Los Angeles was reeling from race riots that left dozens dead in the early 1990s. The paranoid far-right were preparing for an all-out war and FBI agent Mike German - a blonde-haired, blue-eyed rookie - seemed like an ideal candidate to pose as a neo-Nazi to infiltrate a white supremacist cell. It was a difficult undercover mission at a crucial point, but if done properly German could change the course of US history.
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True Spies Episode 73: A Spy Amongst Skinheads

Warning: This episode discusses racially motivated violence. 

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? 

MICHAEL GERMAN: If they saw proof that I was an undercover agent, that would have put my life in jeopardy. They were very reckless with firearms, reckless with explosives, and I was often concerned about getting shot or blown up.

NARRATOR: This is True Spies Episode 73: A Spy Amongst Skinheads.

MICHAEL GERMAN: My name is Mike German, I am a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, and prior to that, I served 16 years as an FBI special agent.

NARRATOR: Michael German is the kind of guy you meet and think: “That guy is a really nice guy.” Polite. Soft-spoken. Thoughtful. Not exactly who you might imagine when you think of white supremacy. Not the sort of person you’d envision crashing over metal barricades at the American capitol. Not who you picture burning a tiki torch or waving a Nazi flag in Charlottesville, Virginia. But that is precisely the kind of guy Mike learned to be in the early 1990s as a young FBI agent.

MICHAEL GERMAN: I worked four years doing savings and loan fraud and was looking for something a little different. And I was asked to go undercover as a Nazi skinhead, and I figured that was as different as it could get. 

NARRATOR: On the one hand, Mike’s infiltration of white supremacist groups took place in a very specific historical milieu. On the other, the setting was tragically similar to the world we live in today. Even a quarter of a century later, due to the sensitive nature of his work, Mike needs to keep some of the details under wraps. Many of the unsavory characters and ideas he encountered are all too familiar today. But the dangers he faced, and the vastness of the movement he infiltrated, might just come as a shock.

NARRATOR: Los Angeles, 1992. The city was in an uproar after a Black man was brutally attacked at the hands of the police, and a videotape preserved the incident for the entire country to see. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: There is a long history of violence, police violence, and that violence is mostly directed at minority communities. So when somebody using this brand-new technology, a VHS tape recording, captured a police beating of a black motorist named Rodney King it, I think, spoke to the community - in a way, documenting what they had been saying. It was happening for decades, but nobody would listen because the police would say it didn't happen, whereas here it was an irrefutable truth. 

NARRATOR: Rodney King wasn’t just beaten. He was shot with a taser and struck with batons 56 times. The attack reportedly lasted for over 15 minutes, most of which was captured on tape by a civilian who sold the recording to his local TV station. The footage leaves no room for dispute: King’s beating was excessive use of force by white police officers against an unarmed Black man.

MICHAEL GERMAN: And you have to understand, too, that it wasn't just the Rodney King beating. At the same time, there was an incident involving a young Black girl who was shot and killed by a Korean store owner. And, at the trial, the shooter was sentenced to a very slight punishment. And there were some reasons for that. She had been a Korean refugee and had serious trauma growing up. But what the Black community saw was that they were expendable.

NARRATOR: It took several months for the unrest to come to a simmer, and then to a boil. But in the spring of 1992, the city was engulfed in race riots, and the US military and the California National Guard were called in to put an end to the chaos. As Mike describes it, in the aftermath of the beating of Rodney King and the killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, L.A. felt like a tinderbox.

MICHAEL GERMAN: And that was something that the white supremacists at the time were hoping to take advantage of. They had seen the unrest as a narrowly missed opportunity to spark a broader race war. 

NARRATOR: White supremacy might seem something of an odious fad these days. But the groups that have made front-page news of late are certainly nothing new. In the midst of the turmoil in LA, they felt they could write a new chapter of their history.

MICHAEL GERMAN: The federal government had stepped in and charged the police officers for civil rights violations, the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. So there was going to be a second trial, and the white supremacists felt like the second trial would also result in an acquittal, which would result in that same kind of civic unrest. But this time they would be better prepared.

NARRATOR: If white supremacists were going to be prepared, the FBI would need to stay a step ahead. The Bureau fully expected more violence to occur and white supremacist communities to seize on the chaos. They were likely to be preparing their weapons, readying themselves for an all-out American race war.

MICHAEL GERMAN: So a lot of the criminal activity that was taking place at the time, within the movement, was weapons trafficking, trying to arm and armor up in anticipation of further civil unrest that they could take advantage of. And it certainly was something that was on the top of everybody's minds, that this was a situation that could get out of hand very quickly and that it would only take one incident to make it much worse.

