How the FBI Infiltrated Racial Justice Protests in 2020

A new podcast from reporter Trevor Aaronson details the story of an FBI informant who infiltrated the racial justice movement in Denver.

Michael Windecker, sitting in his silver hearse in the stills from FBI undercover video footage. Credit: FBI

As the racial justice movement was heating up in 2020, a new “activist” arrived on the scene in Denver, Colorado. The man, who looks like a biker, is named Michael Adam Windecker II. He was able to make his way into the Denver racial justice activists’ inner circle and eventually began helping organize protests. He also attempted to involve some of the activists in criminal activity, like a plot to assassinate the state attorney general. But Windecker was not an activist; he was a fed. This week on Deconstructed, investigative reporter and Intercept contributor Trevor Aaronson joins host Ryan Grim to discuss Windecker’s story. Aaronson and Grim discuss the FBI’s approach to the racial justice uprising in 2020, the FBI’s infiltration of Black activist groups, and how the FBI’s use of informants may create crime rather than prevent it. Aaronson is the host of the new podcast “Alphabet Boys,” which chronicles the story of Windecker’s infiltration of the movement.

[Deconstructed theme song.]

Ryan Grim: I’m Ryan Grim and welcome to Deconstructed. 

So most of you know by now that one of the primary functions of the early FBI was to surveil and infiltrate any organization that J. Edgar Hoover considered to be remotely sympathetic to communism — which essentially meant anybody to the left of the John Birch Society. That evolved in the 1960s into the infamous COINTELPRO, which infiltrated and worked to undermine civil rights organizations. 

Now, back in 2020, protests erupted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

[Chants of “Whose lives matter?” “Black Lives Matter!” “Whose lives matter?” “Black Lives Matter.” Sounds of police conflict with protestors.]

RG: The protests sometimes turned violent with the escalation sometimes driven by protesters, and other times driven by law enforcement. But there was always this nagging question behind each provocation: Was that organic? Or were provocateurs involved? Was that guy really a Fed? 

Now, thanks to new reporting by my colleague, Trevor Aaronson, we now have an answer in at least one city — and the answer is yes. 

In Denver, during the height of the protests, a man named Michael Adam Windecker II grew close to racial justice activists. Windecker looked like a biker, a 40-something-year-old white guy who smoked cigars and drove a silver hearse. He was able to make his way into the activists’ inner circle and eventually began helping organize protests, and he attempted to involve some of the activists in criminal activity, like a plot to assassinate the state attorney general. 

Windecker — or Mickey, as they called him — was an FBI informant, feeding information to the Bureau. His story and the way he was able to infiltrate the movement as an FBI informant, and how he was then able to push it in a more aggressive direction, is absolutely wild. 

Aaronson is an investigative journalist who covers federal law enforcement, and he has been looking into the inner workings of the FBI’s response to the 2020 racial justice movement. 

I previously had him on Deconstructed to talk about his incredible podcast American ISIS, which followed an American radical who traveled to Syria to fight with the terror group. 

Trevor now has a new 10-episode podcast called Alphabet Boys from Western Sound and iHeart podcasts. He joins me today to talk about Windecker, the FBI’s infiltration, and his podcast, Alphabet Boys. You can also check out his profile of Windecker up at

Trevor, welcome to Deconstructed. 

Trevor Aaronson: Hey, Ryan. Thanks for having me. 

RG: Yeah. Thanks so much for joining me. And before we jump more into the specifics of Windows background, and this whole story, I want to play a clip from your podcast. 

So this is an activist named Zebb Hall in Denver. Let’s take a listen:

Zebbodios “Zebb” Hall: I didn’t know much about him, but he drove a hearse. And Inside this hearse was a lot of guns: AR-15s and all other kinds of shit. I never held one of those before in my life, and I held it and I was like: Oh, shit! And I’m pro-gun and everything, but I’ve never held anything like that. 

Yeah, it was just this badass dude, talking about how he worked in the foreign military, and he was for the Black Lives Matter movement. And it just seemed interesting, you know?

RG: And, Trevor, when you see a photo of Windecker, it seems absurd that he was so easily able to enter the movement and make his way up the ranks of the racial justice organizers. Like, how did he pull that off?

TA: Yeah, I think though, the word I used in my The Intercept story was describing him as “cartoonish.” And I think that’s —

RG: Yes.

TA: — pretty accurate. You know, he had tattoos all over his body, this military-style haircut. He had these garishly large rings, and he had a cigar either between his fingers or dangling from his lips. And so you’re right, this guy was not someone that you’d expect to be coming to racial justice demonstrations. 

