The new documentary about Roger Stone, A Storm Foretold, anticipated since its Danish director Christoffer Guldbrandsen received a subpoena last year from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, finally had its world premiere at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Footage from the production, during which Stone allowed the filmmakers access to many of his private conversations, was examined by congressional investigators and included as evidence in the committee’s final report. The film thus had the unusual privilege of being established as an important piece of the historical record before it was even completed. The final edit is a captivating view into three years of machinations by the well-connected crook who collaborated with neofascist militia leaders while in communication with President Donald Trump during the crucial period before, during and after the 2020 election, right through the events of January 6, 2021.
For Roger Stone, U.S. politics is a contact sport where rules are for losers. Anything goes as long as you don’t get caught… or as long as you believe you have a presidential pardon coming. The longtime Republican has worked closely with GOP administrations since Watergate and he is probably Trump’s longest-serving political adviser. Stone first met Trump back in 1980 through mob lawyer Roy Cohn and personally helped Trump explore a presidential bid in the late 1990s.
An ironist, provocateur and propagandist who enjoys cultivating a cocky, eccentric persona that might best be described as “postmodern mafia clown,” Stone is an exceptional bullshit artist and near constant performer. He is also a creative thinker, one with particular expertise in sleazy — and sometimes illegal — election shenanigans. Behind-the-scenes he is the quintessential political ratfucker, a hatchet man without any obvious or coherent agenda beyond the need to take as much power and control of national politics as possible, and by any means necessary.
In 2019, Stone was convicted of lying under oath, threatening a witness, and obstructing special counsel Robert Mueller’s federal investigation into 2016 Trump campaign cheating. He was subsequently sentenced to three years and four months in prison. Stone therefore should have been incarcerated during the period that A Storm Foretold was filmed but, in a supreme act of corruption, he was granted clemency in 2020 by President Trump — the same man he lied to protect.
So instead of being behind bars, Stone became the star of his own new movie, one that documents his scheming and communications with leaders of the Proud Boys (currently on trial for seditious conspiracy), Oath Keepers (convicted of seditious conspiracy last year), and President Trump in the lead up to January 6. Since Stone is the kind of narcissist who believes that there is no such thing as bad publicity, he even agreed that Guldbrandsen would retain rights to the final edit.
The full accounting of criminal responsibility for January 6 is still in process. A verdict for the Proud Boys leaders — including Stone associates Enrique Tarrio, Joseph Biggs and Ethan Nordean — is expected in the coming weeks. Convictions of these men for sedition would bring the criminal conspiracy a “Stone’s throw” from Trump and could make it more likely that special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the investigation into Trump’s role in January 6, will end his investigation with similar charges — treason, essentially. To date, neither the former president nor anyone in his inner orbit has been charged with related crimes.
Did Trump coordinate with armed militias to prevent the certification of the electoral vote at the U.S. Capitol on January 6? Was there a shared goal to overturn the election on that day in order to extend Trump’s time in office, using force if necessary? And if so, how exactly did such coordination take place?
The answers to these questions almost certainly involve Roger Stone. The January 6 committee report describes Stone as a “nexus character” in the “Stop the Steal” coalition to overturn Joe Biden’s victory — a slogan Stone coined in 2016 and then, with the help of his protegé, far right activist Ali Alexander, relaunched in 2020.
Stone has cultivated relationships with militias for years, including the same groups that were major players in the “Stop the Steal” movement. He’s especially close with the Proud Boys, with whom he even became a low-level initiate. Stone has been so tight with the national leader of the Proud Boys, Tarrio, that he gave Tarrio access to his personal phone and social media accounts. The Oath Keepers leadership also worked with and protected Stone. Convicted Oath Keepers leaders provided Stone with no-cost security details in the post-2020 election period. Stone also had a personal Oath Keeper bodyguard on January 6, Joshua James, who pleaded guilty in 2022 to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of Congress.
Two days after the 2020 election, the same day he drew up a “Stop the Steal” action plan that ultimately proved central to Trump’s efforts, Stone organized an encrypted group chat with leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers around making sure Trump stayed in power. The group chat, titled “F.O.S.” or “Friends of Stone,” was used to share information and coordinate “Stop the Steal” planning, and it came up as evidence last year in the successful prosecution of the Oath Keepers leaders for seditious conspiracy.