NARRATOR: The FBI was determined to stay a step ahead of the white supremacists before things could turn from bad to worse. An agent at the L.A. Joint Terrorism Task Force had already been keeping an eye on skinhead groups in the city. But in order to make an arrest, they needed the help of an undercover FBI agent who could collect the evidence they needed. Someone who could believably pass for a neo-Nazi.

MICHAEL GERMAN: So, I think the case agent was attracted to me because I was relatively young and then I could have passed for a high school kid. They used to call me 21 Jump Street - which was a TV series about undercover cops in high school - when I started at the FBI because I was so young-looking. I had a youthful appearance, and as the case agent said to me: “You have blond hair and blue eyes. You can be a Nazi.”

NARRATOR: Mike was a self-proclaimed military brat, a law school graduate who’d spent four years with the FBI. He’d never been undercover before. But he was looking to shake things up. And in the early ‘90s, and in light of the unraveling situation at the time, the stakes were too high to say no, however dangerous the assignment might be. Of course, Mike needed to do more than just look the part. He needed a back story, something that would make him appealing to the skinheads he’d be infiltrating. He needed to be likable - recruitable, even.

MICHAEL GERMAN: We had an informant who was introducing me and which was very helpful, essential, because the informant had created an entire legend around who I was as a criminal, as a very successful criminal. So the groups were recruiting me for my criminal talents. 

NARRATOR: Baby-faced Mike, 21 Jump Street, turned legendary criminal. Who’d have thought?

MICHAEL GERMAN: So we were focused on the weapons trafficking and the informants that had been involved had identified a number of subjects that had been involved in either violent incidents in the recent past or had been engaged in illegal weapons trafficking. So the original focus of it was to identify the people manufacturing the weapons and identify anybody engaging in violence.

NARRATOR: To break into these groups, Mike relied on the help of his informant. That allowed him to lift the lid on Pandora’s box, opening up a world of criminality, hatred, and competition that Mike would never be able to access otherwise. With help from the informant, Mike learned that that world was much less homogenous than you might expect.

MICHAEL GERMAN: The movement is very fractured. There are a number of different philosophies and theologies and ideologies within the white supremacist movement that have different bases. So some are religious, and then within the religious community, some are Christian, some are pagan, some are unique belief systems that were formulated by white supremacists.

NARRATOR: What’s more, these groups aren’t all buddy-buddy.

MICHAEL GERMAN: ​​So because we had learned this from the informant, I couldn't join any one group. Because if you joined one group, the other groups wouldn't work with you anymore, and our goal was to identify the broader range of crimes within the Los Angeles area.

NARRATOR: Fortunately for Mike, these groups tend to have a thirst for new blood. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: They are desperate for support from anyone, so they really have no barrier to entry. And the only difficulty is they know they are a target of law enforcement scrutiny. So they try to be discerning in identifying informants and FBI agents - feds, as they call them.

NARRATOR: As a ‘seasoned criminal’, Mike was the kind of person these groups would want to have on their side. But he made it clear that he wanted to keep them at arm’s length. As it turns out, playing hard-to-get has its merits in the netherworld of neo-Nazis.

MICHAEL GERMAN: It sort of worked to my benefit because it completely subverted their concept of what an infiltrator would look like. It's like: “Wait a minute. This person can't be trying to infiltrate our group. He won't join.” And I would say: "I'll help you. I'll help you in doing what you want to do if it works out with what I'm doing. I support your goals, but I'm just not interested in membership." And there were a lot of people in the militant side of the movement who were that way, as a tactical matter. They realize that once you become part of a group, it creates broader criminal liability. You become responsible for the crimes of the other group and you become open to broader infiltration.

NARRATOR: Remember: Mike was the one being recruited. He was the carrot, not the group.

MICHAEL GERMAN: Instead of me knocking on the door: "Can I come in?” They were saying: "Hey, kid on the street, can you come over here? We'd like to talk to you.”

NARRATOR: But those conversations posed a significant challenge for Mike.

MICHAEL GERMAN: The talking was difficult because they were speaking English, but they had a language I didn't understand. And it's not like in small talk, I could talk about the basketball game that happened last night because that's a multicultural event. I couldn't talk about what movies we've seen because those typically would involve interacting with people of other races. And they didn’t go to those. They didn't have any real knowledge of that. 

NARRATOR: What would you talk about with a group of strangers, if not for sport, culture, politics, or current affairs? To Mike’s surprise, the answer was simple: talk about what you’re reading.

MICHAEL GERMAN: One other thing that I was surprised with was how literate they were. There's a perception that white supremacist, neo-Nazi groups are unsophisticated, stupid, and those people are there. But the movement is really filled with all strata of both education - a lot of the leaders of these groups are very well educated, have professional degrees or advanced degrees, and have gainful employment. And everywhere I went, they were handing me literature, books, VHS tapes at the time, before digital. They would have me sign up for newsletters that they produced, zines that they produced. So we were just getting this influx of all this written material just from being part of the culture or associating with the culture. And I just buried myself in it and just started reading all of it.

