Two key organizers of the main Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. are coming in from the cold.
Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence are set to testify next week before the House select committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The pair will deliver testimony and turn over documents, including text messages, that indicate the extensive involvement members of Congress and the Trump administration had in planning the House challenge to certifying Biden’s election and rally near the White House where Donald Trump spoke — efforts that ultimately contributed to a massive and violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Among the documents the couple is providing are conversations they had with staffers and members of Congress as they planned the main rally that took place on the White House Ellipse that day. Stockton described these discussions as largely logistical and focused on planning the members’ participation in objections to the electoral certification on the House floor and various events that were staged to protest against the election. They include Instagram messages Lawrence exchanged with Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) as she tried to get him to speak at the Ellipse rally. Cawthorn, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, ultimately appeared on stage at that event.
“We’re turning it all over and we’ll let the cards fall where they may,” Stockton says.
It’s the latest revelation from the couple, veteran activists who have spent the better part of a decade specializing in staging political stunts while working for conservative activist groups, Republican campaigns, and Trump’s on-again-off-again strategist Steve Bannon. Stockton and Lawrence were members of the team that led the nationwide “March For Trump” bus tour, which ended with the Jan. 6 rally at the White House Ellipse. In recent weeks, Stockton and Lawrence have participated in an extensive series of interviews with Rolling Stone revealing what they knew about the day.
The pair were the sources for a story that was published in late October, where they said members of Congress were involved in planning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and the Jan. 6 Ellipse Rally. They claimed one of these lawmakers, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), suggested the possibility Trump could get them a “blanket pardon” in an unrelated ongoing investigation if they helped protest the election. (Gosar later suggested that story was “categorically false and defamatory.”) Stockton and Lawrence also say they were told that Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had communicated with the organizers and was warned about concerns of potential violence.
Nothing in the documents viewed by Rolling Stone or the couple’s statements revealed any planning for, or coordination with, the violent attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.
Stockton and Lawrence spoke to Rolling Stone on the condition of anonymity for that story due to the ongoing investigation. Now, after receiving a subpoena from the committee, they decided to come forward and testify publicly — in Congress and in the press. The couple say they believe the public deserve answers about what went down on Jan. 6.
“The people and the history books deserve a real account of what happened,” Stockton explains. Lawrence puts it more bluntly: “Violent shit happened,” she says. “We want to get to the bottom of that.”
Behind those noble sentiments about why they’re cooperating with the committee is a hard reality: Stockton and Lawrence are running out of options.
On Nov. 22, the committee subpoenaed the pair, demanding they deliver depositions and turn over documents related to their involvement in the rally and communications with members of Trump’s team. Stockton is scheduled to testify on Tuesday and Lawrence is due up the following day. The duo are keenly aware that Bannon, Meadows, and others who have declined to cooperate with the committee are facing federal contempt of Congress charges. “We’ve seen what’s happened with Bannon, and we don’t have the resources that a Steve Bannon has,” Stockton says, referencing Bannon’s multimillion dollar fortune. “Our options are, in a lot of ways, limited.”
Stockton and Lawrence have spent the past few weeks on the move, switching between their R.V. and various hotels and hideouts. Apart from Louis, a greyhound-beagle mix who has accompanied them back and forth across the country, the couple have few of their old friends left. The legal drama and infighting has left them cut off from political work, Stockton is keeping them afloat with what he describes as “a variety of side hustles.”
Being caught between those on the right they think might want to silence them and a Democrat-led committee that’s hit them with subpoenas and potentially large legal bills has left them with what Stockton labels “a sense of paranoia.” The couple have packed their things up and switched locations in the middle of the night at least once when they became suspicious of a group of “paramilitary looking” young men. When they first made contact with the committee, the meeting, they say, was a disaster that left them with real questions about who they could trust. They’ve spent most of the last few months on the run.
