A new podcast reveals the FBI planted an informant in Denver anti-racism protests in 2020 with a mission to incite violence.
The revealing details come as predominantly Black protesters have combatted politically motivated attacks for years their protests were inherently violent.
The revelation was outlined in a podcast released on Jan. 30 where it gives listeners a peek into the FBI’s efforts to “infiltrate and undermine the racial justice movement” in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the string of protests that followed.
The “Alphabet Boys” podcast reveals details of secret investigations from various government agencies. The podcast was produced by journalist Trevor Aaronson. He claims the FBI recruited Michael Windecker, a white convicted felon in his late 40s, to entrap gullible protesters into carrying out criminal plots hatched by him.
Although researchers from Harvard University say Black Lives Matter protests were largely nonviolent, protesters have faced years of accusations they incited violence as images of damaged and burned property consumed television screens during the summer of 2020.
Denver activist Zebbodios Hall, who is Black, described to The Intercept his impression of Windecker upon meeting him in 2020: “He was just this badass dude talking about how he worked in a foreign military and how he was for the Black Lives Matter movement.”
At first some of Windecker’s fellow protesters were skeptical, but he repeatedly would cite his time in prison as proof he was down for the cause.
“He de-escalated any type of suspicion because he would start flashing his prison badge,” Bryce Shelby, another Black protester, said.
Both Hall and Shelby quickly became targets for Windecker after earning their trust.
The podcast revealed Windecker was hired by the FBI under the premise the informant had information the FBI felt was useful regarding incendiary rhetoric spewed by some protesters. The Intercept reported Windecker secretly recorded Hall, who allegedly claimed, “We need to burn this motherf—-r down.”
Other conversations between Hall and Windecker involved training for combat.
The Guardian reported Aaronson obtained undercover recordings that demonstrates Windecker tried to incite violence among the mostly peaceful protesters.
“How extreme do you want it to go? Do you want to learn to shoot a gun and throw someone around, or do you want to go all the way uptown? If that’s what you want to do, I can make it happen,” Windecker reportedly said to fellow protesters.
Windecker’s infiltration gained traction as many other protesters grew comfortable with him. Trey Quinn is another Black activist who protested alongside Windecker. At first nothing raised suspicions about Windecker’s sincerity, he told The Intercept.
“Hey, this guy’s really, really dope. … He’s legit. He knows his s—t,” Quinn said is how other activists introduced Windecker.
Eventually Quinn’s sentiments about Windecker began to shift as Windecker started accusing other Denver activists of being FBI informants.
Quinn’s suspicions led him to posing “hypothetical” questions to Windecker, The Intercept described. Quinn asked Windecker about burning down a neighborhood and if the protesters could “get it done,” to which Windecker replied, “Oh yeah, I got the right guy for the job,” according to Quinn. This eager reply heightened Quinn’s suspicions, he said.
The report said it was after this that Quinn himself would be ostracized from his Denver activist community when Windecker, concerned the Black man was onto him, planted seeds of doubt among other activists that Quinn was the one working for the FBI.
The podcast alleges Windecker gave one of his prime targets, Zebbodios Hall, “$1,500 to buy a gun for him, which led to Hall being arrested on weapons charges.” The protests spearheaded by Windecker also reportedly targeted “violent assaults on police stations.”
“I didn’t know much about him, but he drove a hearse…Inside this hearse was a lot of guns: AR-15s and all other kinds of s—t,” Hall said of the informant.
More dramatically, Aaronson’s investigation revealed Windecker’s other key target, Bryce Shelby, was nearly ensnared in a plot to assassinate Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The report describes Windecker and an undercover FBI agent taking Shelby on a drive to Weiser’s house while trying to coax him into saying something incriminating about participating in the plot. A recording of the incident apparently depicts Shelby expressing interest in going through with an assassination attempt, but he ultimately decided against it.
The agency allegedly paid Windecker $20,000 to embed himself into racial justice protests in Denver. His prominence among protesters rose as the summer of protests continued. He allegedly regularly promoted protests and encouraged his fellow protesters to commit violent acts.
Clashes between Denver protesters and police reached a fever pitch between May 28, 2020, and June 5, 2020, the first few days after George Floyd was murdered. A lawsuit filed by 12 Denver-based protesters claimed police used excessive force during the protests. They were later awarded them $14 million in March 2022.
Within the podcast, Aaronson confronted Windecker about being an FBI informant. Windecker initially denied any involvement until he was presented with the undercover recordings then he stopped responding to questions.
Reverberations from the investigation into the FBI’s actions in the Windecker case have reached all the way to Capitol Hill. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon spoke this week about the implications of the report.
“If the allegations in Mr. Aronson’s podcast are true, the FBI’s use of an informant to spy on First Amendment-protected activity and stoke violence at peaceful protests is an outrageous abuse of law-enforcement resources and authority,” Wyden said in a statement to Atlanta Black Star.
Wyden sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which performs oversight over intelligence-gathering agencies.
A spokesperson for the FBI told Atlanta Black Star the agency had no comment regarding the allegations detailed in the podcast.