‘They Were Hired Guns:’ Exposed Espionage Scheme Shocks Wyoming

A recent New York Times investigation revealed that conservative spies infiltrated several progressive organizations in the Cowboy State.
The Wyoming GOP has not yet commented on the Times' investigation into right-wing espionage in Wyoming. The state Democratic Party has condemned the infiltration scheme. (Victor Moussa/Shutterstock)

by | Jul 12, 2021 | Politics & Policy

When Nate Martin woke up in the morning of June 27 to the New York Times piece outlining right-wing espionage attacks in Wyoming, he felt a sense of relief. The investigation revealed that conservative operatives infiltrated several progressive political groups across Wyoming in the years leading up to the 2020 presidential election. 

“Obviously, we’d known that it was going to come out for a long time and it was honestly just kind of nice to have everything out in the open,” Martin said. “By that point in time, we knew that we had been targeted.”

Martin is executive director of Better Wyoming, a nonprofit organization that advocates for progressive policies like Medicaid expansion and marijuana reform. The group was one of several in the Cowboy State infiltrated by undercover conservative agents as part of a scheme directed by a former British spy and backed by funding from a major Libertarian donor.

“The spies themselves didn’t really have their individual motivations,” Martin said, speaking of the main couple who gained access to and befriended key Wyoming Democrats like him. “They were hired guns working for what seems like Susan Gore and potentially some other people.”

Susan Gore is an heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune and founder of the Libertarian think tank Wyoming Liberty Group. According to the Times’ investigation, she also funded what was intended to be a long-term intelligence gathering operation in which two spies posed as wealthy Democrats.

One of the spies, who was using an alias at the time but whom has now been identified as Sofia LaRocca, introduced herself to Better Wyoming in a Zoom meeting in the fall of 2019. 

Sofia LaRocca introduces herself to Better Wyoming in 2019, using her partner’s laptop. (Screenshot Courtesy of Better Wyoming)

LaRocca and her partner, Beau Maier, used large donations to insert themselves into the fabric of the left in Wyoming, making the case that the state could flip blue within the next 20 years. Eventually, they even went on double dates with Martin and his partner, a Democratic representative in the State House. Martin suspected the couple might have been spies before the Times exposed them, but he still felt violated and lied to when it was confirmed. 

“That’s a pretty wild and negative and disorienting experience,” Martin said. 

While exactly what the spies were trying to do and what they achieved is still unclear, Martin suspects they were mostly just looking to dig up dirt and to potentially secretly video record powerful progressives in order to hurt their credibility. The spies also targeted so-called RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, whom funder Gore saw as enemies to her far-right conservative agenda, according to the Times. And Martin said he doesn’t think this will be the last story published about those efforts. 

“It does seem like Susan Gore and her henchmen, you know, did illegal things in the course of this operation, including making straw man donations where one person gives another money to donate to a political campaign or make a political donation,” Martin said. 

But the fallout runs much deeper than the criminal justice system. Sven Larson worked for nearly a decade as a researcher and writer for the Wyoming Liberty Group, the organization Gore founded. Despite knowing her for years, Larson said he knew nothing about the operation going on behind the scenes. 

Sven Larson in a video analyzing Wyoming’s economy in 2019. (Screenshot/Wyoming Liberty Group)

“I worked for Susan for so long that I felt that she had flown mud all over everything that anybody did who was associated with her during all those years with Wyoming Liberty Group,” Larson said. “Whatever we did, our work is now somehow sort of tarnished by what she had done.”

Larson said he’s been a target of foul play from the left before, including in his home country of Sweden, but never at this level. 

“I felt morally betrayed by Susan when I read about this, and I would assume that others would,” he said. “It’s become more difficult for me to get back and work with issues in Wyoming as a result of this.”

Despite Larson’s condemnation, other conservative figures in Wyoming have been hesitant to speak out against Gore, including the prominent radio figure Glenn Woods, who outright denied the Times reporting on his podcast and live radio show. Larson said there’s almost no chance the story isn’t true.  

“You do not go after somebody like Susan Gore in an article in The New York Times unless you know what you’re doing,” he said. “Susan Gore is a very wealthy woman. If they had been lying about this, there would be probably 50 lawyers crawling all over The New York Times right now.”

Wyoming Liberty Group founder and Gore-Tex heiress Susan Gore. (Wyoming Liberty Group)

Nonetheless, alternative narratives persist. The state and Teton County Republican parties have both remained silent following the story’s release. Larson hopes the investigation is a wake-up call for those conservatives, and a reminder that convincing the other side that you’re right through substantive discussion is a better way to get things done. 

“By stepping away from that honorable debate and going into this, Susan has de facto acknowledged that she doesn’t think that you can win the debate from the conservative side honorably. And to me, that felt like a betrayal because I’m confident that you can,” Larson said.

Neither Gore, her lawyer nor the undercover operatives responded to The Times’ requests for comment on the investigation. The nonprofit publication WyoFile has also published more evidence of Gore’s financial influence in Wyoming politics in recent weeks.

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's first full-time reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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