A former British spy and Republican mega-donor Erik Prince, a founder of the private military contractor Blackwater (now rebranded as "Academi) and brother to former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, recruited a motley crew of home-grown American operatives from the conservative group Project Veritas and elsewhere to lead an initiative to infiltrate state-level Democratic party organizations and campaigns, according to a new report.
Prince, alongside the ex-MI6 officer he recruited to head the project, Richard Seddon, also targeted moderate Republican officials and those deemed as insufficiently dedicated to the hardline right-wing agenda favored by former President Donald Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.
The duo were bankrolled by the longtime conservative donor and heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, Susan Gore, and trained their operatives on a remote Wyoming ranch in areas like the "basics of espionage" and "political sabotage," according to the newspaper.
It remains unclear what level of success they were able to accomplish, though the Times notes Seddon and Prince placed two spies — Beau Maier, the nephew of conservative commentator Glenn Beck, and Sofia LaRocca, deep into Democratic political organizations in Wyoming, Arizona, and Colorado.
But then, at some point, Democratic operatives became suspicious of the story LaRocca was claiming, according to The Times:
Her behavior raised some suspicion. Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Maier lived in Fort Collins, Colo., only about 45 miles from Cheyenne, Wyoming's capital, but their residence prompted some Democrats to ask how they planned to organize a grass-roots campaign to flip the state while living in Colorado. Ms. LaRocca told others she could not rent a home in Cheyenne because she had a dog, an implausible explanation.
Ms. LaRocca had also introduced herself to party officials as Cat Debreau. She eventually told a story about why she later went by the name Sofia LaRocca: She had been the victim of an online stalker, she said, but decided to once again use her original name because the police had told her that her stalker had reformed.
"Her story from the start rang very untrue," said Nina Hebert, who at the time was the digital director for the Wyoming Democratic Party. "The police don't call you and say, 'Hey, your stalker is better.'"
One of the most prominent targets of the operation was Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican who many in Trump's corner viewed as overly moderate and whose candidacy Gore had vigorously opposed.
Maier and LaRocca were also able to install themselves within the Wyoming-based progressive organization, Better Wyoming, which only discovered the plot months later, after they had been well integrated into Better Wyoming operations. Nate Martin, the group's head, told the Times he suspected the idea was to "dig up this information and you sit on it until you really can destroy somebody."
Maier and LaRocca were married last week in Wyoming, according to the report. Glenn Beck delivered a toast at the reception.