Trump was the newest and most powerful vehicle of their politics and ambition, and it was he who brought them to Washington on January 6 – although you can say with just as much precision that they are what l ‘brought it there, because they were the ones who helped organize a big part of the rally. Their story is the story of American politics since the Great Recession, when anger at existing institutions became the big motivator, when the entry bar for candidates hit the ground, when social media fame became the coin of the kingdom, and the kingdom’s money, gobs and gobs, swept through the political system. Their story, as I have been able to reconstruct it here, is based on dozens of hours of face-to-face and telephone interviews, reports in which they have appeared as central or marginal characters and, if possible, the corroborating accounts from others present. They had a knack for being in the room with some of the biggest daring names on the populist right – but also never quite getting put in the limelight.
The January 6 rally, Stockton told me later in November, was supposed to be big, huge, between four and five million people. Congress would meet to certify the election; the rally would be Trump’s last chance to demonstrate why the vote was a fraud. We were talking on the phone, Stockton sitting on the “March for Trump” tour bus, parked outside one of the Trump hotels in Las Vegas, waiting for Lawrence to take a CVS order. He looked low-key as usual, even as chaos swirled around him. His life, as he described it, was lived on the fly; they had barely packed a rally before figuring out how to make the next stop on the tour. He told me that Eric Trump had just called to make sure everything was okay; that he had just spoken on the phone with Kanye West to arrange for the 2020 nominee and hip-hop star to attend the rally in the first week of January; they were also expecting Kid Rock, country duo Big & Rich, radio host Leo Terrell. (None of them appeared.)
In late December, however, as Trump began to look more and more desperately for election officials to make his offer, Stockton and Lawrence’s plan began to change and metastasize. Rivals in the MAGA movement, they said, scoffed at what they had done as mere “tea party-type gatherings” and said now was the time for something a little more pointed, a little more relevant. By the end of December, the duo had lost control of the 6 rally and instead were tasked with organizing a smaller rally the day before, mainly featuring B-team players from the MAGA universe, while personalities from Trumpworld as Kimberly Guilfoyle and Rudy Giuliani took center stage on the 6th.
I spoke to Stockton again on January 5th, and he looked both exuberant and exhausted, not to mention that some of the stars had never signed and the crowd was looking to go over 30,000, max. Trump had taken the rally up on Twitter by writing: “Be there, it will be wild!” and retweeting Lawrence’s announcement about it, a tweet that will then be broadcast on the Senate floor and filed as evidence for Trump’s second impeachment trial. (Laurent sued those responsible for the indictment of the House for defamation.) They were told that the White House’s word was to be ready to be there all day and all night if needed. “We’re going to continue until there is some sort of resolution,” Stockton told me.
The next day, however, Stockton and Lawrence, sleeping for an hour and arguing with conservative influencers who thought they deserved better seats, and sitting in the freezing cold for hours during the various warm-up acts, had decided to leave and return to the hotel as Trump was speaking, to rest for the long night ahead. “I had Fox News, I woke up and it was the news,” Stockton told me. later.
“” They took the Capitol. And my first thought was, “Oh my God, what kind of idiots are they? It was my worst nightmare. Instead of this being Patriots’ Day, where we prove voter fraud, my thought was: we’re about to be roasted. “
Their January 6 version seems an unlikely story – going back to their hotel, annoyed by the self-treating celebrities of the MAGA world, instead of joining the uncontrollable march they helped set in motion. But so far there has been no evidence to the contrary: while the Capitol became America’s most scrutinized crime scene that day, no charges have ever been laid against them; Stockton says he was interviewed by federal officials once, in the spring, but never heard from it again.
And the feeling of frustration, betrayal, disgust that they have developed since January 6 is undoubtedly real.
They were already disappointed in what they saw as a lack of gratitude from the Trump administration: Their hoped-for administrative jobs, perhaps an overseas assignment, never arrived. They had ties to Steve Bannon and hoped to use his connections to become high potential fundraisers, but he never really made those introductions. They wanted Fox News appearances and social media influence, but struggled to lock the two down. Their most publicized effort, the We Build the Wall fundraising campaign, resulted in accusations and recriminations. And in the months since the January 6 rally, they felt betrayed by a movement they helped build.
“If you’re going to work for Trump,” Stockton told me last week, over a year after we met in Washington, “you end up becoming the center of the attack, and when you do, they dump you. . “
They are, they know, now political actors without a country, vilified on the left for being associated with insurgents, and on the right for now ready to talk about what really happened that day in Washington. They can make difficult, even unsympathetic, subjects into characters who have perpetrated the equivalent of a decade of hijackings and dirty tricks that ultimately pulled off such a big and outrageous blow that they lost control.
January 6 was supposed to be the highlight of their careers. Instead, it looked like the end.