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.
GERMAN: Yes. But then one of the bomb makers indicated he'd accidentally left a bomb at home. Obviously, it was something I wanted to get off the street right away, so I arranged to go to his house the next morning. When there was no answer at the door, I went around back where his wife was playing with their grandchildren. She came over and I told her who I was and that I was there to pick up a "package." She opened the gas grill, where she kept it so the kids wouldn't get into it.
Keeping a small bomb in a gas grill, of course, just makes it a much bigger bomb. But that was typical of the recklessness these groups exhibit all the time. Luckily for me, her and her grandkids, I was able to get the bomb out of there so it could be disposed of by the bomb techs.
IR: Once you had amassed enough evidence to prosecute, how did you arrest your suspects?
GERMAN: These groups tend to revere their martyrs and they talk about martyrdom all the time, about how "if anybody ever tries to arrest me, it's going to be to the death" and "I'm not going to be taken alive," that kind of stuff.
So, as we were preparing for the arrest, we tried to create a situation where we could control the environment. Instructional classes were kind of a normal thing for them. This was an activity they were constantly involved in, trying to learn police techniques so that they could combat them. So we decided I would teach them how to pick out of handcuffs with a lock pick set. That way, we would get everyone to put handcuffs on themselves. It worked perfectly. I had a bunch of lock pick sets and I just said, "Hey, this is something I taught myself to do and I can teach you how to do it, too." So everybody grabbed a set of handcuffs and put them on.
My having had the experience with Skinheads made the militia case much easier. I wasn't constantly overcoming my mistakes. I controlled the situation a little better. A lot of undercover work is just plain luck and we had a lot of luck early in that case. Basically, its better to be lucky than good.
IR: Did you feel in danger at any time during the case?
GERMAN: When I was undercover with the militia, the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] made an undercover case against the Viper militia [also known as the Viper Team] in Arizona. Unfortunately, that had a negative impact on our case because they were saying, "Wait a minute, what if we have already been infiltrated?" They started redoing everybody's backgrounds, which was not good for me. But I'm sure that was happening in other cells, also.
When a group has to stop and redirect their efforts to security rather than operations, it helps protect against terrorism. Their paranoia about whether I might be an undercover agent, or whether the next guy might be, is what prevents them from doing most of the things they wanted to do. In other words, they'd plan an event and then call it off because they would get spooked.
That's a victory. If we are making their job harder and they don't know who they can trust and who they can't, we win. But the only way we can do that is by having successful undercover cases that result in prosecutions. It's not that you grab one cell. It's that you show every other cell that we can get into your cell.