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Fugitive political operative and Proud Boys associate goads judge in email, claims he runs a “kangaroo court”

Jacob Engels appears on the Info Wars website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. (Courtesy: YouTube)

In a defiant email written to a Central Florida judge, fugitive Republican blogger Jacob Engels all but dared the court to arrest him on a criminal contempt of court warrant he’s been dodging since last September. 

“I will fight from South Dakota and you can decide if you wish to violate the wishes of the Chief Judge about extraditing people on bullshit charges,” Engels wrote to Ninth Circuit Judge James Craner on April 27. “I am sure child support or other offenes [sic] are more worth your time.”

Judge Craner (Courtesy: 9th Judicial Circuit Court of FL)

Engels, a Proud Boys associate and protege of long-time Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone, has been wanted since Craner issued an arrest order for him last September. The order came after Engels’ failed to turn over court-ordered documents in a still-active defamation lawsuit filed against him in 2022 that alleges he was involved in a pay-to-play fake news operation targeting a former state House candidate. 

“I will not be a willing victim to this kangaroo court,” Engels wrote. 

It’s the latest development in the defamation case filed by Elizabeth Cornell, who ran in Lake County for the District 25 seat. She claims Engels, a self-described journalist, conspired with veteran GOP campaign operatives to defame her in two stories published on his Central Florida Post  website in 2022. The blog posts alleged Cornell took financial advantage of an elderly business client and had an affair with a married man. 

Shortly after Engels published, PACs controlled by high-level Republican operatives James Blair and Stafford Jones sent mailers to voters in Cornell’s district repeating the allegations. Both Blair, who serves as the political director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Jones backed the Republican incumbent in the primary, Taylor Yarkovsky, who won the election. 

Second of Engels’ two blog posts on Cornell.

The same GOP PACs paid Engels $3,800 when the first article was published, according to invoices obtained by Cornell’s attorney, Ricardo Reyes.

“Blair and Jones would pay Engels to publish defamatory posts on his blog site … which masqueraded as a legitimate news or news commentary site,” Reyes wrote in an amended complaint. “[A]nd then Blair and Jones would cite to and quote from Engels’ blog posts in mailers and texts to further defame Cornell and mislead Republican primary voters.”

Both Blair and Jones, who was a figure in the 2020 “ghost” candidate scandal involving three bogus state senate candidates, are named as defendants in the lawsuit, along with GOP consultant Ryan Smith. All three denied wrongdoing in court filings. 

In a phone interview with the Trident, Engels, who claimed to be in South Dakota, said the $3,800 payment he received was paid by Blair not for writing the Cornell stories but for shooting a video of his former boss, the operative Roger Stone, touting Cornell’s opponent, Yarkovsky.

Blair now works as political director for Trump’s presidential
campaign. (Courtesy: X/@JamesBlairUSA)

“I told James [Blair] from the start that was something he needed to be responsible for,” said Engels, who added that he had no idea what became of the video (a robocall Stone recorded for Yarkovsky’s campaign can be heard here).

“The legal system has zeroed in on people like Donald Trump and myself,” said Engels. “They came after my publication and attacked me. … This is an attack on free speech in America.”

Engels said his reporting on Cornell is supported by public records and called himself a victim of “lawfare.” 

In the complaint Reyes refutes the notion that Engels is a journalist — and Judge Craner ruled Engels’ didn’t qualify for journalist’s privilege in the case as well. 

“Engels is an Internet troll and political blogger who masquerades as a journalist and is paid to publish posts designed to politically damage targeted candidates,” the attorney wrote. 

Engels at work. (Courtesy: X/@RealJacobEngels)

Engels has long been a controversial bomb thrower in Florida, learning under the tutelage of Stone, a Fort Lauderdale resident and Trump-pardoned convicted felon who began his lurid career in the early 1970s as a dirty trickster for Richard Nixon. Stone was introduced to Trump by Red Scare lawyer Roy Cohn in 1979 and served as Trump’s top political aide, lobbyist, and “close friend,” as Stone puts it, for decades. 

Both Stone and Engels have been very closely linked to the right-wing extremist group Proud Boys and the two men were together in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 during the insurrection. Four Proud Boy leaders, including Stone and Engels’ associate Enrique Tarrio, were convicted last year of seditious conspiracy for orchestrating the attack on the Capitol that day. 

As part of that case, federal prosecutors investigated whether Engels was involved in the lead-up to the attack and if a 2018 mob protest outside the Broward Supervisor of Elections was a blueprint for the Proud Boys’ actions on January 6, according to the New York Times

“The prosecutors want to know whether Mr. Engels received any payments or drew up any plans for the Florida demonstration,” the newspaper reported in a Nov. 2022 article, “and whether he has ties to other people connected to the Proud Boys’ activities in the run-up to the storming of the Capitol.” 

Engels described his relationship with the Proud Boys as an advisor who would travel with them and help coordinate their events. He said he never took the “oath” to become an official member. As for January 6, he said he slept through most of the events of that day and was never questioned in the federal Proud Boys case.  

“I didn’t wake up until 2 in the afternoon,” said Engels. “I woke up in the hotel room and I turned on the TV and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Everyone is like, ‘Well, it’s happening.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ That’s it. I didn’t participate in it at all and I didn’t plan it.”

He said he flew back to Florida that afternoon, which he called a “planned maneuver” that also had nothing to do with the attack. 

Engels and Stone. (Courtesy: Facebook)

In the April 27 email to Craner, Engels alleges the judge is angling for federal judicial appointment, implying he’s acting out of political interest rather than the law. He doubled down on that combative stance in his interview with the Trident, implying Craner wanted him as a political trophy. 

“I understand [Craner] has a job to do,” said Engels. “You get Roger Stone’s No. 2, big bad Jacob, then you bring him down and he’s all in shackles. I get what’s going on. It’s not going to happen though.” 

Despite his taunting of the court, Engels has yet to be taken into custody. He said he’s had contact no fewer than three times with police for drinking-related incidents and each time they’ve declined to put him into custody. 

“They said you have a warrant,” said Engels. “They let me off three times out of three.” 

He said he remains in South Dakota.  

“I’m still fluid, I’m still mobile, and I’m where I need to be,” said Engels. “I’ll come back when I see that it’s fit for me come back. This whole idea that I’m running away is silliness. I’m not running away.”  

A spokesperson for the Ninth Circuit did not clarify whether the court was truly interested in apprehending Engels.

“The case before Judge Craner is a civil matter,” wrote Director of Court Programs Julio Semino to the Trident. “The next hearing is scheduled for June 19 at 8:30 a.m. We have no additional information.”

About the Author: Bob Norman is an award-winning investigative reporter who serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Trident and journalism program director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability. He can be reached at