Trumpist spy and smear op hiding in Wyoming

Erik Prince speaking at a Miller Center gathering on April 15, 2015.

The Whine and Cheesy Mussolini is a sick joke, but the war on democracy isn’t over. Trump may fade away but the far right menace has deep roots.

Consider a scandal in our neighboring state of Wyoming. It hasn’t received much attention. I couldn’t find any mention of it in Colorado news media.

New York Times reporters Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti recently revealed that Trump adviser Erik Prince, founder of the private mercenary contractor Blackwater (now known as Xe), worked with ex-British MI6 agent Richard Seddon on a spy and smear operation to infiltrate progressive groups, political campaigns and the offices of Democratic elected officials in Wyoming. They seemed to be rather paranoid since Wyoming is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican.

But they also targeted Republican elected officials who they considered to be insufficiently hardline. In addition, they messed around in Colorado and Arizona politics.

James O’Keefe speaking at an event in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore

At the beginning of the Trump administration, Seddon hired ex-spies and created a little school on the Prince family ranch in Wyoming teaching the art of political sabotage to Republican operatives. The participants included members of Project Veritas, an outfit run by James O’Keefe which claims to be a journalistic enterprise but is actually a far right group which engages in “dirty tricks” against progressive groups, Democratic politicians and mainstream news outlets. They have been around for many years and are active all over the country. They engage in “sting” operations designed to entrap their targets into actions or speech that would discredit them. They use hidden cameras and microphones and produce deceptively edited videos.

Trump helped boost the fortunes of Prince and O’Keefe. Prince’s firm Blackwater played a significant role in the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. In 2007, Blackwater security contractors shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded dozens more in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. When Obama became president, the company couldn’t have any more contracts with the U.S. government. Prince negotiated a settlement with the Justice Department over arms trafficking violations and Obama’s CIA director Leon Panetta revealed a secret assassination program involving Blackwater operatives that former Vice President Dick Cheney had hidden from Congress.

This was a low point for Prince. He changed the name of his company a number of times. He moved to oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2010. It was alleged he did this to escape possible criminal charges from the U.S. government. The U.S. and UAE have no extradition treaty.

Prince worked on military projects with UAE ruler Mohamed bin Zayed. In January 2017, at a resort in the Seychelles, Prince introduced bin Zayed to a Russian banker close to Putin. The Mueller investigators concluded this was an attempt to establish a backchannel between Russia and the incoming Trump administration.

Prince was already a pal of Steve Bannon, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, would become Trump’s Secretary of Education. Trump would later pardon Blackwater’s Nisour Square killers.

Shortly after Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, James O’Keefe visited Trump Tower. He had worked with Trump for years and Trump’s foundation had given O’Keefe at least $10,000. For years, he has faced criticism across the political spectrum. Many right wing donors publicly distanced themselves from his sleazy tactics. However, Project Veritas receives many anonymous millions from Donors Trust, which is heavily used by the Koch, Mercer and Coors families.

In 2020, The New Republic had a lengthy expose of a Project Veritas campaign to delegitimize mail-in voting.

In 2014, Mother Jones reported that Project Veritas attempted to discredit Colorado’s new universal mail-in ballot system. O’Keefe and his collaborators disguised themselves and approached numerous Democratic campaigns and political organizations in Colorado to mishandle or fraudulently cast mail-in ballots.

A man who said he was an LGBT activist came to a Democratic Party office in Boulder, asking if he could fill out ballots for other college students who had moved out of the state. He was told not to because it would be voter fraud.

A few days later, the man returned to the office with another man who he introduced as a 45-year-old CU Boulder “civics professor.” He had a phony mustache and heavy makeup. Staffers identified O’Keefe as the “professor.” O’Keefe would later tweet a photo of himself in this disguise.

By the way, the Republicans now control the U.S. House and are promising big investigations. 

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.