NARRATOR: Having new reading material benefitted Mike in two different ways.

MICHAEL GERMAN: One, that I could engage in conversation with them about what they were interested in, but also that I, as an FBI agent, wasn't originating any ideas. And that was something that the US attorney and the federal prosecutor were very concerned about. To have this blond-haired, blue-eyed white FBI agent using some really nasty terms and then using language and talking about very despicable things on tape wasn't going to sound very good. So being able to just mirror what was already written in literature, I could convince the jury that this wasn't Mike German, FBI agent, coming up with these ideas, but rather an undercover agent using their ideas to engage in conversation.

NARRATOR: Imagine yourself in Mike’s position. You need to earn the trust of people whose ideas, whose entire ideology, is hateful, backward, and wrong. To do so, you have to immerse yourself in their world: read their books, talk their talk. Not for a day, or a week, but for months on end. How would you get through the day? How would you sleep at night?

MICHAEL GERMAN: It was always hard to start a case because you would get this file to start preparing, and basically the FBI file is every bad thing this person has ever done or said and none of the good things. Right? So this person sounds horrible. You feel like: "I have to find something likable about this person in order to be able to interact with them.” And I always used to imagine they all have a mother who loves them, and I just have to figure out what the mother sees. 

NARRATOR: A mother, perhaps, with a strong disciplinarian streak. Remember, you’ve been tasked with helping to collect evidence so that the FBI can make convictions before people get killed. It’s up to you to make note of criminal activity. But of course, everywhere you turn, you’re surrounded by despicable people. How can you sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, when you’re up to your neck in a field of wheat? 

MICHAEL GERMAN: The rules at the time required - these were the attorney general guidelines that govern the FBI investigative authorities - required agents to have a reasonable indication that somebody is committing a crime or going to commit a federal crime to justify an investigation. These cases were looked at with a pretty strong microscope to make sure that they were properly focused. At first, that seemed unnecessarily restrictive, right? These were Nazis. You don't think of a lot of very well-intentioned Nazis out there. But what I found during the investigation was, it was actually quite helpful to have this discipline of writing down the evidence that suggests that somebody is going to commit a crime rather than just saying things I didn't like. 

NARRATOR: It wasn’t just a matter of poor taste. Mike witnessed talk of genocide and racial violence day in and day out. But, on its own, that still wasn’t enough to make a case. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: Discipline helped me keep the case pointed in the right direction. Even though this one skinhead had muscles on top of his muscles and tattoos on top of his tattoos and looked like somebody who could do a lot of damage. But when we sat down with a piece of paper and went over the recordings, it was pretty clear that person was always saying "I'm not going to do this” when criminal activity was discussed, so these other meek and mild-looking people were actually making bombs and deploying bombs.

NARRATOR: Mike had always wanted to be an FBI agent from the time he was a child. He’d graduated from law school. He knew how to stick to the rules. And in such a high-stakes position, rules provided welcome limitations on an impossibly large task. Still, there were a lot of gray areas where there were no clear rules to follow. Like the time he encountered a hobbyist arms maker.

MICHAEL GERMAN: That person was making a small explosive device, just as a plaything, but making a bomb. He had made one component improperly. And I could see that but do I tell him that he made his bomb [improperly]? No, I probably should not tell him that he made his bomb incorrectly. I should let him remain a bad bomb maker, even if that means that we don't make a charge out of this particular incident. So you're constantly being challenged with issues like that.

NARRATOR: But Mike had to keep his wits about him. His life was in danger each day he was on the job. One of those bombs could go off unexpectedly, or intentionally. But he still had to keep his knowledge close to the vest and keep the criminals around him talking. Mike was embedded in a world of white supremacists cooking up homemade explosives. But just as dangerous as their cache of weapons was their suspicion of law enforcement. As an undercover agent, Mike was toggling between two worlds - ingratiating himself in a violent subculture, then briefing his colleagues back at the FBI. The Bureau, of course, was watching his every move. Mike knew the neo-Nazis were keeping an eye out for law enforcement, and they made it known they were keeping an eye on him, too. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: Kind of the way people gained status was by identifying the informant. So if somebody had progressed above you in the pecking order, one way you could take them down a notch is by accusing them of being an informant. 

NARRATOR: Think of it as a game of reputational chicken. Someone makes an accusation and has the upper hand. Then, when the other party realizes there’s no basis for the accusation, the roles reverse. Tricky territory for an outsider to navigate until Mike realized that it was all, in fact, only a power play.

MICHAEL GERMAN: The first time somebody accused me of being an FBI agent, I thought I had failed miserably as an agent and would be totally embarrassed. But when I realized that they were accusing everyone, even their own family members, of being FBI informants and FBI agents, I realized I was in a good club of people being accused. So it was just a matter of weathering the storm while the accusations were out there.