He was also, perhaps even more suspiciously, much older — this guy pushing 50 years old — where in these demonstrations where people are mostly in their teens and 20-somethings. But what Windecker did that was particularly sophisticated — or perhaps accidental, but it came off as sophisticated — was that he initially allied himself with a couple of very naive demonstrators who were with the YDSA, the Young Democratic Socialists of America. And because he had befriended them, he would start going to these demonstrations along with them.

And when I talked to other activists about this, because there is an obvious question: How did this guy pull this off?

RG: [Laughs.] 

TA: Like, he doesn’t look like someone who should be able to infiltrate these groups. What they would say was like, yeah, when he first showed up, he looks suspicious, and we were concerned about him. But what we saw was that he kept showing up with these YDSA activists, and we got to the point where we like: OK, well, if he’s with these young allies, then he must be OK. 

And what Windecker and the FBI did was basically use the YDSA to create kind of a shield against that suspicion, by allying himself so closely with them, and that’s really what allowed him to have the opening to go in and come across as credible within the racial justice activist community in Denver.

RG: Yeah. Your podcast goes pretty deep in a fascinating way into Windecker’s background. And so we can’t go as deeply as you go into it, but just give us a little sketch of who this guy is.

TA: Yeah, so Windecker claimed to have been a fighter for the French Foreign Legion, there are questions of the accuracy of that claim. And then he did fight for a time —

RG: It’s not 100 percent inaccurate. It seemed kind of, what, like 95 percent inaccurate? 

TA: Yeah, he claimed at various times that he fought for the French Foreign Legion, then there are other claims that he showed up to train but ultimately got booted out. Who knows what’s true, if he even went to France at all as part of that? 

RG: OK, so it might be 100 percent accurate.

TA: It could be 100 percent accurate. 

That’s the challenge about a lot of Mickey’s story is that separating truth from fiction is quite challenging at times. 

We do know a lot about his background or his claimed background was not true. But what we do know is that he fought for a period of time with the Peshmerga in Iraq. His account of bravery as a fighter is quite questionable.

RG: And those are the Kurdish — 

TA: The Kurdish fighters fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And Windecker took that as part of his identity when he infiltrated the racial justice groups, which was to say, like: Look, I am this battle-hardened fighter for the Peshmerga, I fought ISIS, and while I was in Iraq and Syria, there were these Antifa activists who came over, and I trained them in hand-to-hand combat and using weapons. 

Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s not. But he got these activists who believe that he was this battle-hardened guy who had trained other antifa activists in essentially becoming more militant. What those activists didn’t know was that Windecker had a very long history of violence and deception. He was originally charged with a sex crime when he was 20. He had sex with a 14-year-old that he met at a roller skating rink, that he later claimed that he didn’t know the girl was underage. He then went to prison for a couple of years for a felony menacing-with-a-weapons charge, when he stuck a gun in a woman’s face and claimed he was looking for someone. During that period that he became incarcerated, he was approached, according to FBI files, to commit some sort of murder for hire. Instead of doing that, he became an informant and testified against the people who tried to hire him. And that’s really the earliest example we have of him acting as an informant or a cooperating witness of some sort. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest, that we did tell on the podcast, that this largely became Windecker’s career going forward — that he was working with the police, providing information, and making money.

His ex-wife — or his third ex-wife — even describes how he never held down a job. But he always had wads of cash in his pocket. And she’d seen him on multiple times go and meet with police officers. 

RG: Well, I want to get into that in a minute. But I do want people to get a feel for the kinds of people that the FBI is working with. You talk about this moment where he commits this really horrific act of domestic violence. And before his victim is even out of the hospital, he’s sprung loose. 

Tell that one real quick, ‘cause I think that that really gives a flavor of the kind of person that FBI is willing to —

TA: Right. It’s very emblematic of his story. 

So after he had separated from his third wife, Cassie; Cassie had returned to the apartment that they once shared to collect her mail. And as she goes into the apartment, Mickey allegedly grabs her by the throat, slams are down on a table, and then she blocks out, wakes up, and finds Mickey straddling over her with a gun in her face. And she then pushes him aside, slams out the door, and runs screaming — and police arrive. And I was able to get the body-cam footage of that incident when the police arrived. 

And they arrest Mickey; they take him to jail, having concluded that he was the one who assaulted his ex-wife. And what’s really fascinating is on the body cam is a conversation when Mickey is in jail and speaking to one of the arresting officers. And the arresting officer comes up to the jail cell door and says: I hear you want to speak to me. 

