“There was a predisposition within the FBI to view Black political activism as violent,” journalist Trevor Aaronson told theGrio.
A newly released investigative podcast revealed that the FBI paid a felon to infiltrate Denver’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old man killed by law enforcement in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Journalist Trevor Aaronson produced the podcast “Alphabet Boys,” which details how the FBI allegedly used Michael Adam Windecker II to target Black activists and coerce them into joining a plot to assassinate Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.
According to the podcast, Windecker tried to recruit activist Zebbodios “Zebb” Hall to participate in the assassination plan. Hall feared for his life and felt he had no choice but to cooperate. Since Windecker was an ex-felon, he asked Hall to purchase a gun that would be used in the assassination attempt.
Hall told theGrio, “I had to get this guy this gun because if I don’t get this guy this gun, he’s got my information. He’s got my family’s information.”
Aaronson told theGrio that Hall was frightened of what Windecker would do if he refused to conspire.
“Everyone I talked to described how they were deathly afraid of [Windecker]. He had pictures of dead ISIS fighters on his phone,” he claimed.
He added, “Windecker spoke of having killed people. He had a criminal history that was violent. And so, people that got close to him were afraid to back away from him, in part because they were fearing physical harm from him.”
Aaronson believes that Hall should not have faced any consequences for his actions.
“This crime was wholly manufactured and would not have taken place were it not for the FBI,” he argued. “Zab used FBI money to purchase a gun to give to an FBI informant who then gives that gun to the FBI. So, this was an entirely victimless client crime, and it was a crime that would not have happened were it not for the FBI pushing them to do this.”
Despite Aaronson’s analysis, FBI agents arrested Hall and charged him with a felony firearms violation. He pleaded guilty and was given a three-year probation sentence.
After the release of “Alphabet Boys,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon publicly condemned the FBI’s actions against BLM activists.
In statements provided to The Guardian by Wyden’s office, he said, “If the allegations in Mr. Aaronson’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.”
He added, “The FBI owes the public a full accounting of its actions, including how anyone responsible for attempting to entrap and discredit racial justice activists will be held accountable.”
Many are comparing the Denver ordeal to the FBI’s 1956 Counterintelligence Program known as COINTELPRO. During that time, FBI agents infiltrated Black organizations like the Black Panther Party and violated the First Amendment rights of Black activists.
Aaronson told theGrio that the FBI used tactics that were “intrusive” and saw BLM as a “terrorist group.”
“There was a predisposition within the FBI to view Black political activism as violent…even though on its face the overwhelming majority of racial justice demonstrations that summer were peaceful,” he said.
He continued, “While COINTELPRO no longer exists, you can see very clearly in this case and in the summer of 2020 that many of these methods that were used to a devastating effect against the civil rights movement in the 1960s were used against the racial justice movement in 2020.”
Hall told theGrio that Windecker used an old FBI technique called “snitch-jacketing” and would accuse real activists of being FBI informants whenever people suspected he could be one.
Aaronson said the informant did that to “sow chaos” similar to what FBI informants did in the 60s.
“The COINTELPRO investigations of the ‘60s showed that the informants were encouraging violence, encouraging activists to commit crimes, but they were also accusing real activists and real leaders of these movements of being informants themselves,” he said.
Hall believes the FBI has a history of infiltrating Black organizations because “the government” fears how resilient Black Americans can be.
“Look what happened in 2020. Look at all those people out there. You had Black, brown, white, yellow, red, LGBT… you had everything. That’s what Black power is. They fear that. They see that through our perseverance, everything that we go through [threatens] their power,” he said.
Aaronson told theGrio, “The FBI has an enormous amount of power that’s received very little Congressional oversight.”
He noted that, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI was granted a substantial amount of power.
“A lot of its practices such as sting operations and the use of informants were more tolerated by the American public,” he asserted.
He added, “Then you fast forward to 2020 and the racial justice demonstrations, and I think given this new power that it had been given in the post-9/11 era, the FBI kind of slipped back and returned to many of its ways during COINTELPRO.”
Hall told theGrio that he hopes his story will empower “people to start talking.”
He continued, “Look how many brothers and sisters have been locked up since the ’60s. Look how many Panthers are still locked up because people won’t talk. Spill the beans. I mean, you can’t say you’re about that life or are a revolutionary or anything if you ain’t willing to talk.”
Aaronson told theGrio that, despite the findings depicted in his podcast, he hopes people continue to protest.
“I think you’re allowing these tactics to win if ultimately you’re choosing not to exercise your First Amendment rights for fear of government infiltration,” he said.
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