It’s been a long, stressful time for Stockton and Lawrence, a pair who were once rising stars in the MAGA extended universe and now find themselves looking constantly over their shoulders. For a lot of people who end up in such a tight spot, it’s tough to look back and pinpoint the moment things started to go wrong. For these two, that question has a fairly straightforward answer.
In Lawrence’s mind, it all began when she had “a gun put to my head.”
Jennifer Lynn Lawrence in Treasure Island, Florida, November 2021.
Zack Wittman for Rolling Stone
IN THE EARLY MORNING HOURS of August 20, 2020, Stockton and Lawrence were asleep in their R.V. as it sat parked on the dusty backlot of the Casablanca Resort and Casino in Mesquite, Nevada. But some time after 4 a.m., the pair say they suddenly awoke after a late night to hear banging on the door. Their mobile home was surrounded by heavily armed officers from the United States Postal Inspection Service, an obscure law enforcement arm of the Postal Service. Stockton leapt up and reached for his own firearm. He put the gun down when he saw a badge tapping on the window.
“As I’m reaching down, one of the officers … the USPS special forces motherfuckers, he gets my attention. Thank god. … He gets my attention before I draw. There’s a good chance that probably saved my life,” Stockton says. “It’s clear that there’s enough men and firepower out there that, like, this is the real deal.”
Stockton says he was handcuffed as the officers searched the R.V. Lawrence, by her own admission, went “apeshit” and began shouting at the officers about corrupt courts and accusing them of being part of a plot to boost Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden.
In fact, the raid was part of a fraud investigation into a group that Stockton and Lawrence worked on alongside Bannon. The pair — who first bonded while smoking a joint at the Republican National Convention in 2012 — had been working for Bannon since 2014, when he was running the conservative website Breitbart. They reported directly to Bannon and honed their skills making mischief and headlines on “special projects” for his site. During the 2016 election, they tried to chip away at Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, with a series of rogue operations that included recruiting Black activists to discourage the community from voting and embedding with Bernie Sanders supporters to help spur their protests at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. A recent profile in Politico that chronicled their work dubbed the pair “The Bonnie And Clyde of MAGA World.”
The pair’s activism is infused with a mischievous sense of showmanship. Lawrence is a brash New Yorker who tends to wear skimpy outfits and gowns accessorized with her trademark winged eyeliner. Stockton is a former competitive poker player with tattooed arms, a thick beard, and a desert-fried drawl that belies his Nevada roots. On the “March For Trump” bus tour he favored a velour blazer and a pair of exotic stingray boots.
After a brief falling out in 2017, Stockton and Lawrence reunited with a post-White House Bannon in 2019 to work together on “We Build The Wall,” an organization that was dedicated to raising private funds to help Trump erect his trademark wall along the southern border. The group’s fundraising ended up succeeding beyond their wildest imagination, raising about $25 million, enough to craft over three miles of barriers on the border. A little over a year later, Bannon and three other individuals affiliated with We Build The Wall were charged with fraud for allegedly taking “hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds” after vowing they would not accept payment for work on the project. Bannon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Bannon, who was arrested on board a yacht, was pardoned by Trump in the final 24 hours of his presidency earlier this year. The other group leaders who were indicted did not receive pardons. Despite the raid, Stockton and Lawrence have never been charged.
Their brush with the law has haunted them during their dealings with the January 6 committee. “It’s still hanging over our heads,” Stockton explains. “We definitely didn’t want to face another violent raid and we also wanted to avoid racking up even more legal fees and trouble.”
Stockton and Lawrence took the armed raid on their R.V. as confirmation of their worst worries about “Deep State” forces waging “lawfare” on Trump supporters. And they felt something similar happened on election night in 2020, when Stockton says the vote result reflected what he saw as “obvious shenanigans.”
Stockton felt validated as Trump questioned the election results, even as a series of election experts and nonpartisan observers said the president’s claims of fraud were baseless conspiracy theories. And as the media universally — and quickly — reported that officials at every level of government found no evidence of election fraud, it reinforced he and Lawrence’s view that the fix was in. When social media and tech companies deleted content that spread election misinformation, Stockton and Lawrence saw it as dissent being silenced. The pair were convinced the election was stolen.
