When big political scandals break on the national news, we can typically take some comfort in the fact that they’re taking place somewhere else. Even when trouble arrives in Wyoming, Park …
When big political scandals break on the national news, we can typically take some comfort in the fact that they’re taking place somewhere else. Even when trouble arrives in Wyoming, Park County residents can usually shake their heads and be glad the nonsense happened in another part of the state.
But there was little solace to be found when the New York Times released a bombshell investigation Friday, reporting that conservative activists effectively took on the role of spies in an attempt to gather dirt on Democrats and more moderate Republicans in Wyoming.
Political trickery is nothing new, but the allegations here are on another level. According to the Times’ reporting, a couple sought to ingratiate themselves with the Wyoming Democratic Party, the progressive group Better Wyoming, the left-leaning Wyoming Investor Network and House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, among others.
To make inroads, the pair used the tried-and-true tactic of making some big donations, but they also befriended their targets. Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca went on double dates and shared meals with the very Wyomingites they were spying on, the Times reported.
According to the Times, the effort was sponsored by Susan Gore, the Gore-Tex heiress and founder of the Wyoming Liberty Group, and engineered by a former British spy. While that might sound like something cooked up in a secret bunker within a Tom Clancy novel, the facts hit close to home: Maier is from Cody and the former MI6 officer, Richard Seddon, has ties to security contractor Erik Prince and has reportedly led training for would-be undercover political operatives at Prince’s Wapiti ranch.
The Times report suggests the goals behind the covert op included trying to find damning evidence against more moderate Republicans, to trick Democrats into launching legally suspect surveillance efforts and to push back on efforts to legalize marijuana in the state.
The whole thing is somewhat baffling. As state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, told WyoFile, “I don’t really understand why you would try and infiltrate the Democrats. They’re not driving the bus in this state, you know.”
Of course, the Times report indicates this operation was as much about targeting so-called “Republicans in Name Only” — an ongoing political battle in Wyoming — as it was about Democrats. But it still doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Last year, voters elected a number of more conservative lawmakers to the Wyoming Legislature — including some right here in Park County — and there’s no indication that it took any subterfuge, secret recordings or faked friendships to accomplish the feat. As you’d expect in a democratic republic, it just took campaigning.
Gore herself aided the election of multiple Wyoming legislators, contributing more than $31,000 to two dozen candidates in the 2020 Republican primary election. Presumably, Gore spent much more on the undercover operation. Whether she gained anything of political value from the effort remains to be seen, but it undoubtedly caused plenty of damage.
We wonder, did the organizers of and participants in this charade stop to think about the lives they would be upending — presumably including their own — whenever their ruse came to light? Breaking someone’s trust leaves long-lasting scars, with rippling effects.
“I go from not knowing how to feel to extremely violated,” state Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, one of the targeted individuals, told the Casper Star-Tribune. “These people were in my home.”
So far, the participants in the alleged operation have yet to say a word about the allegations raised in the New York Times piece. Perhaps there’s another side of the story that’s yet to emerge — that they were onto something so incredibly important it justified lying to their neighbors’ faces. But at this juncture, it seems more likely this is simply an escalation of the new normal in American politics — where the ends justify any means and all is fair in search of a win.
As Rep. Barlow put it to the Casper Star-Tribune, “It’s very disappointing that we would even consider this to be normal,” Barlow said, “and I don’t think anyone does, and I don’t hope they do.”
In the wake of this debacle, we hope Wyomingites can unite enough to send a message that these kinds of tactics are out of bounds.