How a local activist found himself buying a gun for a supposed FBI informant

The podcast “Alphabet Boys” explores how the FBI may have surveilled Black Lives Matter protests in Denver during the summer of 2020.
7 min. read
Zebbodios Hall stands on Lincoln Street in Capitol Hill. Feb. 9, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Zebb Hall knew he was making a mistake when he illegally bought a gun for a man he once thought was a fellow Black Lives Matter protester. What Hall didn't know at the time was that the supposed protester was actually an FBI informant, tasked with surveilling and dividing Denver's Black Lives Matter protesters during the summer of 2020, on behalf of the U.S. government.

Ever since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests erupted, activists have speculated about the role of the federal government in the protests. Reporters uncovered stories about the FBI surveilling protesters in Portland, federal officers grabbing people in unmarked vans and the U.S. government using aerial surveillance to watch activists.

Now, more than two years later, and after Denver has been ordered to pay millions of dollars to activists hurt by police during those protests, this FBI informant is the subject of a new podcast called Alphabet Boys that was released this week. Denverite spoke to Hall, one of the activists surveilled, and the podcast's creator, The Intercept Reporter Trevor Aaronson, about his investigation into this figure with a violent past who infiltrated local activists ranks and sowed mistrust.

The FBI informant was Michael Adam Windecker II. He was a militant-style white man who drove a silver hearse and talked about being a foreign fighter battling ISIS in Syria.

He quickly ingratiated himself with Denver's racial justice activists, offering to train people in combat.

"FBI agents described Windecker as something of a good Samaritan -- a kind of volunteer Captain America," Aaronson wrote in his Intercept story. "But that notion was undercut by other bureau documents, which detailed Windecker's history as both an informant and a criminal, with prior arrests in Colorado, Nevada, Texas, and Florida for crimes including sexual assault."

According to the Intercept, Windecker had previously served as an informant while in prison, and approached the FBI during 2020 offering information about protesters using incendiary speech-information about speech and activities that, according to Aaronson, was protected under the First Amendment.

"The FBI launches an investigation based on that, even though it's against FBI policy, official status policy, to investigate ideology or rhetoric," Aaronson said. "That's exactly what they did in Denver."

Denverite could not reach Windecker for comment. In the Intercept article, he told Aaronson, "I do not work for the FBI... I've never worked for the FBI. If you get proof of me working for the FBI, then I'll say otherwise. But there's no proof, because I didn't work for them."

The FBI declined Aaronson and Denverite's requests for comment, but Aaronson shared with Denverite recordings and FBI documents he obtained showing Windecker's involvement in surveillance. Denverite also obtained court records regarding Hall's felony conviction on the gun charge.

According to Aaronson, Windecker lured in Denver activists and encouraged escalating violence. Among them was Hall.

When plans to rope protesters into a plot to assassinate Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser failed, Windecker convinced Hall to buy him a gun. It's an act that would constitute a felony, since Windecker himself had past felony charges.

Hall said he did not want to go along with Windecker and his calls for growing violence, but he was afraid of Windecker, whom Aaronson said would show people photos on his phone of dead ISIS fighters Windecker had supposedly killed. When Windecker raised the idea of plotting against Weiser, Hall got scared.

"It doesn't matter if this guy's an informant, a terrible person or not, I'm in danger, and if I don't get this guy this weapon, something could happen to me, a loved one, friends or anything," Hall recalled thinking. "Yeah, I made a mistake, but I was terrified to do it."

Hall said he and other activists tried to raise alarm about their suspicions regarding Windecker, but that Windecker used a surveillance tactic called "snitch-jacketing," where he accused Hall instead and sowed division among activists.

"It was so scary, because when you get the snitch-jacket put on you, no matter what kind of situation you're in, it puts your life at risk," Hall said.

Hall ended up pleading guilty to the firearms felony, and is now serving three years of probation. Another activist named Bryce Shelby never got charged for his involvement with Windecker, but a judge did seize Shelby's guns under the state's red flag law, using secret recordings from the FBI.

That's the extent to which Windecker's surveillance led to any charges. But Hall said the FBI's surveillance did affect the racial justice movement.

While many still call for racial justice and accountability for police brutality, many of the nationwide movements that ignited in the summer of 2020 have fizzled in the past two years. It's hard to know how much of that was caused by federal intervention, but Hall thinks it certainly had its effect.

"I think they were very successful," he said. He said there's always a level of paranoia, but that what happened should teach organizers how to change tactics in the future. He wants the movement to be less hierarchical, and more decentralized.

Aaronson also thinks the FBI tactics worked, based on conversations he had with other Denver activists.

"What people told me there [in Denver] was a lot of the reason that many people stopped going out to protest, a lot of the reasons the process fizzled out, was a feeling of distrust that there were government agents involved," he said. "There was also a lot of concern that the otherwise peaceful protests had turned violent."

For Aaronson, Windecker's role in potentially escalating violence raises bigger questions about what happened in Denver during the summer of 2020.

Like in many other cities across the country, police responded to Black Lives Matter protesters with resounding force. A jury ordered Denver to pay protesters $14 million after police used tear gas and pepper balls against protesters, and payouts from other cases are still ongoing. Settlements over police behavior hit a five-year high in 2022, in large part because of cases emerging from 2020 protests.

"If, as appears to be the case, in Denver, the government agent, Mickey Windecker, was responsible for turning these otherwise peaceful protests into violent events, I think it raises questions about the kind of overall subversive aspect of that," Aaron said. "To what degree did a government agent play a role in provoking that violence?"

Now that Hall's Denver-specific story is coming out, the activist wants one thing from his government: "spill the beans."

"Go to your imaginary grocery store, go to the bean aisle, find your favorite can of beans, get a can opener, open those beans, and you turn them right over," he said. "The only way that any of us can get justice is if people start spilling the beans. People need to start talking."

For Hall, it's not just about justice for left-wing racial justice protesters. Despite right-wing opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, he thinks holding the U.S. government accountable needs to be a bipartisan issue. He grew up in North Carolina with lots of Republican neighbors, and strongly believes people need to come together.

"I don't care what political views you have, I don't care if you're a Trump supporter or a communist or anything in between, your government shouldn't be hiding secrets from you, they shouldn't be using your tax money to f*** up your city," he said.

While he's taking a backseat from organizing since everything happened, Hall said he's "going to play the long game," and has hope for the future.

"I don't think this is a dead movement," Hall said. "At the end of the day, I'm happy all this is coming out, and I think the felony is well worth it, because it can save folks' lives, just getting information out and getting everyone else to talk."

New episodes of Alphabet Boys are out every Tuesday through April 4.

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