By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s Democratic Party will not be intimidated by efforts by a pair of political operatives to infiltrate its ranks as reported by the New York times, according to a party spokeswoman.
Nina Hebert told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the two alleged spies, identified by the newspaper as Beau Maier and Sophia LaRocca, found nothing within the Democratic Party that could embarrass the party.
“We’re sad to see people like this exist in this world, although we aren’t surprised,” Hebert said. “If part of their goal was to make it harder for us to welcome volunteers, they’ve been totally unsuccessful. We will continue to work and press on.”
The newspaper published a story Friday alleging that the Maier and LaRocca were recruited by conservative forces to infiltrate the Wyoming Democratic Party and collect information that could be damaging to the party, as well as Democrat and moderate Republican candidates for office.
Maier is a Cody native and the nephew to conservative commentator Glenn Beck. He and LaRocca previously worked for Project Veritas, a far-right activist group.
The New York Times, citing unidentified sources, said the operation was funded by Gore-Tex heiress Susan Gore, who founded the Wyoming Liberty Group. According to the story by Mark Mazetti and Adam Goldman, Maier and LaRocca received training for covert operations at a ranch near Cody owned by Blackwater founder Erik Prince, where Maier’s mother works as a cook.
Hebert said while she knows the couple secretly recorded conversations among Wyoming Democratic Party staffers, they collected no damning information.
“They might have gotten some recordings of people saying they were overworked, tired and maybe thinking ‘Why do I do this job?'” she said. “But we’re not doing anything wrong. We stay on the right side of the law. It’s much ado about nothing.”
Hebert said that while the Democratic Party has brought their lawyer into conversations about this situation, they currently have no evidence of anything illegal taking place.
However, she added the party would welcome an investigation into donations made by Maier to the Wyoming Democratic Party.
“We haven’t currently returned that donation, but we also have no interest in keeping dirty money,” she said.
Hebert added that the party also doesn’t believe the Wyoming Republican Party is involved with the political espionage.
Wyoming Republican Party officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The alleged operation was called a disgrace to the state by a state legislator whose husband runs an organization reported targeted by the two.
Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, whose husband Nate Martin heads “Better Wyoming,” a liberal grassroots organization, penned an open letter to her colleagues in the Legislature on Friday criticizing the action.
“Maier, LaRocca and the people who hired them have disgraced the integrity of the State of Wyoming, the chambers we serve and the relationships we have built with one another,” the representative said. “They have dishonored the institution we all swore an oath to serve.”
She added that Maier, LaRocca and their employers were working to tear the Wyoming House of Representatives apart and cause chaos and distrust among Republicans and Democrats.
Provenza also said this would be a defining moment for the Wyoming Legislature and politicians should decide what they think is acceptable.
“What sort of legacy do we want this Legislature to leave, and what must be done to ensure our legacy is one of integrity, respect and honor?” she wrote.
According to the New York Times account, Maier approached Better Wyoming posing as a military veteran suffering from PTSD who supported the legalization of marijuana to treat medical problems.
LaRocca, who at the time identified herself as Sofia “Cat” Deabreu, participated in the fall 2019 Better Wyoming Grassroots Institute, a multi-week course meant to equip Wyoming residents with skills and knowledge to build grassroots power and effect change in their communities.
Both Martin and Provenza befriended the operatives while they were undercover and even shared meals together.
“The whole time, they were lying to my wife and me about who they were and what they were up to, and they were actively trying to get us to say or do things that could ruin our careers and hurt us,” Martin told the New York Times. “Politics aside, that’s just a disgusting thing to do to other people. But, again, the people who hired them support policies that defund public schools and block folks from getting healthcare, so it’s pretty clear they don’t care much about people to begin with.”
It is unknown what information Maier and Larocca captured, and none of it has been released publicly so far.
In February 2020, a person affiliated with Maier and LaRocca secretly recorded Martin and another Better Wyoming staffer after an event at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne. That footage was posted on a now-deleted website, WyoRinoHunters.com.
Maier also made two donations to Better Wyoming of $1,000 each.