Crime

The Target of an Alleged Proud Boys Plot Has Been Found Murdered in El Mirage

Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group of "western chauvinists."
Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group of "western chauvinists." Zee Peralta
A man who allegedly was the previous target of a surveillance and assassination plot by a former attorney for the Proud Boys was found murdered in El Mirage, Arizona, earlier this month.

On September 1, 2021, El Mirage Police Department officers discovered 55-year-old Thomas Christopher Retzlaff dead at his home with unspecified "fatal injuries" after responding to a welfare check requested by his wife, according to agency spokesperson Timothy Mason. The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner later ruled the death a homicide.

In recent years, Retzlaff had been entangled in a vicious and convoluted legal battle with Jason Van Dyke, a Texas-based attorney who is a former Proud Boys member and once served as the group's lawyer.

Van Dyke filed a $100 million libel lawsuit in federal court in 2018 accusing Retzlaff of falsely calling him a Nazi and a pedophile in blog posts. Retzlaff had also filed bar complaints against Van Dyke in an attempt to derail his potential job as a prosecutor in the Victoria County District Attorney's Office, according to a report by The Daily Beast.


Retzlaff had a track record of criminal misconduct: He was previously convicted of misdemeanor assault against his wife, tampering with government records, and a felony weapons offense, per The Daily Beast. At the time of his death, Retzlaff was facing prosecution in Maricopa County Superior Court for charges including identity theft and forgery, according to online court records.
click to enlarge Jason Van Dyke - PHOTO VIA COURT RECORDS
Jason Van Dyke
Photo via court records

In March 2020, Retzlaff's attorney tried to get the federal lawsuit dismissed by accusing Van Dyke of attempting to orchestrate an "assassination plot" to kill Retzlaff. The attorney cited an Oak Point Police Department report that discusses an audio recording obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that features Van Dyke claiming that he had "members of the Proud Boys Arizona Chapter" doing surveillance on Retzlaff. Van Dyke said on the recording that the layout of Retzlaff's residence at the time — a high-rise apartment in the "center of Phoenix" — made it difficult to get a "clean shot with a rifle." The recording also allegedly revealed that Van Dyke had "two separate plans, one of which ended in the death of Retzlaff."

Retzlaff's motion claimed that Van Dyke directly threatened to kill Retzlaff on numerous occasions. In one instance, Van Dyke allegedly told him, "No more lawsuit. See you this weekend with my rifle." In an email sent to Retzlaff on December 12, 2018, Van Dyke wrote, "I promise you motherfucker: if my law career dies, you die with it..."

In a court filing responding to these allegations, Van Dyke wrote, "There is no credible or admissible evidence before this Court to suggest that Defendant's wild theories of a conspiracy to murder both him and his counsel have any credibility whatsoever."

In November 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Amos L. Mazzant dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice — meaning that Van Dyke could have technically refiled it at a later date. In his ruling, Judge Mazzant referred to the case as "protracted and spiteful litigation."

Reached by phone Thursday night, Van Dyke, who was in the middle of a Dungeons and Dragons game, told Phoenix New Times that he was "glad to hear" that Retzlaff had died. He said that he had no involvement in his death.

Van Dyke denied the existence of an assassination plot and said he'd never asked any Proud Boys members in Arizona to surveil Retzlaff. He dismissed the recorded conversation where he talked about a scheme to murder Retzlaff as him just "venting" to his roommate.

But he admitted to fantasizing about the idea of killing Retzlaff.

"People asked me, 'Well, did you think of killing him at that time?' Well, yes, I did — who wouldn't in that situation?" Van Dyke said. "Did that thought pass through my head? Yes. Did I decide ultimately not to do it? Of course."

"Candidly, at that time, I was not in a good state of mind," Van Dyke added. "It was exhausting dealing with this guy."

Attempts to reach the Proud Boys in Arizona were unsuccessful. Enrique Tarrio, the group's national leader, was recently sentenced to five months in jail for two crimes, including burning a Black Lives Matter flag that was stolen from a Black church.

Mason, the spokesperson for the El Mirage Police Department, confirmed that the Retzlaff who was killed in El Mirage is the same individual who was sued by Van Dyke. He said that an investigation into Retzlaff's murder is underway and that the department has "identified several different investigative leads." He declined to elaborate further. No arrests have yet been made.

Van Dyke said that he hasn't been contacted by law enforcement about Retzlaff's death. He also claimed that he has had "absolutely nothing to do" with the Proud Boys in recent years.

Asked if Van Dyke or any members of the Proud Boys were suspects, Mason said, "We have not ruled anyone out at this point that’s had involvement with him."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety