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GOP operatives trained by ex-spies embedded themselves in Democratic operations across the West, NYT reported.
The operation was spearheaded by a hardline Trump ally and a former British spy.
It highlights the GOP's push to dominate national politics by taking over at the state and local level.
Update: The sentence referencing Project Veritas was updated on July 2, 2021.
An ultrawealthy Republican donor and a former British spy spearheaded an effort to train GOP operatives to go undercover and infiltrate liberal organizations, The New York Times reported Friday.
The donor, Erik Prince, is a hardline Trump supporter who founded the private military contractor Blackwater, now known as Academi. Prince worked with a former British spy, Richard Seddon, on a conservative operation to "infiltrate progressive groups, political campaigns and the offices of Democratic as well as moderate Republican elected officials during the 2020 election cycle," The Times reported, citing extensive interviews and documents.
The outlet reported that Prince first recruited Seddon at the beginning of the Trump administration and asked him to hire ex-spies to train Republican operatives in the art of political sabotage on his Wyoming ranch, adding a new layer to the term "ratf---ing."
Two of the undercover operatives were Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca. They embedded themselves in the Democratic operation in Wyoming, and targeted both progressives and moderate Republicans they believed were a threat to the Trump administration. According to The Times, Maier and LaRocca were based in Wyoming but ingratiated themselves in Democratic politics in Arizona and Colorado as well. Neither Maier nor LaRocca responded to the NYT's requests for comment.
And in retrospect, many of the personal details LaRocca offered to her new friends in Wyoming politics didn't add up: she claimed that she had to live in Colorado and not Wyoming because of her dog, and that she went under a fake name because of a stalker but changed it back because the police told her the stalker had "reformed."
The outlet reported that Seddon secured financial backing from Susan Gore, the wealthy Gore-Tex heiress, by the end of 2018 and began recruiting operatives from the right-wing group Project Veritas.
Project Veritas and its CEO, James O'Keefe, have trafficked in misinformation and propaganda and are known for selectively editing videos as part of sting operations against mainstream-media outlets. O'Keefe defended the group's work in a previous statement to Insider, saying that "not a single one of our videos has been deceptively edited or taken out of context."
One of the targets of the undercover GOP operation was the progressive group Better Wyoming. The head of the group, Nate Martin, told The Times that he believed the operation's goal was to "dig up this information and you sit on it until you really can destroy somebody."
After becoming deeply enmeshed with the Democratic party infrastructure in Wyoming, Maier and LaRocca got their feet in the door to a higher level of Democratic politics with sudden, substantial contributions to other western Democratic candidates like Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, raising questions about the duo's campaign finance activities.
"Sometimes when you're looking at patterns of contributions, you start to see people with relatively limited resources making sizable political contributions," Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center told The Times. "That can be a red flag."
George Durazzo Jr., a Democratic fundraiser in Colorado who secured sizable donations from Maier and LaRocca, was outraged when The Times told him of the two operatives' true goal.
"If they are indeed Benedict Arnold and Mata Hari, I was the one who was fooled," he said.
The extent of Prince and Seddon's effort underscores the Republican Party's push to dominate national politics by taking over at the state and local level. Indeed, since the 2020 election and Trump's failed efforts to nullify Joe Biden's legitimate victory, Republican state legislatures across the country have passed a slew of laws that would not only make it more difficult for voters to cast ballots, but also make it easier for partisan forces to control and potentially overturn states' election results.
Read the original article on Business Insider