And Mickey says: I have information about a murder. 

And the arresting officer then says: OK, well hang tight. I’ll go get a detective. 

And what we know is that Mickey was never charged for that incident. And then when his ex-wife, Cassie, is in the hospital being treated for injuries in the alleged domestic assault, she gets a text from him that basically says: Hey, I’m out. 

And she shows it to the officers who are still taking her statement. And she says: How’s he out? 

And according to Cassie, they’re like: We don’t know. 

And what we can confirm is that Mickey was never charged for the incident, seeming to suggest that the information he provided, gave him an out, which is very common for informants to do. The reason informants become informants is they can make a lot of money. But also they can use information to wriggle out of various criminal charges. And that appears to be what happened in Mickey’s case here.

RG: And just to be clear, when we say that you got the body cam footage from the incident: the police come to the scene, the alleged incident is mostly over, and you have footage of her saying in real time that he threw me down WWE style. And so it’s not as if we have footage of it actually happening, but of an allegation made in the immediate aftermath, and one that police found credible enough to take him off to jail.

TA: Absolutely. That’s why I use “allegedly.” He wasn’t charged with this. But what we know is the police found this credible; I interviewed his wife as well, in addition to obtaining the body cam footage, and she was injured. There were injuries that were documented in the police reports. And this was something that the police obviously found credible enough to arrest Mickey for, but ultimately did not charge him, seemingly because of the information he was willing to provide.

RG: So 2019 and 2020, you were talking about the way that he begins to ingratiate himself into this movement.

TA: So what we know from the available FBI records is that this wasn’t a situation where the FBI picked out Mickey and said: Hey, we want you to work with us! 

What happened was that Mickey, according to these records, starts going to the protests following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis — these protests start in Denver as they did across the country. And what he reports to local law enforcement, which was working with the FBI as part of this partnership known as the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Mickey claims that he witnessed a number of protesters using incendiary language, talking about violence, and seeing acts of vandalism.

And what’s significant is that this isn’t something that should have been newsworthy to law enforcement, right? This was something that —

RG: Yes, they could go on — 

TA: Right. 

RG: — and see plenty of that. 

TA: This was all over the news all over social media. So it wasn’t like Mickey was providing any specific information beyond what was already publicly available. And yet the FBI then hired him to become an informant and infiltrate the movement. And the records clearly show that the investigation was launched based solely on First Amendment-protected activities. The central point of Mickey’s information was that one activist, a guy named Zebbodios Hall, had used incendiary rhetoric. He said, you know: Let’s burn this motherfucker down. Incendiary rhetoric and kind of questionable things to say, but nonetheless protected by free speech rights. And yet, the FBI launches this investigation, which I think it’s important to note, is against the way the FBI says it operates. Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has testified before Congress saying, we don’t investigate ideology, we don’t investigate speech. But in the case of Mickey Windecker in Denver, that appears to be exactly what happened, because that’s how this investigation got started.

RG: Is your sense as somebody who’s covered this for so long, that you found an anomaly here, or you found evidence of the type of thing that they do more often and refuse to admit, even if the official policy from the top is: We don’t investigate ideology or speech?

TA: I don’t think it was anomalous. I remember seeing the protests starting and knowing the environment that they were happening in, which is that, you know, the FBI had previously designated Black political activists as so-called Black identity extremists and lumped them into a category of anti-government extremists. 

RG: Mhmm. 

TA: So I knew that the FBI was predisposed to view these protests as something more than peaceful protests. And the question for me was: At what point would the FBI be willing to use these powers and tactics that have been expanded and perfected in the post-9/11 era against protesters? And the use of sting operations and informants being central to that.

And it was my hunch back then, in 2020, that that’s what was going to be happening. And we just never had proof, right? The amount of information that came out about how the government responded to the 2020 protests has been incredible, right? Like, you know, the example I think most people think of is the DHS officials abducting people off the streets in Portland. I mean a number of things happened that summer that were just jaw-dropping. 

And one of the things that we did not know is how did the FBI respond to this? How did the nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency respond? And so I’ve been trying to find a way to answer that question. And this case is the first window that we’ve had into that to look at how the FBI responded.

And in Alphabet Boys, we revealed not only the Denver investigation but also that information for the Denver investigation was used to launch a separate investigation in Colorado Springs about 90 miles south, using the same types of tactics. And so while we only have these two examples, I think it’s far more likely that this was a common tactic that was used across the country, in cases that we have yet to hear about than it was that it was just kind of a couple of bad actors in Colorado going off the reservation.

