How an ex-madam, a political trickster and a toddler got tangled up in the Russia investigation

On Friday, Davis, who has worked as a Web designer and travel scheduler for Stone, became the latest associate of the political operative to appear before the grand jury convened by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

.. At least half a dozen of Stone’s associates have been subpoenaed or been contacted by the special counsel’s office. Investigators have been looking into Stone’s communication with the Twitter persona Guccifer 2.0

.. Late last month, Stone, 65, posted a photo of Davis, 41, and her son on his Instagram account, writing: “Why do FBI agents dispatched by Robert Mueller keep asking a number of my current and former associates if I am this baby’s father? What does this have to do with Russian Collusion and the 2016 election.”

.. Davis, a poised and articulate speaker who has touted her business acumen, had a compelling backstory, one with natural appeal to Stone, a bon vivant with a long-established reputation for taking delight in all things salacious who sometimes quips that he is “tri-sexual. I’ve tried everything.”

.. In her late teens, she says, she was already working in the finance industry, eventually becoming a vice president at an East Coast hedge fund in her early 20s. She noticed how highflying finance types celebrated by hiring prostitutes. Sensing a business opportunity, she opened a high-end prostitution service in New York.

.. At its height, she says, she had a roster of 10,000 clients willing to pay more than $1,000 an hour for sex or companionship. She managed the business but didn’t have sex with clients herself, she says. Her staff called her “Mama Fabulous.” She also developed her own websites — a skill that would come in handy years later when she met Stone.

.. Davis has claimed repeatedly that Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor, was one of her frequent clients, using the code name “James” while he was serving as the state’s attorney general.

.. Davis was arrested and sent to Rikers in 2008, the same year that Spitzer, who was never charged with a crime, resigned as governor after the New York Times reported that he’d patronized the Emperors Club VIP, another high-priced prostitution service.

.. Stone, who’d helped her through months of her pregnancy, had a suggestion for the infant’s name: “Roger.”

“Roger kind of felt like he deserved it,” Davis says with a chuckle. “I said, ‘Absolutely not!’ ”

Instead, Stone and his wife, Nydia, became the child’s godparents.

.. Stone’s quarters are equipped with broadcasting equipment for his regular appearances on Infowars, the controversial, conspiracy-oriented website run by Alex Jones. As the Mueller probe has progressed, the apartment — much like Stone’s home and office in Florida — has become a command center in his campaign to discredit the investigation.

When the Tide Comes In

In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial “revealing” a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as “a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist,” asked, “Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?”

(More about that “supposedly” later.)

“But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent,” Judis recounts. “He wrote Bonbrake, “I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives].”

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review’s editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn’t be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

.. In January of 1959, The Mercury had run an editorial “revealing” a Jewish conspiracy of world conquest along the lines of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Buckley was under pressure from backers of NR and others to publicly rebuke and denounce The Mercury. But some on the NR board worried that it would cost the fledgling magazine many of its subscribers. One board member, Mrs. A. E. Bonbrake, whom Judis describes as “a Forest Hills housewife whom Buckley had promoted to the board as a representative grass-roots activist,” asked, “Since when is it the job of National Review to attack supposedly anti-Semitic publications?”

(More about that “supposedly” later.)

“But Buckley felt hypocritical at remaining silent,” Judis recounts. “He wrote Bonbrake, “I do not feel comfortable criticizing Liberals . . . for not disavowing objectionable Liberals, when I do not myself [disavow objectionable conservatives].”

Buckley first settled for a compromise: National Review’s editors would not write for The Mercury nor would National Review publish anyone associated with it. If you were on their masthead, you couldn’t be on ours. Remember, The Mercury had long been a respected publication on the right, and many of the writers at National Review had cut their teeth writing for it. Many were on both mastheads, in one capacity or another. No longer. You can be with us or with them, but not both. All but one writer sided with National Review.

.. What bothers me is how high these bucks had to go before anyone thought, “Maybe it should stop with me?”

..  the “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” swag among supposed “America First” “nationalists,” Laura Ingraham’s nativist remarks the other night, and this sort of nonsense from Jeanine Pirro.

..  As institutions lose their hold on us, we put our faith in celebrities.

.. Fame becomes its own defense, and instead of invoking principles to stigmatize and shun the irresponsible famous, we yoke convenient principles to the cause of rationalizing our feelings. The round peg of the First Amendment is crammed into square holes. Populist and anti-elitist boilerplate is slapped together to protect the indefensible from criticism. So-and-so has an “authentic constituency,” “Who are you to say what is a legitimate point of view?” “Who put you in charge of policing speech?”

.. There was no legitimate defense of The Mercury against the charge of anti-Semitism. But by saying it was only “supposedly” anti-Semitic, Mrs. Bonbrake was really saying, “I choose not to care about the true or the good; instead I will let evil thrive, sheltered by a benefit of the doubt both unearned and unwanted by the rightly accused.”

