FBI Agent Mike German Discusses Years Undercover Investigating Skinheads, Aryans and More
Former FBI agent Mike German spent years infiltrating violent groups on the radical right. He made it look easy.
In 1992, members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads, World Church of the Creator and White Aryan Resistance had begun amassing explosives and automatic weapons with the goal of attacking synagogues and assassinating prominent minority figures such as Rodney King, Rev. Al Sharpton, Minister Louis Farrakhan, and rappers Public Enemy and Eazy-E. Detailed plans had been drawn up to bomb the First African Methodist Episcopal church in Los Angeles in a coordinated attack that included using pipe bombs and machine guns to slaughter the 5,000-member, mostly black congregation.
Racist Skinheads hopefully predicted that these acts would start a race war, but their plans were foiled by a young FBI agent, Michael German, who spent a year infiltrating Skinhead circles and was able to gather evidence that led to the arrest of eight suspects in 1993. Four years later, in 1997, German was undercover again. This time, he was instrumental in bringing seven members of the Washington State Militia and the Seattle-based Freemen to justice on charges of conspiring against the government and possession of destructive devices.
Mike German's 16-year career with the FBI came to an abrupt end in 2004. German, whose infiltrations in California and Washington had earned him accolades including a medal of valor, had been involved in a 2002 investigation in north Florida exploring links between an international terrorist organization and a domestic group that included the sale of illegal drugs. In the course of his investigation, German discovered several instances of FBI mismanagement, and when he reported those findings -- which included an illegal wiretap and the altering of records -- his superiors responded by stripping him of his security clearance and forcing him to resign. But in the end, a whistle-blower investigation completed by the Justice Department in November 2005 "substantiated German's allegations that the Orlando case was mishandled and mismanaged."
Despite the premature end to his career, German remembers most of his time with the FBI fondly. He spoke to the Intelligence Report about the years he spent undercover with right-wing extremists, including two of his most successful cases.
INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Mike, what drew you to the FBI?
MICHAEL GERMAN: I was an army brat, so I lived everywhere once. I was raised believing in serving your country and decided when I was just a kid that I was going to go to law school and join the FBI and my parents thought that was great. I graduated from high school and went to law school at Northwestern University and joined the FBI immediately afterwards.
It was obviously an exciting job and I was kind of a Type A person that needed a little bit of excitement. The FBI also had a reputation for being the best law enforcement agency in the world, so there were a lot of things pushing me. Luckily, I came at a time when the FBI was hiring. I got to fulfill my childhood dream, which most people can't say they've done.
My initial investigations were in fraud and white-collar crime so they weren't as exciting as I might have hoped for, but it was a great education. I learned how to put cases together and how to do complex investigations and it was taking advantage of my legal background.
IR: How did you transition from investigating white-collar crime to infiltrating white supremacist groups?
GERMAN: Literally, one day a guy walked past my office and said, "I need a young Nazi." I looked like I was about 15 years old and I had blond hair and blue eyes, so I was kind of perfect for what he was looking for in this particular investigation, which was looking at some violent Skinhead activity in Los Angeles.
IR: How did you prepare for your role as a racist Skinhead?
GERMAN: I actually grew my hair out longer so I wouldn't look so clean cut. They criticized me for it and told me to cut my hair all the time. I mean, the Skinheads were worse than the people at the FBI as far as my hair!
The agent who had been doing the investigation had been on the case for over a year at that point and had been using various cooperating witnesses. Some of them had been recording some conversations, so I assisted in reviewing those recordings and also just read materials that the subject groups had published.
IR: What was your experience undercover like at first?
GERMAN: I probably had more understanding than the average person, but it didn't scratch the surface of what I needed to know. They spoke a whole different language and it was very difficult to understand what they were talking about. Some of the theories are so outside the normal realm of experience that it was really hard to tell whether people were joking or not. Somebody would say something very outrageous and you would tend to want to chuckle. Then you'd realize that nobody else is chuckling.
They were much smarter, much more professional and much more organized than I had given them credit for. I was expecting it would be kind of like hanging out with a street gang and that the violence would be very unpredictable and that there was not really much substance behind their philosophical and religious arguments -- that it was all just motivated by ignorance and hate as opposed to ideology. It surprised me how complex the ideologies were. They would go on and on for hours and hours. I would have a very large headache by the end of the day.
Also, as an FBI agent I had to be very careful about what I was saying and what was coming out of my mouth because, of course, I was going to be in front of a jury and I was recording everything. If there were comments I was making that were particularly abhorrent, it would be hard to convince the jury that that was part of the game and not my own beliefs. Often, rather than say something, I would refer to something I had read or something someone else said.