RG: And you use a recording between Windecker and an activist in Denver that was then handed over to the FBI while he was working as an informant. I want to play that clip. 

Michael “Mickey” Windecker: Mind manipulation? Mind manipulation is — that something you can’t move forward, you have to learn it. And it’s like a Jedi Mind skill. 

I was actually really good at it when I was in the Kurdish military. I didn’t do it towards Kurds, I did it towards terrorist members I was interrogating and shit like that. But that you can be shown how to do; it’s just something you have to train yourself how to do, you know what I mean?

RG: What’s he talking about with mind manipulation? And can you unpack a little bit more about what we know or what we suspect about his time with the Peshmerga in Kurdistan?

TA: Sure. This recording is from an encounter between Mickey Windecker, the informant, and Zebbodios Hall, who was the primary target of the federal investigation. Zebbodios or Zebb had met Mickey at one of the demonstrations, invites him over to his apartment. And Zebb wants to learn how to fight; he wants to defend himself, he wants to know how to stand up for himself if needed, given that there was this escalating cycle of violence between police and protesters. 

And so Mickey is basically telling Zen: I can teach you hand-to-hand combat; I can teach you how to use explosives. And he then tells this fantastical story about how he had done this type of training with antifa activists in Iraq and Syria, and that he was a member of this elite force that the Kurdish military had where he was interrogating so-called terrorists, using as he said there, Jedi mind tricks to get people to give information, supposedly. I mean, obviously, this is ridiculous. But this is the story that he would tell. Among other things, Mickey would claim that he had diplomatic immunity in the United States because of his association with the Kurds. 

And what our investigation found was that Mickey’s claims of being a war hero with the Peshmerga were wildly exaggerated. For example, I spoke to several people who had fought with him in Iraq and Syria, they described how he would often show up late to fights. He claimed that he was a demolitions expert; one person described how he was just kind of like randomly cutting wires off of IEDs. And the guy was like: This guy is going to get one of us killed!

And then another fighter, a Scottish volunteer named Alan Duncan, described how Mickey had this reputation, which was not uncommon among some people who came to Iraq and Syria, but that he would go to the conflict area after the fighting was over, take pictures of himself with dead bodies, with big smiles, and then use those photos, post those photos to Facebook and other social media, and present himself as some war hero. 

But what’s significant, too, is that Mickey then folded that exaggeration of his war heroism into his identity as an undercover informant. He was going around showing these pictures of himself with dead bodies of ISIS fighters to activists in Denver, basically presenting himself as this kind of mercenary, and that essentially helped him gain a little bit of credibility there. 

But what’s interesting about all these photos is that most of the bodies that he’s posed with, if you look closely, are deteriorating. It’s clear that they’ve been out in the desert sun for a little too long. And Mickey’s then taking pictures of them. And so it’s clear that he did have some sort of association with the Kurdish military, but then ultimately was booted out of the Kurdish military as a result of objections by other fighters and his own kind of exaggerations. But that became a part of his identity once he became an FBI informant.

RG: It’s kind of disturbing to think that that would work to ingratiate him into the movement rather than repel people from him. Did you find some who were like: OK, the idea of a guy showing up in a hearse packed with assault weapons was not actually something we felt was beneficial to the cause?

TA: For sure. A lot of the activists who saw him had initial suspicions that they just couldn’t shake and so they wouldn’t associate with him. The people who were seeing him with weapons that did not want any sort of violence then distanced themselves very quickly. 

I think a couple of things happened. One was that Mickey shows up on the scene at a time when the activist community was really kind of frayed. The police response in Denver had been very aggressive. There was a lot of frustration. There was a feeling like more needed to be done and emotions were really high. And so I think people were more interested in kind of entertaining the idea of violence, even if they ultimately would be unwilling to cross that line, than they would have had the police response not been so violent. 

I also think one of the things that happened is that Mickey ultimately targeted activists who were on the gullible side, were willing to kind of believe these stories like the Jedi-mind-trick story that I think a lot of people would have been like: No, no, no, that’s a load of B.S., I don’t believe that at all. 

And so the ones that he ultimately targets are the ones who are just kind of naive and unable to see what Mickey is, which is an agent provocateur. 