According to the couple, Amy Kremer, a conservative activist who Stockton knew from his days in the Tea Party world, reached out to them on election night to see if they were interested in staging protests questioning Trump’s loss. They went all in for the cause.
Stockton and Lawrence say they subsequently worked with Kremer to plan a rally in Washington on Nov. 14, 2020. That event featured a drive-by from Trump in the presidential motorcade. That night, there were clashes between Trump supporters and counterprotesters. Turnout among the pro-Trump contingent was high enough that Kremer was inspired to launch a nationwide “March For Trump” bus tour with Stockton and Lawrence.
They were also, they say, encouraged by a suggestion that participating in the protests challenging Trump’s election loss could win them Trump’s help with the fallout from the We Build the Wall debacle. In December 2020, as the tour rolled around the country, Stockton and Lawrence say they got a call from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and his chief of staff, Thomas Van Flein. According to Stockton, Van Flein claimed he and the congressman had just met with Trump, who was considering giving them a “blanket pardon” to address the “We Build The Wall” investigation.
“We were just in the Oval Office speaking about pardons and your names came up,” Van Flein allegedly said. Van Flein did not respond to a request for comment.
Gosar suggested the bus tour was helping Stockton and Lawrence build support for a pardon from the caucus and Trump. “Keep up the good work,” Gosar said, according to Stockton. “Everybody’s seen what you’re doing.”
While Stockton says Gosar previously supported the wall project and would likely have “moved to get the pardon regardless of what was happening post-election,” the call made clear to him that the protests against the 2020 vote could help get Trump on their side. “Trump was taking interest because of the notoriety of what we were currently doing,” Stockton says.
Gosar did not respond to a request for comment. Through an attorney, Gosar in November said Stockton’s claims about the pardon were“frankly outrageous.” In an earlier bulletin from his office, Gosar called the story “100% false and made up.” Though Stockton and Lawrence were not identified in that article, Gosar — who admitted writing a letter in support of a pardon for Bannon — insisted the allegations came from “people I have never met.” He had, in fact, met Stockton and Lawrence. The trio were photographed beaming together at the Ellipse rally on Jan. 6.
Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence with Rep. Paul Gosar.
Courtesy of Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence
Ultimately, the pardon for Stockton and Lawrence never materialized. Instead, it went to the man who, per Stockon, needed it less than the others. “Steve Bannon, the one guy in the group of us who has personal wealth and media and political connections beyond all of the rest of us, he’s the guy who gets the pardon,” Stockton says, his voice tinged with anger and disbelief.
It was the start of a pattern they’d see again.
THE JAN. 6 ELLIPSE RALLY was set to be the culmination of the bus tour, featuring a speech from multiple members of Congress and Trump himself. According to Stockton and Lawrence, it was planned to support the objections to electoral certification that were taking place that day on the House floor. They expected Trump and other leaders to present definitive detailed proof of election fraud as the crowd remained on the Ellipse where security procedures were in place.
Instead, for well over an hour, Trump aired a series of vague, misleading, and demonstrably false claims about the vote being “rigged” along with his familiar campaign grievances about the media supposedly ignoring his crowd sizes, the “radical left,” and “cancel culture.” Then, in the final 120 words of his speech, Trump declared, “we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue … and we’re going to the Capitol.”
Many in the crowd got on the move as Trump concluded, and the barricades at the Capitol complex were first breached shortly before his remarks wrapped. Fighting at the building between police and the former president’s supporters would rage for hours, even turning deadly.
Stockton claims he was so upset by the speech that he turned to Lawrence and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” He was incensed by both Trump’s call to march and the lack of concrete evidence that was presented on stage.
