It sounds like something out of fiction: A Texas lawyer allegedly uses a violent group he was once a prominent member of to do surveillance as part of a plot to kill or injure an antagonist.
According to documents from a Texas police department newly released in connection with a lawsuit, former Proud Boys leader Jason Van Dyke is alleged to have done just that.
Van Dyke used the Arizona chapter of the Proud Boys to conduct surveillance on a Phoenix man as part of a plot to either injure or murder him in late 2018, Oak Point, Texas, police alleged in criminal case reports and an affidavit for a search warrant of Van Dyke’s home.
During a search of Van Dyke’s home, police seized a camera, a computer and a computer memory stick.
A police report detailed Van Dyke’s alleged plot to hurt or kill Thomas Christopher Retzlaff. Retzlaff filed a bar complaint against Van Dyke that resulted in the suspension of his law license.
The previously unnoted criminal reports and other documents stemming from the investigation surfaced in mid-March as part of a federal lawsuit filed by Van Dyke against Retzlaff.
The allegations didn’t lead to charges but are being used by Retzlaff as part of an attempt to have Van Dyke’s civil suit dismissed.
“No litigant, including Retzlaff, should be forced to bear the stress and expense of seeking protection from an attorney’s abuse and threats of murder,” Retzlaff’s attorney Jeffrey Dorrell wrote in a motion to dismiss on March 15.
Van Dyke, a neo-Confederate and onetime member of the Dallas chapter of the Proud Boys, has a history of caustic and threatening comments.
The group ousted him in November 2018.
The criminal case reports and related investigative documents show Van Dyke’s alleged ongoing association after the group ousted him.
The documents state that members of the Arizona chapter of the Proud Boys allegedly engaged in surveillance as part of the potentially deadly plot, despite the group’s insistence that its members disavow violence.
Van Dyke, in an email to Hatewatch, said he hasn’t attended a Proud Boys event “in over a year” and no longer represents the group. Van Dyke denied having Retzlaff surveilled.
“Although membership in the Proud Boys is for life, I do not see myself becoming involved with them or any other group again,” Van Dyke said.
FBI in Dallas declined to comment. Emails sent to the Arizona chapter of the Proud Boys did not receive a response.
A long-simmering dispute
Van Dyke and Retzlaff have been in a long-running fight.
Retzlaff, who has a record of multiple arrests in Texas, filed a complaint with the Texas Bar in 2018, accusing Van Dyke of being a neo-Nazi and white supremacist who ran an abusive Twitter account under a pseudonym.
The website ViaViews posted Retzlaff’s complaint online, even though such complaints are normally kept secret. The site includes multiple criticisms of Van Dyke, former Marine James McGibney, who runs a website called Cheaterville, which allows people to post allegations of infidelity, and others.
Van Dyke denied the allegations and sued Retzlaff in 2018, and the lawsuit was moved to federal court in Dallas later that year. Van Dyke asked the court to award him $100 million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages.
Concurrent with the lawsuit, Van Dyke sent emails to Retzlaff containing threats of retaliation for filing the Texas Bar complaint.
“Go f--- yourself and what's left of your miserable life,” Van Dyke wrote in a Dec. 12, 2018, email. “You have destroyed my life, and for that offense, you will pay with your own. That's not a threat. That’s a PROMISE motherf-----.”
Oak Point, Texas, police obtained a recording of Van Dyke and a friend talking from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task force in January 2019. The recording, transcribed in a police report by Oak Point Sgt. Brian Howard, revealed Van Dyke’s use of the Proud Boys as part of two separate plots.
One plan, Howard noted from his review of the recording, was expected to end in the death of Retzlaff.
The other, Howard wrote, included a series of acts that Van Dyke believed would terrorize Retzlaff and two other victims, “forcing them to live in fear of when he would show up.”
“On the recording, Van Dyke said that he had spent the better part of the week planning it and he had satellite photos through Google Earth and members of the Proud Boys Arizona Chapter on the ground doing surveillance on Tom Retzlaff,” Oak Point Sgt. Brian Howard noted in the police report.
Retzlaff told Hatewatch he didn’t know the Proud Boys were surveilling him.
“I had no f------ clue that God damn Nazis – with guns – were stalking me, my home, and my family. None of us ever had a clue,” Retzlaff said in an email. “After all, what, exactly, does a Proud Boy look like? Other than wearing that stupid black and yellow shirt at their rallies, you can’t tell who they are.”
Publicly, the Proud Boys, a self-described “western chauvinist” organization, disavow violence.
But members have been arrested and convicted of violent crimes. High-profile Proud Boy Tusitala “Tiny” Toese is banned from taking part in protests for two years in Multnomah County, Oregon, after pleading guilty on Jan. 14 to assault charges for punching a Portland antifascist in the face in summer 2018.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Dailey also placed Toese under two years of probation and ordered 80 hours of community service.
Two other members, Maxwell Hare and John Kinsman, were sentenced to four years in prison each for their roles in what a New York judge described as a “political street fight.”
Hare, 28, and Kinsman, 40, are currently in state prisons with projected release dates in March 2023.
They were among 10 men who prosecutors said attacked four people protesting a speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club by the Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes.
Hare and Kinsman were each convicted in August 2019 of attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot.
A Texas grand jury chose not to charge Van Dyke in September 2019.
The Texas Bar suspended Van Dyke’s law license in February 2019 and placed him on probation, requiring him to get mental health assistance.
Van Dyke’s license has since been reinstated.
Despite the lack of criminal charges and Van Dyke’s return to legal practice, the federal lawsuit remains ongoing and acrimony continues between the two men.
The lawsuit has a personal attack tone to many of the filings, an unusual quality in federal litigation.
And in emails made public as part of the lawsuit and in comments to Hatewatch, the two men continue to trade accusations and criticisms of each other.
In an email dated March 15 and made public as part of the lawsuit, Retzlaff dismisses Van Dyke’s defense that someone else sent the threatening emails under his name.
“And then please explain the FBI audio recording, the text messages, and the emails,” Retzlaff wrote. “And the Arizona Proud Boys.”
Van Dyke, in an email to Hatewatch, called Retzlaff a “sociopath.”
“I have never wanted anything to do with Mr. Retzlaff,” Van Dyke said. “I do not want anything to do with him now.”
Photo illustration by SPLC