.. I am not a huge fan of the argument that says, “The only cure for bad speech is more speech.” But if that argument is to mean anything at all, it must be applied seriously. In other words, if you want to defend the speech of Alex Jones or the bigots swarming out of the swamps, you cannot then denounce, belittle, or mock the exercise of anyone’s right to condemn that speech.

.. When it falls to a bunch of giant corporations — or the federal government — to decide what speech is permissible, it is usually a sign that the rest of civil society has failed to do its job. It is axiomatic that in a free society with a limited government, customs and norms should be strong and robust.

.. The same goes for cynical psychopaths such as Alex Jones. It was outrageous for Donald Trump to go on his show and praise him.
.. My objection is that she has been a guest on Alex Jones’s Infowars.
.. Oh, and if you think such niceties are unnecessary today because “winning” is the highest principle in an existential war with “the libs,” bear in mind that Buckley, Chambers, Burnham, and the other happy few conservatives at NR were far more outnumbered in 1955, and that the institutional forces arrayed against them were far more daunting, than anything conservatives face today. And yet Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”
.. Cultures are shaped by incentives. The GOP has been grievously wounded and deformed by the refusal of conservatives, in and out of elective office, to lay down the correct incentives. By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

How QAnon and Sacha Baron Cohen Speak to the Same Desperate Need

Baron Cohen’s targets in his Showtime series, “Who Is America?,” are the élites, in the broadest sense of the word: nice upper-middle-class Southern conservatives, a contemporary-art curator, Senator Bernie Sanders. He has filmed N.R.A. hacks voicing support for giving guns to kindergarteners, Republican politicians reading utter gibberish off a teleprompter and making asses of themselves in ways imaginable and not, and the art curator earnestly discussing fake art made of apparently real excrement by a fake ex-convict.

Every segment of every episode is designed to leave the viewer feeling not so much appalled—something a sentient being in today’s America experiences many times a day—as finally enlightened: the ultimate explanation for what’s happened to us is that everyone is a moron.

.. Most recently, a hypothesis has emerged, laid out by Ryan Broderick at BuzzFeed, that Q is, in fact, an elaborate lefty prank intent on duping conservatives into following cockamamie theories. If this is true, Q is a cousin, rather than a mirror, of Baron Cohen.

..  September 11th gave rise to truthers, the election of Barack Obama brought forth the birthers, and school shootings enabled Alex Jones.

.. The QAnon message to its followers is that someone is in charge, that reality is knowable even if it is convoluted—and that someone, reassuringly, knows much more than you do. The Q theories acknowledge that the state of the country is awful, but they promise that the insanity is temporary because the great leader is conjuring order from chaos.

.. Baron Cohen’s message is equally clarifying. He demystifies power to an unprecedented extent. He shows that idiocy and incompetence are all there is. Here, the person who knows everything is Baron Cohen himself—and because we viewers are in on the secret, it makes us feel competent. The state of the country is, as in Q’s theories, horrifying, but also temporary, because these buffoons can’t possibly stay in power. We, the more intelligent people, will somehow prevail.

.. “Who Is America?” may appear as if it exposes evil, when really Baron Cohen is exposing the extreme flexibility of social norms. What the art curator, the nice Republican couple, and most of Baron Cohen’s politician targets have in common is their willingness to humor a visitor.

Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will.

Values would require that Twitter make tough calls on high-profile and obviously malevolent figures, including tossing them off as a signal of its intent to keep it civil.

And Mr. Jones is not even an edge case: His bilious lies, including that the murders of the Sandy Hook Elementary children were “synthetic, completely fake, with actors,” clearly sully the platform.

Twitter has certainly appeared to have adjusted the rules for Donald Trump. While the president has not descended down the same demented rabbit hole as Alex Jones, many argue that he has violated various Twitter rules, by threatening violence (he did so against North Korea and later Iran) and by systematic harassment of people (the list is too long).

.. Yes, many sources assure me that there is indeed a pull-emergency-brake plan for him, but it hasn’t come to that. Yet.

.. In any case, if you get kicked off Twitter, you can always unload your twisted mind on your very own website.

..  His intent was to tamp down widespread rumors that Twitter was “shadow banning” — who comes up with these creepy terms? — some conservative users. The idea is that their posts mysteriously don’t show up in search results. Twitter did not do that, Mr. Dorsey said, “period.”

.. It was opened by Mr. Dorsey, who sat cross-legged on the stage, leading a 10-minute meditation for his most fervent followers — Twitter’s employees flown in from across the globe.

.. The event had a very Silicon Valley feel-good vibe, and veered awfully close to becoming a spoof of itself.