“We assumed that him sitting with all the access to all the agencies of government and classified information he … had access to vastly more information than we did,” Stockton says. “We trusted when he told us that it was black and white and that there was clear evidence over, and over, and over again. We trusted that it would be there, and it ended up being a bluff, and he finally got caught in it.”
The couple claim they then went back to their room at the Willard InterContinental, a luxury hotel adjacent to the Ellipse where many of the rally organizers stayed. Exhausted and frustrated, Stockton says he passed out almost immediately.
At their hotel on Jan. 6, Lawrence says she watched the violence break out on TV as Stockton slept in the other room. She was incensed that Trump — who didn’t send out a tweet urging the crowd to “stay peaceful” until about an hour after the barricades were breached — hadn’t done more to call for an end to the violence. “As this was unfolding on the television, I was asking, ‘Where is Trump? Why hasn’t he come out and made a statement?’ It was way too long before he came out and made a statement,” Lawrence says. “Like, why are we waiting? This is so opposite of what we represent. You should want to denounce this immediately.”
In their telling, the pair had been warning about the potential for violence since the first days after the election. “We had been like, since November … trying to raise the red flag that, hey, like not everybody on our side has the same outlook of, like, what this should look like,” Lawrence says.
Both claimed they were among a group who had concerns about an event dubbed the “Wild Protest” organized by far right activist Ali Alexander that was staged outside the building as the vote was being certified. According to Stockton and Lawrence, that wariness was due to Alexander’s links to militant groups and the potential consequences of bringing people who were “angry” about the election to the Capitol steps as the certification was taking place.
Stockton and Lawrence say Kremer said she brought these concerns to Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. They were under the impression Meadows, who did not respond to a request for comment, would resolve the issue. A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment.
Ultimately, Alexander’s rally was granted a permit. In an interview for a television series hosted by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Alexander claimed he and Infowars host Alex Jones were contacted by the Trump campaign during Trump’s speech and told to lead crowds from the Ellipse to the Capitol. Alexander, who has an extensive history of ties to white nationalists and conspiracy theorists, has repeatedly insisted he played no role in the violence.
Kremer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Alexander denied any responsibility for the Jan. 6 violence and accused Stockton and Lawrence of lying to the press.
Once he woke up on Jan. 6, Stockton says he wanted the Ellipse rally organizers to denounce the attack as forcefully as possible. Kremer’s Women For America First group, which had obtained the permit for the Ellipse event, did issue a statement declaring they were “saddened and disappointed at the violence that erupted on Capitol Hill,” but Stockton says he “wanted literally to do every interview.”
“They put a statement together that denounced it, but I wanted to go nuclear. Like, I wanted to go full court press with it,” Stockton claims. “We were pushing hard and put a plan together to hold a press conference … to fully denounce and take all questions from everybody.”
To Stockton, it was important for the Ellipse rally planners to distance themselves from the violence. However, Kremer ultimately decided the statement was sufficient. Rolling Stone reported in November that Kremer and some of her fellow organizers spent the evening of Jan. 6 — as the attempted insurrection was winding down — in a suite at the Willard dining on charcuterie.
Stockton says he pushed for the group to more forcefully denounce the violence but was overruled. “We didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t us and frankly we are going to be tarnished with this forever unless we get out and scream from the rooftops that this wasn’t right,” Stockton says he argued. “Unfortunately, I lost that battle.”
Almost a year later, they are, as Stockton might put it “going nuclear.” They’re cooperating with the committee and willing to do any interview they can to tell their story to the press. But when they initially tried to come to the investigators, things got off to a rocky start.
Dustin Stockton walks his dog, Louie, in Treasure Island, Florida, November 2021.
Zack Wittman for Rolling Stone
STOCKTON AND LAWRENCE WERE headed into what they thought was a confidential meeting with select committee staffers on October 25 when they got an email from a team of reporters. Politico was about to publish an article noting the pair were cooperating with the House select committee on the January 6 attack. Stockton immediately screenshotted the journalists’ query and forwarded it along to the committee’s investigators. He provided Rolling Stone with a copy of that message.