That said, though, we also tell the story of how there were suspicions that were ultimately supported by some of the activists. One of the activist leaders, a guy named Trey Quinn, had largely suspected there was something off about Mickey. And so he then devises a test for Mickey to see if he’s an informant. And so he goes up to him. And he speaks in all hypotheticals. And he’s like: What if we were to firebomb a neighborhood? 

And Mickey’s like: Oh, yeah, I can do that. I got the guy who can set that up. When do you want to start? 

And so for Trey that was like a red flag. Like, this guy’s a fed.

RG: Mhmm.

TA: And what’s interesting is the FBI file documents this exchange, but it documents it as if Trey’s firebomb plot is actually real, because that’s apparently how Mickey framed it to his FBI handlers. 

But at that point, Mickey apparently realized that Trey was suspicious of him. And what we see Mickey do, which has, you know, great shades of COINTELPRO tactics is that once he realizes that Trey is suspicious that he might be an informant, Mickey then starts telling all the other activists that Trey is an FBI informant; a practice known as snitch-jacketing —

RG: Mhmm.

TA: — that was used to devastating effect against the Black Panthers and other Black political groups in the 1960s. 

And so what ends up happening is by spreading rumors about Trey, who was one of the leaders of the activist movement in Denver, people start backing away from Trey, it creates a leadership vacuum, and that’s really where Mickey is able to step in and take on more of a leadership role, which is remarkably similar to the type of tactics that we saw the Church Committee investigate and expose.

RG: Yeah, and the Church Committee — [laughs] they’re doing a new Church Committee now. And maybe they’ll actually look into this. They’re calling it a new Church Committee. And if so, if they’re serious, they would have to do this, it would run up against — I think — their politics to be seen, you know, defending the Black Lives Matter movement. But the Church Committee looked at everything that happened. And one of the things they looked at was the role of the different security apparatuses infiltrating the Communist Party. And so, there were all these jokes about how, at some points, if there was a meeting of the Communist Party USA, and there were five people at the meeting, all five of them might be either FBI agents themselves or FBI informants. And kind of as silly or funny as that is, it’s also deeply undermining to the civic fabric. 

But they also then take it to another level. And that’s what I wanted to talk about next. Infiltration and informing is one thing, and there have been attempts to put safeguards around abuses by the FBI in doing that. But then there’s the provocateur stuff when people like Mickey wind up in leadership positions, and you see a lot of allegations of some of this happening on January 6, because just a couple of people in a crowd can really change the tenor and the direction of an event. And so what does Mickey end up doing once he finds himself in this kind of leadership role?

TA: So Mickey does two things. One, highly targeted, and the other, broad. 

The broad one was that by late August of 2020, the Denver protests are becoming more and more violent. The police are becoming more aggressive, creating something of an arms race where activists are coming in with homemade armor, with shields, fireworks, and throwing rocks. And so we’re seeing increasing conflict between police and activists. And Mickey was among the leaders who were organizing demonstrations at that time and encouraging people to go to these demonstrations that were outside police buildings. One was called specifically “Give ‘Em Hell” — as in, give the police hell. And Mickey was with a group that had guns, they were in an apartment where they were piling guns on a table. He was encouraging people to become more and more militant, become more aggressive, and what we saw was that those protests then morphed into what became full-on assaults on police buildings in Denver, resulting in very serious injuries to demonstrators and about 70 injuries to police in the Denver area. 

Whether Mickey was specifically responsible or solely responsible for that — I mean, obviously, it’s a large group of people, we can’t lay out all the blame on Mickey. But what we can say is that he was in a leadership position. And we do know from the FBI reports that he was attending these protests and from activists there that he was playing a leading role in getting activists out to do that. And so one of the things that the activists have told me was that they long suspected that this turn toward violence in Denver was a result of some sort of infiltration by government agents encouraging that violence; they had just never been able to prove it. And in this case, with Mickey Windecker, is the first piece of evidence we have to show that there was some element of that, that the government agent was encouraging this type of behavior. 

At the same time that he was doing that, having this broad effect to encourage violence more generally, Mickey was targeting specific activists to get involved in what would essentially be headline-grabbing conspiracies. The one that he really tried to do was rope together two activists, a man named Zebbodios or Zebb Hall, who I mentioned earlier, and another named Bryce Shelby, and he wanted to try to get them together in a supposed plot to assassinate the attorney general of Colorado, Phil Weiser. 

