I want to peddle a conspiracy theory.
I'm not in the business of publishing convoluted, unsubstantiated political yarns. But this one involves Roger Stone, the Machiavellian schemer and sometime Donald Trump adviser and Wikileaks ally and Robert Mueller Russia probe player and regular on the lunatic right InfoWars media network, and bestselling author of conspiracy theory books.
So it seems not so out of bounds in this case.
Today an outfit called National Liberty Federation began airing about $290,000 in ads on radio and Fox News TV stations across Florida hammering Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis:
"It was supposed to be a revolution to take back Washington. But when Ron DeSantis got elected, he couldn't wait to be part of the in-crowd. Here's just one example: DeSantis started cozying up to two defense contractors and almost immediately began taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from them. And then, unbelievably, even moved into a luxury, beachfront condo owned by – you guessed it — two defense contractors. Even DeSantis was forced to admit that this was the case. DeSantis didn't throw the bums out of Washington; He moved right in with them, and this is exactly what conservatives like us are steaming mad about. People like Ron DeSantis going to Washington, forgetting who sent them there, and then becoming part of the problem. For more information go to RonDeSantisfact.com."
The National Liberty Federation is run by a Palm Beach County resident named Everett Wilkinson, who used to call the group the South Florida Tea Party. Wilkinson for years has worked closely with Roger Stone, hosting a 2011 Boca Raton Trump rally that served as a harbinger of his presidential campaign, vocally supporting more casinos in Florida, another Stone cause, and serving as the press contact promoting Stones latest book about the Trump campaign. In 2015 Wilkinson helped Stone fight a plan for the South Florida Water Management District to buy 46,800 acres of U.S Sugar land to help restore the Everglades.
So why would Stone want to tear down Ron DeSantis, when DeSantis has the support of Trump, Stone's longtime friend and onetime client?
This is where it gets complicated, as it so often does with Stone. Bear with me, as I veer into unsubstantiated theory territory. (When and if Stone responds to my messages, I'll update this post. He has been sore with me since I wrote a profile of him last fall that he disliked, but he's normally not one to duck questions or publicity.)
UPDATE: Stone's response is posted below.
Anyhoo…one of Stone's most longstanding clients is U.S. Sugar. The sugar industry has reason to worry about DeSantis, since the northeast Florida conservative opposes taxpayer subsidies like those the sugar industry depends upon, and he voted against the farm bill.
The sugar candidate in the governor's race is clearly Adam Putnam. Agriculture commissioner Putnam is so closely aligned with the industry he would be comfy wearing candy wrapper suits.
DeSantis is the main threat to Putnam winning the Republican nomination. So what's the best way to defeat DeSantis?
Obviously ads like the ones that started today help soften him up. Another big threat to DeSantis would be Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran gaining enough traction to divide the tea party/hard right vote that Corcoran and DeSantis both are vying for.
Sugar interests may prefer Putnam, but that doesn't mean they won't also give a hand to Corcoran. Remember the ancient proverb: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The anti-DeSantis campaign has been building below the radar for some time.
In late January, a web site, RonDeSantisfacts.com, went live, essentially unloading an oppo file on DeSantis. St0ne's pal at the National Liberty Federation set it up.
In early February, Stone and Corcoran met together at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee, raising plenty of eyebrows.
A week or so later, one of Stone's alt right acolytes, Orlando-area blogger Jacob Engels, on Twitter hailed Corcoran's debate performance against Democrat Andrew Gillum:
Engels (He has an Andrew Jackson tattoo, and Stone a Richard Nixon tat) had previously been a Corcoran critic.
In March, Engels appeared with Stone on Alex Jones' InfoWars site to blast DeSantis and question whether Trump really prefers DeSantis for governor. Corcoran is supposed to be a Stone guest on the InfoWars soon.
The DeSantis campaign is aware of Stone's attacks on DeSantis. Campaign manager Brad Herold noted that Stone used to be a big fan, even persuading Trump to tweet out praise for then-congressional candidate DeSantis in 2012.
"As far as I know, Roger's been a fan of Ron's for years," Herold emailed. "No idea why he's giving credence to these false attacks now. We hope Roger will join the President in supporting Ron's campaign for Governor. "
My theory? Stone has a sugary, sweet tooth that ensures DeSantis is in for some tough attacks ahead.
UPDATE: Stone posted the following on Facebook:
The last time Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a profile of me it was so rife with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods that I vowed never to speak to this fake news hatchetman again. Now Smith is back with a guilty-by-association hit piece that jumps to conclusions but provides no documentation to his wild-ass allegations. The new article contains several other slurs and falsehoods but no evidence , facts or proof of his latest left wing conspiracy theory. Adam Smith is not a reporter and his out/put is the epitome of fake news . Call him back ? Adam Smith can go to hell