Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
I happened to be working a breaking news shift on the evening of May 28, 2020, when the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd inspired protesters to take the streets of Denver. I wasn’t surprised when I was assigned to go to the capitol and cover the event, but I was nervous.
For one, I had never covered a protest before. But I had also been closely watching the events in Minneapolis that week as protestors and police clashed violently, and I worried about COVID-19, a very new disease the world knew very little about.
The first time I left my house after Colorado’s stay-at-home order was to cover this protest, the genesis of what turned out to be months’ worth of demonstrations. And what I saw that night – the incessant streams of pepper spray, police in riot gear marching down the street, flash bangs going off on street corners – genuinely terrified me.
That’s why I hesitated when I originally heard about “Alphabet Boys: Trojan Hearse,” a new podcast from Western Sound and iHeartPodcasts that explores how the Federal Bureau of Investigation influenced the racial justice movement during the summer of 2020.
The inaugural 10-episode season, which debuted in February, focuses specifically on the agency’s role in Denver and how one of its informants, Mickey Windecker, played a pivotal role in escalating the violence here.
But I’m glad I gave it a try. The podcast is a fascinating listen that not only illuminates the inner workings of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agency, but also shows how its impact was felt in our local community.
Host Trevor Aaronson is an independent journalist who has been covering the FBI for 15 years, examining the agency’s counter-terrorism programs and protocols, such as sting operations and the use of informants in the post-9/11 era.
“It had always been my theory, as these kinds of abusive practices persisted during the war on terror, that we’d see the FBI use these in other contexts,” Aaronson told The Denver Post. “Prior to the summer of 2020, there had been examples of that where the FBI was using, say, informants and sting operations against would-be money launderers. Like finding people who never were involved in money laundering and offering them the opportunity to commit that crime.”
As Aaronson watched the racial justice protests unfold, he wondered if the FBI was using similar tactics to target what the agency called “Black identity extremism” and perpetuate unrest in cities across the U.S. – unrest it could ultimately criminalize.
Aaronson spent months searching for evidence and in late 2021 sourced a trove of undercover footage and audio recordings that validated his suspicions, and then some. (Aaronson also obtained some audio and other materials from public documents and through open records requests.)
“In some ways, it was like what I suspected was happening was happening,” he said, “but what was so striking is it was much worse than I would have predicted.”
Among the top concerns was Windecker himself, who first arrived on Denver’s protest scene conspicuously driving a silver hearse full of firearms. In one episode of “Alphabet Boys,” Windecker’s wife recounts incidents of domestic violence and times he impersonated a cop.
“Informants for the FBI are often quite problematic, that’s kind of the nature of the beast,” Aaronson said. “But Mickey Windecker seemed to take things a step further in the sense that he was a convicted sex offender, he had a long previous history of being an informant suggesting that he knew that there was a cash incentive to providing information to police, and that he had this very long history of deception and violence — you know, things I think should have been quite concerning if not disqualifying to the FBI when they hired him.”
Then there’s the issue of the FBI using its authority to investigate First Amendment-protected speech and activity, Aaronson said. While some of the rhetoric protesters used was concerning, law enforcement didn’t have any information they would actually commit crimes when it infiltrated the community. At least, not until Windecker suggested assassinating an elected official.
“FBI Director Chris Ray has consistently told the public and Congress that they do not investigate based on speech, they do not investigate based on ideology, and that’s what happened in Denver, essentially,” Aaronson said.
Aaronson is currently working on season two of “Alphabet Boys,” which will cover an entirely different story with a similar theme about the use and abuse of government power. It’s set to debut this summer.
He hopes the series will inspire to listeners to consider how the FBI not only investigates crimes but also instigates them. After all, if it happened in Denver, it likely also happened elsewhere, he said.
“Alphabet Boys: Trojan Hearse” airs Tuesdays through April 4 on all major podcasting platforms.
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