So when they have this conversation, ultimately, Zebb is like: I don’t want anything to do with this, and backs out. Bryce is more interested in talking about it further. He meets an undercover agent and they drive out to Phil Weiser’s house and scope it out. And Bryce says a number of very stupid things, and he, the undercover agent, working with Mickey, tries to encourage Bryce to move forward in this plot. Bryce ultimately never does move forward; ultimately ghosts both Mickey and the undercover agent. But it shows you that they were trying to rope these activists into the type of crime that would have been something that made national news, right? These activists trying to assassinate a statewide elected official. 

And I think understanding the context in which is happening is incredibly important, which is that during that summer, as you probably remember, the Trump administration and President Trump, specifically, was making the case that antifa and BLM activists were growing increasingly violent; there was talk of him wanting to designate antifa as a terrorist organization. And at the same time, we saw right-wing media really amplifying and echoing this idea that antifa militants are violent, and they’re going to be involved in acts of terrorism. And so this type of plot that they tried to orchestrate in Denver, was the exact kind of evidence that the Trump administration at the time was trying to put together to show that there was this increasing violence among left-wing activists. Ultimately, in Denver, nothing happened, there was no plot, but it does show you the type of provocation they were trying to do among these activists.

RG: And this obviously raises the specter of the Michigan case with Gov. Whitmer, which had a ton of FBI infiltration and involvement and assistance in encouraging it to happen, like the entire kidnapping plot. That did wind up with headlines and wound up with charges. What are the similarities as far as you see? And what are the differences between those?

TA: So one big difference, obviously, was this was a much larger group in Michigan that they put together. But I would say there’s more in common with them than there is dissimilar. 

RG: Hmm. 

TA: These were both groups of people whose capacity for the crime that they were ultimately being accused of — or, in the case of Denver, being tried to be accused of — was quite questionable. Whether they could have pulled this off by themselves was questionable.

RG: Right. They weren’t actually going to kidnap Whitmer; they weren’t actually going to assassinate this guy, this person.

TA: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think, you know, you mentioned this so-called new Church Committee earlier. The important part of a lot of this, I think, to understand is that there are examples of the FBI using these types of tactics against right-wing activists and right-wing groups, the Michigan case being the one that’s often cited. But I think if you are going to take this new committee and look only for abuses targeting right-wing actors, you’re going to find them. You’re going to find cases like Michigan; there’s probably others that we don’t know about. But I would argue that the FBI is an agency that has an enormous amount of power, more than perhaps any other time in its history, and has far too little oversight. And so in some ways, we do need a new Church Committee. But if you’re going to go and look at the FBI abuses, you really need to look at it broadly, and look at where they’re abusing its powers. 

And so you will find examples on the right, no doubt. But I would argue that if you look at the history of prosecutions during the post-9/11 era, and cases like Mickey Windecker’s, you’re going to find that, by and large, the FBI is targeting left-wing activists more frequently than right-wing activists, but that the FBI powers are so broad, that they are no doubt abusing people on both the right and the left radical spectrum. And I think if we’re going to have an honest investigation of the FBI, we really need to be looking at all of these investigations, not just ones that fit a particular political narrative.

RG: Yeah, and I’d say that if Republicans are serious about actual accountability for the FBI, they would need some bipartisan or bi-ideological buy-in on this, otherwise it is just gonna look partisan — which raises the question maybe they don’t actually want accountability, maybe they just want some headlines and want to feed Fox News something to talk about, and they’re actually OK, fundamentally with what the FBI is doing. I think this is a real test for them. 

But you talked about how there was another case in Colorado Springs. Can you talk a little bit about this FBI agent April Rogers?

TA: Yeah. So April Rogers was an undercover cop with the Colorado Springs police department, a cop in her mid-20s, very young, fresh out of the academy. And she was recruited by the FBI through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the partnership between local police and the FBI. And they gave her this long pink wig, sent her into the activist community in Colorado Springs, and she pretended to be a sex worker or made statements that suggested that she was a sex worker; of course, the left-wing activist community being very supportive, did not view that as any kind of problem. But the reason she portrayed that message was that she was specifically targeting young men. And so she would invite young male activists over to her apartment, there’s questions of whether they thought maybe something more could happen, but when they get there, they find that there are two men with her and she claims like that they’re her friends, or in another case that they’re her brother, and it’s in those cases where she tries to get them to purchase illegal guns for her. 

And so the one activist shows up and ultimately says: No, no, no, I’m not getting involved in any of this, and backs away. A second activist named Gabriel Polacek shows up and is intrigued. He’s talking to these guys about how they have, you know, automatic weapons, and they have grenades, and he’s asking them how they could, how he could buy them; does some things that are pretty stupid, which he admits, at the same time he does them because in part, these guys are buying him lots of drinks and taking him out to dinner, and so he’s kind of thinking like he’s using them. And ultimately that case goes nowhere and it doesn’t result in any sort of gun-running conspiracy charges. But we did get recordings showing that the FBI specifically was trying to run a gun-running conspiracy against these activists, even though they had no evidence to suggest that there was any predisposition for that sort of crime. 

