Amid a chorus of cheers, boos, expletives and chants by protesters, political operative Roger Stone appeared Jan. 25 on the steps of a federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Stone, a close friend of President Donald Trump, had just been released on a $250,000 bond after being charged with obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements in special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Proclaiming his innocence, Stone struck a victory sign pose, mimicking his personal hero, the late president Richard Nixon. Then reporters lobbed questions.
One particular exchange struck historians as particularly strange.
“If you were convicted,” a reporter asked, “do you think the president would pardon you?”
“The only person I have advocated a pardon for,” Stone answered, “is Marcus Garvey.”
Marcus Garvey? As in Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the black nationalist leader who nearly a century ago inspired liberation movements in colonized Africa and the Caribbean? Garvey, who advocated self-governance, economic and political empowerment, and a “Back to Africa” movement for black people in the diaspora?
“Who would have imagined Roger Stone would be involved in this?” said Michael K. Fauntroy, associate professor of political science and acting director of the Ronald Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University. “Stone has been a master manipulator throughout his career. That he would attach himself so closely with Marcus Garvey is unusual, to say the least. Marcus Garvey, for those who know him, is a hero and a figure of historical significance. He was clearly targeted by the government for his beliefs and actions. Maybe Stone sees some kinship in that regard. “
One of Garvey’s sons, Julius Garvey, a vascular surgeon who lives in New York, said he was also surprised by the campaign by Stone to pardon his father but did not object to it.
“I thought it was interesting,” Julius Garvey said. “The more people who would like to see (a pardon) happen, the better.”
Julius Garvey has long argued that his father was targeted by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s “obsession to neutralize the rise of a black liberator.” Julius Garvey led the “Justice4Garvey” campaign to exonerate his father.
In 2011, the Barack Obama administration rejected a posthumous pardon for Garvey, and in 2017, Obama left office without granting a pardon to Garvey.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Stone said he became fascinated by Garvey after picking up a biography in a New York bookstore.He does not remember when or the name of the book, but a friend had recommended that he read about Garvey. After finishing the book, Stone recalled deciding: “Marcus Garvey is one of my political heroes.”
Stone was captivated by Garvey’s battles with the federal government and was convinced that Garvey was targeted because of his race and because he preached black capitalism, entrepreneurship and empowerment.
“He was railroaded by the FBI,” Stone said.
In the past two years, as Stone’s actions during the 2016 presidential campaign came under scrutiny by federal investigators, Stone said he has thought of Garvey as a kind of kindred spirit.
Stone has sought to portray himself as a victim of an “out-of-control” special counsel’s office conducting a “witch hunt” and bent on toppling Trump. His detractors have portrayed him as a traitorous schemer who allegedly served as a conduit between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization that published stolen emails that damaged the campaign of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. Stone vehemently denies coordinating with WikiLeaks.
When Trump won the election, Stone said he sent a letter to Trump, whom he has known and advised for nearly four decades, asking the president to pardon Garvey. But Stone said he has never directly discussed Garvey’s case with the president.
In October, Stone also wrote a column on his website StoneColdTruth.com calling on Trump to pardon Garvey.
“I think it is vital that the President use his pardon authority to clear the names of people who were convicted of non-violent crimes for largely race-based or political reasons,” Stone wrote. “There is no greater example than that of Marcus Garvey.”
Stone regards his campaign for Garvey as a way of countering claims on social media and television calling him a racist.
In 2012, Stone came under fire for tweeting that the liberal broadcaster Roland Martin is “a stupid negro.”
Martin called Stone a “superficial, petulant, racist child” in an interview with The Washington Post.
Stone said he regrets the Martin remarks and points to his support for reforming the criminal justice system and statements he has made urging Republicans to do a better job of outreach to African-Americans. Stone said that he has also advocated support for affirmative action, in defiance of opposition from fellow Republicans. He has for many years believed that Nixon did not receive enough credit for being an early supporter of affirmative action.
Last year, Trump granted a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, the nation’s first black heavyweight champion, who spent almost a year in prison after being targeted by Jim Crow-era prosecutors for marrying two white women.
Asked if Trump is considering pardoning Garvey, the White House responded by providing its guidelines for how it reviews petitions for pardons and commutations of sentences.
Garvey, who was born in 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914. It quickly grew into “the largest mass movement in African-American history,” according to the National Humanities Center, with 700 branches in 38 states by the early 1920s.
In 1918, Garvey established the Negro World newspaper and a year later bought an auditorium in Harlem. He called it Liberty Hall, where thousands flocked to hear him speak.
“Black people are subjects of ostracism,” Garvey said in a 1921 speech, to thunderous applause. “It is sad that our humanity has shown us no more love – no greater sympathy than we are experiencing. Wheresoever you go throughout the world, the black man is discarded as ostracized, as relegated to the lowest of things – social, political and economical.”
Garvey preached that the problem could be solved only through black pride and self-reliance.
To carry black people and cargo back to Africa, Garvey launched a steamship line, which he called the Black Star Line. The company sold stock for $5 a share.
This sale, along with Garvey’s rhetoric and following, attracted government attention. Garvey was targeted by Hoover. In documents released later, the FBI acknowledged that it began investigating Garvey to find reasons to “deport him as an undesirable alien.”
In 1921, Garvey’s steamship company announced to stockholders it would buy two more ships. But a newspaper that competed with the Negro World published an investigation claiming the U.S. Department of Commerce had no record of the ships.
Garvey, his treasurer and secretary were arrested and charged with using the U.S. Postal Service to defraud stockholders.
Garvey’s lawyer, William C. Matthews, urged him to plead guilty. Instead, Garvey fired Matthews and defended himself. On June 21, 1923, after a month-long trial, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in prison.
Then-President Calvin Coolidge commuted Garvey’s sentence after he served three years. Garvey was deported to Jamaica, where he is regarded as a national hero. He died in London in 1940.
“We believe Marcus Garvey was the subject of racial and political animus,” said Anthony T. Pierce, a partner at Akin Gump law firm, who filed a pardon petition June 24, 2016, while Obama was president.
The petition argued that Garvey was innocent, that he did not receive a fair trial, that a witness perjured himself and that the judge sided with the prosecution. “The Obama administration, both at the Justice Department level and the White House declined,” Pierce said this week. “We renewed the effort with Trump.”
But, Pierce added, “Roger Stone is not involved in our effort.”
Stone said he connected with Garvey’s swagger and style. Stone writes frequently about fashion, publishes an annual best- and worst-dressed list, and is known for his hand-tailored Cab Calloway-style suits and vintage hats.
Garvey was “a helluva dresser,” Stone said.
Pardoning Garvey, Stone said, would be a good look for the man who now occupies the Oval Office.
“I think it would send a signal,” Stone said, “a signal about equality and justice.”