Nirvana played in the background as reddish hues of lights and cigarette smoke coated the Paper Moon Gentlemen's Club in Midlothian. In the middle of the club, dancer after dancer paced the walkway and performed their routines on poles as guests socialized and watched, drinks in hand.

Apart from the usual crowd, a variety of new faces lined up. They waited eagerly to shake President Donald J. Trump associate Roger Stone’s hand and take pictures with him, later buying t-shirts from the “Manhattan Madam,” Kristin Davis, at a table to the side.

Stone and Davis appeared at the club on Saturday, May 4, to fundraise for Stone’s legal defense by engaging in a meet-and-greet, giving a speech, signing autographs and books and selling t-shirts.

“I'm here because I believe in the First Amendment,” Stone told The Collegian. “I'm here because I believe in free speech. I'm here because I believe in free expression. And I'm here because they invited me.”

Stone is a Trump associate and former political adviser who has been indicted by a federal grand jury on seven charges as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation; five for false statements, one for obstruction of an official proceeding and one of witness tampering. Stone has been released on a $250,000 bond, pending his trial that begins Nov. 5, 2019.

“I have pleaded not guilty to all charges,” Stone said. “And I believe that I will be acquitted. And I'm looking forward to vindication.”

Davis is a long-time associate and friend of Stone, and serves in a prominent role in the fundraising campaign for Stone’s legal defense. Davis is known as the “Manhattan Madam,” a former madam who ran a high-end prostitution ring in New York City in the 2000s. She also ran for New York governor in 2010. Davis testified to a grand jury as part of Mueller’s investigation as well.

On Feb. 21, Stone was placed under a gag order that bars him from publicly discussing his case. The order still allows Stone to fundraise for his legal defense and explain in simple terms that he has pleaded not guilty, according to Politico. The order – which was a broadening of a previous limited gag order set on Feb. 15 by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman – was prompted after Stone had posted an image of crosshairs beside Jackson on Instagram, which Jackson perceived as a threat.

The event began at 8 p.m., and attendees paid $25 at the door for the opportunity to meet Stone and Davis.

Mike Dickinson, projects director at Paper Moon said that Davis – who Dickinson said he already knew – acted as matchmaker between Stone and Paper Moon for the event. He said that Stone would be paid a fee for the event and that Stone was “getting paid well.” Dickinson said that the event was entertainment and not a political endorsement.

Along with his appearance at the Paper Moon, Stone plans to continue traveling to other fundraising events, including stops at the Ft. Lauderdale Yacht Club, and Memphis, Tennessee, Stone and Davis said. On May 13, Stone spoke at an event organized by Women for Trump Sarasota-Manatee in Sarasota, Florida. To date, approximately 40,000 Americans have contributed to funding Stone’s legal defense, Stone told The Collegian.

Stone's legal defense is projected to cost as much as $2 million, according to the website for the fund. The financial impact of the investigation and charges against him has been negative for his family and personal finances, Stone told The Collegian. 

The investigation into Stone by Mueller and his team was a common topic of conversation among attendees.

Richmond local Rod P., 29, criticized the treatment of Stone by members of the justice system over the course of the investigation and grand jury proceedings, such as the FBI raid of Stone’s house in January 2019. 

Rod also believes that Stone is being wrongly accused, forcing Stone to appear at places like Paper Moon to talk.

“He's committed obviously no crime that has anything to do with Russia,” Rod said.

Having appeared before a grand jury during the Mueller investigation, Davis told The Collegian on Saturday that the process was set up for those testifying to fail. When she appeared before the grand jury, it was in a private room, she did not have a defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney was friendly with the jury and was able to ask leading questions, while Davis was often forced to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a question without the ability to contextualize, she told The Collegian. 

Richmond local David Kulp attended the event wearing a Make America Great Again hat – as did a handful of other attendees – and was there to support Stone. 

“He got f----ed,” Kulp said. 

Kulp believes that Stone did not intentionally lie under oath, but that he was simply mistaken under oath. Kulp believes that the Mueller investigation was a conspiracy to target Trump’s allies to make people not want to work for Trump in 2020. 

Kulp has had his own encounters with the justice system, he said. He was once party to a case that lasted nine years and cost him $100,000 in legal fees before being thrown out by a judge, he said. 

“They don’t give fair trials,” Kulp said.

Patrick, 34, was at the club to show Stone that he has supporters and people who believe in him, he said. Patrick believes that the charges brought against Stone were part of a mass attack to de-platform and silence unpopular viewpoints, he said. Patrick believes that the gag order limits Stone’s ability to earn income and mount a legal defense, he said.

Several members of The Proud Boys Fraternal Organization, including Patrick, attended the event. The Proud Boys is a men’s fraternal organization whose basic tenet is “we are ‘Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,'” according to its website.

The website states that The Proud Boys group is anti-social-justice-warrior without being alt-right and that the term “Western chauvinist” includes “all races, religions and sexual preferences.”

“If anything sums up The Proud Boys it’s that we don’t care who you are or where you’re from, if you believe that everyone has the right to speech or to protection from aggressors, you can be a Proud Boy,” Patrick said. 

The Proud Boys is a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the SPLC entry on The Proud Boys, the presence of its members at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and repeated Islamophobic remarks by its founder, VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, are cited as reasons for the designation. However, the FBI does not classify The Proud Boys as an extremist group. 

For Patrick, being a Proud Boy is about individualism, free speech and intellectual diversity, he said.

“Diversity of thought is crucial to a functioning society,” Patrick said. 

He believes that Stone’s situation is emblematic of a dangerous increase in the persecution of unpopular opinions in American society, he said.

Not all attendees were supporters of Stone. Nicholas White, 28, of Richmond – who describes himself as "politically liberal" – decided to come to the event after hearing an advertisement on the radio and responding in disbelief.

“‘Why are you giving speeches now? Why at a strip club?’” White said. “So I'm morbidly curious about what's going on.”

This is not the first time Paper Moon has featured someone involved in the drama surrounding the Trump administration. Stormy Daniels, a former adult film star paid $130,000 by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to cover up her sexual encounter with Trump, appeared at the club in December 2018, Dickinson said.

“We're open to scheduling pretty much anyone that wants to come … that has a name, that has something to say that people want to see,” Dickinson said.

Contact columns editor Cal Pringle at cal.pringle@richmond.edu and managing editor Arrman Kyaw at arrman.kyaw@richmond.edu.