And again, there’s another example of targeting political activists in a violent crime or potentially violent crime for which there’s no information to suggest they would have done that. 

Also, what’s interesting in Colorado Springs is that the reports from the local police department that were part of the JTTF investigation clearly show that the JTTF, the FBI, and the local police, were investigating this organization known as the Chinook Center, that was a left-wing political group, specifically for its political activism. So again, it was another example of the FBI launching an undercover investigation during the summer of 2020, based solely on the fact that this was an ideologically left organization. 

RG: I feel like in some ways, I might make a pretty easy mark for the FBI when it comes to entrapment. In situations like that, where people are being nice, they’re buying drinks or buying dinner, and they’re talking a bunch of nonsense, and there’s just this social custom, that I try to honor that if I don’t care that much, I’m not going to fight with them about it. I’m not going to get in their face — I’m just gonna just kind of yes them to death and then ghost them, like that one person did. I’m going to be like: OK, these guys are freaks, I’m not trying to get into some gun-running or grenade-running business, I don’t need any RPGs, thanks for the burger, I’ll talk to you guys later. 

I could just imagine — and if it’s a clever FBI informant or agent, them kind of phrasing things in such a way, normal, non-confrontational politeness of just trying to get out of a situation could then be spun into some type of complicity in a potential conspiracy. 

As somebody who’s studied these types of stings for more than a decade, how much of it do you think is just people not wanting to be rude to these FBI agents who are out to set them up?

TA: So it’s a great point. And it’s one we actually talk about in Alphabet Boys, which is, I think, particularly for people who maybe don’t have the greatest self-esteem, here is a point at which in social environments they are mimicking the people that they’re around. I mean, we all do this, right? 

RG: Mhmm.

TA: Like, humans are guilty of this all the time. Some people do it more than others. 

And what you see in a lot of these situations, is that the marks that the FBI has in undercover stings tend to be people who are more vulnerable than others, who just maybe don’t have the sophistication of others do, or they don’t have the self-esteem. And so then they’re surrounded by these people who are pretending to be bad guys, right? And then the mark, the target of the investigation, kind of pretends to be a bit more of a bad guy than he or she really is. 

And that’s exactly what we saw in Colorado. So for example, this young activist named Bryce Shelby is targeted by the FBI for the supposed plot to assassinate the attorney general. And it’s Mickey claiming that he’s this-battle hardened Peshmerga fighter. And it’s this undercover agent going by the name Red, who claims to be a former Special Forces Army soldier, who’s now just kind of this badass American. And what they do is they are talking about all the crimes they’re involved in, how they have guns, and Bryce tells them he has guns, and he claims he’s got illegal guns, which actually wasn’t true! Bryce had bought his guns at pawn shops, but he tells them that they’re illegal, because he’s trying to bolster his credibility as a tough guy, right?

And so you tend to see this kind of tough-guy talk happen in these kinds of sting operations, where they’re either mimicking the behavior or, as you suggest, it’s kind of this social nicety, right? That you’re framing your behavior to fit with their behavior. And we see that a lot. And I think that’s something that isn’t really compensated for at all in undercover investigations, the way that these targets may find themselves doing things that simply mimic the behavior of the undercover agents and that were it not for the undercover agents, they wouldn’t be doing this or talking this way, at all. 

And obviously compensating for that is not something that’s in the FBI’s interest. I’ve had many agents tell me: We’re not a social services organization, we’re a law enforcement agency. So if someone’s saying: I want to get involved in a violent plot, we’re not going to be like: Are you sure about that, sir? They’re gonna say: OK, well, let’s see if you can bring this along. And so that’s just the way the FBI works. 

But I think you’re absolutely right. And I think the fact that they don’t compensate for that human reality, it ultimately creates a situation where they’re going to be investigating people, like the ones in Colorado, who talk a lot of tough-guy talk but ultimately don’t cross over that line toward criminal behavior.

RG: Right. And are they a law enforcement agency? Or are they a kind of fake-crime production agency? You’ve been doing this for so long? And I’m curious: Are you aware of any active, organic plots that did not derive from the FBI, that actually had a realistic possibility of being executed, ultimately being disrupted by the FBI?