“This puts us in a very dangerous position,” Stockton wrote to the committee staff.
The couple still joined the scheduled videoconference, but the conversation was a short one: “It was like, what the hell is this?” Stockton recounted. “We were so upset with the committee. … The call ended up lasting like maybe two total minutes.”
Rolling Stone has confirmed the meeting was set to take place and that Stockton and Lawrence were told it would be confidential. An attorney familiar with the investigation said they were aware of a separate instance where a potential cooperating witness similarly had their name leak to the press ahead of a meeting with the committee. (A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment on Stockton’s account.)
Stockton and Lawrence believed they had good reason to fear word getting out about their cooperation with the committee. “These were violent acts. And to put someone’s name out there … it puts a huge target on them,” Lawrence said in a recent interview. “They swore up and down that this was going to be completely off record.”
The press coverage of their meeting with the committee caused the couple to bug out. Stockton and Lawrence quickly ditched the R.V. in Nevada that had been their home for the better part of a year and headed to an undisclosed location in Florida. While there, they met up with Rolling Stone. The pair first began talking to the magazine prior to their scheduled meeting because they say they feared the committee would be “a political circus that only targets their opposition.”
“It’s important to us that, not even just the committee, that the political actors on both sides — that includes Trump — that they don’t get to whitewash and cherry pick what parts of the story are told,” Stockton says.
Even before word of their supposedly off record meeting leaked, Stockton and Lawrence were apprehensive about dealing with the congressional investigation. They had history with some of its members.
After GOP leadership blocked a proposal for a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped six Democrats and two Republicans who have been critical of Trump to serve on the committee. One of the Democrats, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) was a manager during Trump’s second impeachment trial earlier this year. During that case, the Democrats presented an image of one of Lawrence’s tweets and she subsequently filed a defamation suit against a company who’d worked with the Democrats, arguing her words were mischaracterized and an image of the tweet was altered. Raskin did not respond to a request for comment.
And Stockton and Lawrence claim one of the committee Republicans, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), had a relationship with Kremer. In February of 2019, Kremer’s Women For America First group held a border security event outside the Capitol. Cheney spoke at that conference and Kremer described her as the event’s host. “March For Trump” group text messages that were reviewed by Rolling Stone show that Kremer claimed Cheney’s office helped her with another Women For America First event that was held in Oct. 2019 at the Capitol to protest Trump’s first impeachment. “Liz Cheney’s office is securing the permit at the Capitol for us,” Kremer wrote of the “STOP IMPEACHMENT NOW!” rally. In an eerie foreshadowing of Jan. 6, that event ended with Trump supporters marching into the Capitol, staging sit-ins in the offices of multiple Democrats, and hounding members of Congress in the halls.
“To see Liz Cheney … not even have to put a disclaimer somewhere like, ‘I have a prior relationship with Amy Kremer who is being investigated.’ It’s one of the things that just made me question, like, what is really going on here,” Lawrence says.
Cheney voted against Trump’s first impeachment in 2019, but she became known as one of the former president’s biggest critics within the Republican Party when she supported his second impeachment in the wake of Jan. 6. A spokesperson for Cheney did not respond to a request for comment.
As a result of their misgivings, Stockton and Lawrence considered trying to stonewall the committee, following the route of other Trump allies who have pleaded the Fifth. However, Lawrence said a past comment from Trump himself kept ringing in her head. In 2016, when he was on the campaign trail, Trump blasted former staff members for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination during the House select committee investigation into the Benghazi attack. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment,” Trump asked. In the end, Lawrence agreed with him
“I feel like with everyone pleading the Fifth, we’re not getting down to the sole issue that violence did occur, somebody caused it, and we need to get to the bottom of it so that it doesn’t happen again,” Lawrence says, adding, “And to Trump’s point, innocent people don’t plead the Fifth.”
