a man who “wants to shut down our free speech.” It turned out to be comedian Eric Andre.
Andre, after offering Jones his hotel room key because “I want you to have sex with my wife” and asking Jones why “my pee-pee comes out yellow,” mentioned the Jones 9/11 theory: “Airplane fuel can’t melt steel. The bomb’s in Tower 7!”
“I exposed all that,” Jones boasted.
Jones’ ill-advised stage invite to the comedian added to the freak-show atmosphere on the bank of the Cuyahoga River. Police on the perimeter and in a boat could witness a few participants openly carrying handguns, the droning of the kudu horns, the guy carrying an eight-foot wooden cross, the woman who botched the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the primary challenger to John McCain who said, “We don’t need frail, fearful, old people representing us.”
Dozens of attendees wore “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts. One sign that said “Latinos for Trump” featured a bumper sticker declaring “9/11 was an inside job.” The flip side had the message “Hillary for Prison” (the first “i” was dotted with a Jewish star and Muslim crescent).
One of the emcees, Ken Crow, referenced the time he said immigration was like breeding “Secretariat to a donkey” and was scolded by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
“You mean Mr. Maddow?!” somebody in the crowd shouted.
Crow also mentioned that Fox’s Geraldo Rivera was in the crowd, and the few cheers were overwhelmed by boos and a shout of “Build the wall!”
Then there was Stone, who pronounced himself “Italian from the waist down” and praised his “friend Alex Jones.”
Trump has “cojones,” Stone said. And Clinton? “A short-tempered, foul-mouthed, greedy, bipolar, mentally unbalanced criminal.”
“She’s a reptile!” somebody added.
This is the face of Trump’s GOP. “Republicans who do not choose to join our cause: You will be replaced,” Stone said. “Good riddance. This is not about unity.”
Trump’s buddy flashed a Nixon-style double-victory sign. The kudu horns sounded.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.