TA: Yeah, so the one I can think of is Najibullah Zazi, the man who got kind of close to bombing the New York City subway system, driving up from Colorado. They stopped him, but barely. 

But more often than not, if you look at cases, the most recent being this power grid case involving Atomwaffen members, just from a couple of days ago, we still don’t know a lot about that case, but what we do know, which is, you know, kind of par for the course in these investigations, is that a CHS — which is the FBI term for confidential human source, or informant — was integrally involved in that plot. And so what we’re seeing in almost all of these cases is that there is a role that undercover informants are playing.

I don’t want to give a blanket statement and say all of these cases involving informants go nowhere, right? Because there is a role that informants play. But more often than not, in these cases, we’re seeing informants play a leadership role in these plots, or an integral role, a role that would be necessary for the plot to move forward. And I think just from a public policy, law enforcement standards question, I think we should be questioning whether that’s a proper role for law enforcement to play. 

I mean, law enforcement should be stopping violent plots. But if it takes the participation of undercover agents to make that violent plot possible, is that really a violent plot? And I think the FBI would say, yes. The FBI would say: That’s how we do business. The FBI, to articulate what I believe their defense would be, what I’ve heard FBI agents tell me, is that we need to do this to prevent another bad actor from playing the role that we’re pretending to play in making this plot real. 

The question is whether there are really all these bad actors out there willing to play the FBI’s role. I would argue that the FBI is responsible for the majority of these cases, and that were it not for the FBI’s role, these wouldn’t be cases at all.

RG: Yeah, and what did Windecker, what did the FBI — I know, the FBI didn’t comment — what was it like trying to get ahold of him? And what were various people’s responses?

TA: So I reached out several times to the FBI both in Colorado and in Washington, D.C. They declined an opportunity for me to interview someone. I also sent a list of questions detailing the information of the Windecker case, asked for written responses, and was plainly said no, they’re not going to provide any. So the FBI’s comment was very much a no comment.

I did contact Windecker. I had trouble contacting him at first. I went to his old apartment and left a note based on recommendations from one of his friends as far as how to get ahold of him. And he eventually called me back and denied that he was an FBI informant; said he would sue me if I said that. And I explained to him I had records and undercover recordings showing all that. He then threatened to sue me again and hung up.

I then called back several times; left messages; I also sent him screenshots or stills of the undercover recordings just to prove that I had them. And he’s never responded to any of my calls or queries at this point. 

I assume that this is obviously something Windecker doesn’t want to talk about and neither does the FBI. But that said, the takeaway, I think, too, is that what happened in Denver wasn’t just that these young men got caught up in this thing. Ultimately, what happened was that, in addition to these demonstrations turning violent, this undercover sting, the mistrust that was sewn into the community as a result of Windecker’s work there, by accusing others of being informants, by creating this atmosphere where people thought like, hey, the feds are investigating us, really undermined the larger movement. A number of the groups that were involved in the racial justice movement disbanded. And so I think you can argue, at least in Denver, that one of the things we saw in the summer of 2020, with there was that there was a pretty abrupt stop to a lot of these demonstrations, especially in Denver, and to what degree did someone like Mickey Windecker, acting as an undercover government agent, play in basically undermining the racial justice movement that was just beginning to take hold that summer?

RG: And the podcast is called Alphabet Boys, and then the first season — great title — is The Trojan Hearse. Does that mean that there’s going to be season two, season three? What’s your plan for this? 

TA: Yeah, so we’ve been committed for two seasons. So this was the first one, Trojan Hearse, about Mickey Windecker. 

Our second season is about a DEA sting that wraps up the CIA and the FBI in this very, very strange case. And we’re hoping to be renewed after that. Our goal in this series is to tell one story of an FBI, DEA, ATF, or other federal investigation in depth, over 10 episodes in a season. So each season will be its own story.

So the first season is out now, Alphabet Boys: Trojan Hears. And then the second season, Up In Arms, will come out later this summer. And then hopefully next year, we’ll be able to continue.

RG: Well, I’m looking forward to it. Thanks so much for joining me, Trevor. Congratulations.

TA: Thanks, Ryan. I appreciate it.

[End credits music.]

RG: That was Trevor Aronson and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is José Olivares. Our supervising producer is Laura Flynn. The show was mixed by William Stanton. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Roger Hodge is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept. If you’d like to support our work, go to And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. And please go and leave us a rating or a review — it helps people find the show. If you want to give us additional feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

I’ll see you soon.

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