“I got a force field around me and it’s called the truth!” Tomás Estrada-Palma declared outside US District Court in downtown DC. “And it scares the hell out of you all!” Estrada-Palma was one of a few dozen people stationed outside a courthouse door on 3rd Street, Northwest, waiting for former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone to emerge from an arraignment on charges of lying to Congress and witness-tampering.
Estrada-Palma had been yelling to anyone craned their necks (or turned their cameras) toward him. “Roger Stone is being persecuted,” Estrada-Palma said, “and I kinda feel like he’s a friend of mine.” He called the proceedings a witch hunt and said he wanted to know “about a hot tub party [John] Podesta is having with children.”
A member of the Proud Boys—a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group whose members appeared with Stone on the National Mall last September—interrupted Estrada-Palma’s ranting to clarify that he “isn’t with” them. Nearby stood InfoWars contributor/Stone associate Jacob Engels, who wore little round sunglasses despite the day’s forbidding cold and gloom.
“We’re just out here to draw attention to the fact that what’s happening to Stone is a miscarriage of justice,” Engels said. “His only crime was helping Donald Trump become president and defeat Hillary Clinton.” Engels said Special Counsel Robert Mueller is “corrupt” and “compromised,” that the charges against Stone are “trumped-up” and “phony,” and that today’s arraignment was a “kangaroo court.”
Some protesters were carrying signs: One says that “Christians Support Roger” while another, held by a small woman named Elia, implored the reader to “Stop Mueller Political Persecution.” “Mueller has to stop wasting our taxpayer money,” she told me. “He has to do what is right, and stop persecuting people just because they have a different opinion against whatever they’re doing.”
Not everyone at the courthouse was there to show their support. “I’m kind of annoyed he got out on bail, because I think he should be in jail,” said Greg, a tall, bearded referee who happened to be visiting a cousin in DC. While we chatted, an InfoWars correspondent flashed his camera at us and commented on how he’s not considered “real news, unlike this young lady.” Greg brushed it off.
A few people said they attended out of curiosity. “Seeing Roger Stone with my own eyes is going to be surreal,” says Grady, who says he’s a poli-sci student and a Bernie Sanders supporter. He describes each trial as a “Day”: He describes Michael Flynn‘s mid-December hearing—also for lying—as “Flynn Day,” for example. Comey Day stands out in Grady’s mind thanks to a ruckus outside the courthouse. “It was very contentious outside. [Conspiracy theorist and gadfly] Jack Posobiec [who was also here, videoing the scene] started harassing this woman next to me, and there was this altercation and Twitter went after me and it was weird.” Today is the craziest Day, by far. “An InfoWars guy, over there,” he gestures, “was telling me about how the government is actually turning the frogs gay.”
Across the street, anti-Trump activist Claude Taylor makes an appearance with an inflatable rat modeled after Trump—his calling card. “Google me,” he says.
The crowd began to move toward a doorway where most of us assumed Stone would exit. Several pro-Stone chants broke out independently until a counterprotester yelled “Lock him up!” A Stone supporter responded with “We love Roger!”—which quickly united his fans.
Stone and his entourage, however, exited through a door to our left. Supporters and detractors rushed to get near him as he sauntered down the sidewalk. “Traitor!” one person shouted. They got close–some even an arm’s length away—but cops held them back. Before stepping into a black Chevrolet Suburban, Stone stopped to flash his Nixon peace signs gesture (again). As they drive off, two men who waved Russian flags blasted “Back in the U.S.S.R.” from a portable speaker.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Engels as a Proud Boy. He is not.