THE CHAOS OF JAN. 6 and the attack on the bedrock American principle of the peaceful transfer of power has raised uncomfortable questions about innocence, accountability, and reconciliation.
Hundreds of people have been arrested by the FBI for storming the Capitol and are now working their way through a legal system that, in some cases, has not been particularly forgiving.
But many of those people say they sincerely believe the election was stolen. They were sold that lie and called to protest by a group that included members of Congress and the then sitting president of the United States. So far, the most powerful players behind the Jan. 6 attack have served exactly zero days in jail.
It’s a situation that Stockton and Lawrence find deeply troubling. And it is Trump himself that the pair believe was, as Stockton says, responsible “as much as anybody who actually was doing the violence.” A spokesperson for the former president did not respond to a request for comment.
“Ultimately, the people who were committing the acts are most responsible. However, this was completely foreseeable and predictable,” Stockton says. “He knew better than to send people down there under those circumstances with those people at the front of it.”
Their narrative about Jan. 6 certainly casts them in a favorable light. But parts of that narrative have been corroborated elsewhere. During an FBI investigation that is the largest in the bureau’s history, no evidence has been released that Stockton or Lawrence joined the crowds who stormed the Capitol. Nor has any such evidence emerged from an online sleuthing effort that’s also nearly unprecedented.
And other claims from Stockton and Lawrence have been backed up elsewhere. There have been reports that Trump’s call to march on the Capitol was ad libbed. The committee has indicated it has evidence showing Meadows was in direct contact with Ellipse rally planners. And text messages from the organizers obtained by Rolling Stone show Stockton pressing for a more robust denunciation of the violence in its immediate aftermath while Kremer declared on the morning after, “I don’t think it is wise for us to talk to the press or have a press conference.” Those text messages also show the Ellipse rally planners expressing some dismay about Alexander’s planned event. A separate source who was involved in staging the Ellipse rally also told Rolling Stone that Stockton and Lawrence were pushing Kremer for more public denunciation of the violence.
What Stockton and Lawrence say they want now is a new chapter. Stockton describes himself as “exhausted” and eager to change paths, possibly working on activism that is aimed at helping people find “common ground.”
“I hope going forward that we’ll find a way to step, maybe, back from the edge a little bit,” Stockton says. The pair do already have experience working across the aisle. In 2018, they helped students who survived the Parkland shooting that year and were pushing for gun control legislation to obtain meetings with Republican lawmakers.
Of course, Stockton and Lawrence’s yearning for transparency is coming as they are being targeted by a congressional select committee. The pair have spent much of their lives working as paid activists and organizers. It’s a world where money and attention are closely tied together. Going from rabble rousers to aspiring peacemakers amid the spotlight of a congressional investigation could just be their latest move in a long history of playing politics.
Their attempted self-rehabilitation is at odds with the reckless swashbuckling personas they developed during their years working with Bannon and on the bus tour ahead of the election. On that tour, both Stockon and Lawrence made statements that at least could be interpreted as promoting or threatening violence.
“Right now we still have the power to fix” the election result, Stockton said at a stop in Savannah. “But if they allow the election to get stolen, we lose the power to do it. I mean there’s still ways to do it, but it gets a lot, lot uglier and a lot, lot worse. And I don’t think any of us want to go there.”
Stockton later told BuzzFeed News the “ugly” option he referred to is state-by-state electoral reform. However, the couple doesn’t necessarily disavow the fiery rhetoric they deployed on the bus tour.
Despite their issues with Trump and their anger over what played out on Jan. 6, Stockton and Lawrence say they still passionately believe in the former president’s “America First” agenda. They also continue to have doubts about the 2020 election. Due to the lack of evidence, Stockton no longer believes the number of votes was fraudulent, but the couple remain convinced that “Big Tech” censorship, biased media, and government “lawfare” combined to “fortify” the election for Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden.