While A Storm Foretold shows a lot of the type of political scheming (Stone’s word) that we normally don’t see, the conversations that Stone specifically kept out of earshot of the filmmakers — and which we know to have occurred — may have special significance. One crucial event that unfortunately is not included in the film is a dinner Stone had with Trump on December 27, 2020, just 10 days before January 6. This is a time when Stone would have been well aware of the violent intentions of his allies leading the militia groups. The Proud Boys around this time were preparing themselves for civil war.
At that late December meeting in Florida, according to the January 6 committee, Stone and Trump discussed plans for January 6, including the idea that Trump would give a speech. Was a plan in formation at this point to coordinate Trump’s actions with paramilitary operations?
While A Storm Foretold hardly answers all remaining questions, it’s worth watching. Between Stone’s hamming, the constant political gaming with associates from militiamen to congressmen, and the mystery surrounding the insurrection, it’s hard to peel your eyes away.
On January 5, with logistical help from the Trump campaign and cameras everywhere, Stone led crowds and made incendiary speeches in Washington, D.C. alongside his militia friends, Alex Jones and his followers, and the rest of the “Stop the Steal” coalition. The January 6 committee report explains that later that same evening, President Trump asked his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to check in with Stone about “what would play out” the next day. No big march to the Capitol had at this point been publicly announced by the White House; Trump wanted it to appear spontaneous.
The next morning, Stone was expecting to take the stage before Trump at the Ellipse and then, with urging from the president, lead supporters to the main event at the Capitol along with Jones — apparently to shepherd a mob of “normies” behind hundreds of Proud Boys who considered themselves the “tip of the spear.” The film shows how Stone found out the hard way that his speech had been cut from the program: No one from the White House came to pick him up, leaving him standing on the sidewalk outside the Willard hotel.
The reason for the last-minute change was that Stone was seen by Trump’s handlers as one of the “crazies,” and they hoped to distance the president from his favorite convicted felons and conspiracy theorists; Meadows didn’t want the likes of Stone speaking on the same stage as Trump. In the end, Jones (whose speech was also dropped) led the crowd to the Capitol without Stone. Whether he was feeling bruised or relieved about being pulled from leading the mob, Stone chose to return to the hotel to watch the situation unfold on TV. Later, back in his suite, the film shows his reactions to the unfolding violence, and we see him pack his things to leave Washington in a hurry like a man running from the law.
A Storm Foretold also shows the pressures for a director in pursuing high stakes projects like this — Guldbrandsen had a heart attack in the middle of filming after learning Stone had agreed to have a different documentary production crew follow him instead. (Ultimately, Guldbrandsen and director of photography Frederik Marbell continued with insider access to Stone and ended with a total of 170 hours of fly-on-the-wall footage.) So the director carefully brings his own experience into the story, touching on his complicated relationship with Stone and the mutual exploitation it involved. This overtly subjective angle is effective because it feels honest, is not overdone and helps draw the viewer in.
As engrossing and important as A Storm Foretold is, it’s also likely to cause some frustration for those who know all about Stone and the criminal chaos that surrounds him. And while the filmmakers have to make cuts somewhere, Guldbrandsen’s view into the depths of far right U.S. politics leaves far too much out — including some of the relevant footage already published last year — and it glosses over or ignores many important details. For example, Stone’s conviction, commutation and ultimate pardon are dealt with more as a tense dramatic episode rather than as a criminal fact; we never hear any details of the seven felonies he was convicted of.
Moreover, the final edit of Stone’s actions during the hours of the insurrection is deceptive because it gives the impression that the camera was in the hotel room with Stone from the beginning to the end of the attack. In reality, as the filmmakers explained to The Washington Post last year, Marbell was locked out for about 90 minutes, and only later able to sneak in with a room service delivery. Even more problematic is that some key figures implicated in January 6 — associates of Stone who appear on camera — either go unnamed or their roles in the coup are ignored. We get a lot of Tarrio and Biggs, but A Storm Foretold would be an even more substantial work if additional information were included about the convictions, charges or known roles of other newsworthy players who appear on screen. Because, like it or not, this documentary is not just another Stone profile — it’s also a criminal exhibit.
As the clock winds down on the Trump presidency and Biden’s inauguration approaches, we watch Stone seethe uncontrollably at being refused a second, preemptive pardon. He expects to be arrested by the FBI. This time, his face twitching awkwardly in anger and fear, he appears to understand that without Trump’s protection, lengthy incarceration may be unavoidable — the jig may finally be up. The only consolation he gives himself while waiting in vain for another last-minute legal rescue suggests a more complex and insecure human being hiding behind the brash persona: “At least I won’t be out there alone this time.”