Lawrence says “hindsight’s 20/20” and concedes “obviously there’s some stuff that I would like to take back and stuff that I wish I hadn’t said.” But she is also adamant her words were not an encouragement to violence. Or, as she puts it, “I didn’t incite shit.”
Stockton notes Democrats made their own attempts to object to Trump’s 2016 election win. The pair also point out none of the events they worked on prior to Jan. 6 resulted in major violence. “I am a free speech fundamentalist and I don’t believe that any of the political hyperbole or fiery speeches are responsible for what happened,” he said. “I’ve always done the best to walk things to the line with the rhetoric but match it to actions that are productive and safe.”
Of course, Jan. 6 went way over the line.
What consequences, if any, Lawrence and Stockton will face for their role in Jan. 6 is in the hands of the committee and the justice system. And what forgiveness they might find is up to the public, as they hope to make their case in a media blitz.
But whether or not you believe their journey from firebrands to whistleblowers is genuine, Stockton and Lawrence’s tumultuous path sheds light on how the country reached this fraught, violent moment — and perhaps — how we might come back from the brink. For his most hardcore supporters, Trump had a unique pull. Breaking that personal bond may be the only way to get them to question the things they thought they knew.
Trump fought the fights we wanted to fight. … He championed the things we thought had been ignored and cast aside. … We attributed stuff to him that he didn’t deserve,” Stockton explained. “It almost feels like it’s the same feeling you get after you get conned or scammed where you initially don’t want to accept.”
Even intense legal pressure wasn’t initially enough to get Stockton and Lawrence to question their leader. Following the raids on Stockton, Lawrence, and the other “We Build The Wall” group organizers, Trump’s White House press secretary made comments distancing the former president from the project, which had been promoted by members of his family. Stockton describes this as one of many instances where he “made excuses for Trump.”
But Jan. 6 was different. Stockton says the attack and its aftermath was “finally the thing that broke that false reality we had created about who he was.”
“At the end of the day, there is no excuse and the words came out of his mouth. It was the call of the president of the United States,” Stockton says.
Stockton and Lawrence occupy a unique space in the pro-Trump ecosystem. Their years of activism have brought them close to the former president’s inner circle, but they were never quite there. The couple operated somewhere between the upper echelons of the MAGA movement and the rank-and-file. Indeed, as first reported by Rolling Stone, wealthy Trump allies have set up a defense fund for campaign and White House aides who have been named in the investigation. But while their more well-connected colleagues have received legal help, Stockton and Lawrence have been left to fend for themselves.
From this vantage point, it has been especially clear that Trump urged his supporters to rush to his aid, but he hasn’t necessarily stood by them amid the subsequent law enforcement crackdown. While Stockton and Lawrence have reached out to family members of people who were imprisoned for charges related to Jan. 6 with offers of advice and contacts, they say no such support has come from Trump.
“This guy’s sitting on giant gold buildings all over the world with his name on it and we’ve done more to help those people than he has,” Stockton says of Trump. “It’s fucking disgusting.”
It’s clear the tie between the former president and his faithful is incredibly resilient. As president, Trump — with his steady stream of tweets, and neverending headlines — was a constant presence in his supporters’ lives. But since he’s left office and been exiled from social media, Trump has to do real work to maintain that connection. And time and again, Trump’s willingness to stick his neck out for his people — and his sway over them — has buckled under pressure.
Trump has a long history of falling out with members of his team amid investigations and controversy including his former attorney Michael Cohen, a long list of fired White House officials, and, at times, Bannon. Given that record, it’s easy to doubt Stockton and Lawrence’s claim of being shocked by his behavior. However, the pair insist their experience with the aftermath of Jan. 6 opened their eyes.
“Other people had warned us … People in his inner circle even,” Stockton said of Trump’s paper-thin loyalty. “It’s not like we didn’t see him cast people aside before selfishly, but we always kind of just said, ‘Oh, that’s just disgruntled former employees, right?’ You know, we bought the bullshit.”
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