NARRATOR: Just keep reading the literature. Just keep the conversation flowing.

MICHAEL GERMAN: My role and my job were to gather the evidence necessary to make sure that they were not in a position where they could hurt somebody. In other aspects of my career, I would go in with a signed search warrant from a judge to get that information. But this just had to be through my wits and engaging them in conversation so that they would provide the evidence that I could use to prevent them from doing harm.

NARRATOR: Sometimes that meant talking about all those books and pamphlets and zines. And sometimes that meant saying nothing at all.

MICHAEL GERMAN: Everybody's been in a social situation where there's that pregnant pause that makes everybody uncomfortable. And early in the investigation I would listen to the tapes and hear that I was often the one who would jump in and end that pregnant pause. Where it's… No! That's a very, very valuable asset for an undercover operative. Make somebody else feel uncomfortable and make them start talking because that's the whole point of you being there, is to get their voice on tape, not your own.

NARRATOR: But gathering information wasn’t the only way that Mike worked to prevent harm. He also found that he could play an important role in the communities he infiltrated by being the responsible one, even if it meant being a bit of an outlier.

MICHAEL GERMAN: What I would often do is be the one who cleans up after everybody. And they would laugh at me and call me names challenging my masculinity. But at some point, they're going to need somebody's help in a very crucial moment. And I'm going to be that person who they know shows up on time and who they know does the little things that keep everybody safer.

NARRATOR: If you ever find yourself infiltrating a group of skinheads, take note. It isn’t by acting like a tough guy that you can ingratiate yourself with a community of neo-Nazis. No, according to Mike, in an alpha dog culture, it’s the underdog who’s most likely to be accepted. Especially an underdog with something to offer.

MICHAEL GERMAN: I realized I was not necessarily going to be likable to everybody but I wanted to be useful to everybody. So what I would always do at the beginning of the case is try to figure out what is difficult for them to do in their criminal scheme and then provide that service. So with this one young group of skinheads, they were fairly young, many of them college-age, and some in the group not even in high school. But I imagined that they would have trouble hiding their weapons, and obviously, their weapons were something that would get them in serious trouble, so it was criminal contraband that nobody wants to have available on them. So I created storage systems where they could put their explosives and firearms in a place that they thought would be safe from law enforcement, but also safe from them having to hold them all the time. If somebody else is willing to take that risk, they were happy to have me take that on.

NARRATOR: Storing weapons for underage skinheads. What a thoughtful guy. Mike’s generous offer to put the weapons in storage worked two ways. First, it clearly helped him gather evidence against the makers of illegal weapons. And second, it allowed the FBI to continue to work multiple cells of the white supremacist movement at the same time. As Mike explains…

MICHAEL GERMAN: The cells were smaller groups of people within the movement who work together but don't share their information with the other cells. The way the cellular structure worked with these groups, you could be in a cell of five people that had one criminal conspiracy. But you're also in a separate criminal conspiracy with three of them that the other two don't know about.

NARRATOR: There’s an implicit understanding in these groups that the various activities of distinct cells aren’t discussed among each other. Sure, they might ask each other questions. But if someone says “I’m not supposed to talk about that” the others would likely understand.

MICHAEL GERMAN: But for the FBI, once you have groups that are making explosives, it becomes very scary. Okay, we could arrest them today and negate the problem, but then we lose these other cells that we're 90 percent there with. So how do we manage that situation? So my ability to get them to give me the dangerous materials was quite helpful to keep the cases going.

NARRATOR: Of course, the longer the FBI kept its cases going, the longer Mike was in physical danger.

MICHAEL GERMAN: I mean, obviously, if they saw proof that I was an undercover agent that would have put my life in jeopardy. But also, they handle firearms in a way that I didn't learn growing up in the military and at the FBI Academy. They were very reckless with firearms, reckless with explosives, and I was often concerned about getting shot or blown up by accident rather than intentionally.

NARRATOR: And it wasn’t just that they were amassing weapons for reasons of violence. It was also for sport or, more precisely, for pleasure.

MICHAEL GERMAN: Even with just legal guns, they would leave them out where children could get a hold of them. They would play with them like toys, pointing them at people even though they're loaded guns. To an FBI firearms instructor that would be something that would make their head explode. But in their culture, that was just how people acted.

NARRATOR: Mike witnessed the reckless mixing of chemicals to make bombs that could have led to unintended explosions. More than once, he found himself in a position of knowing that the people he was investigating had placed their families and children at risk.

MICHAEL GERMAN: Sometimes we didn't have control of the environment. There was a situation where kids were playing outside the garage that we were in. And the idea that kids could get hurt because these people are making a bomb and an FBI agent is there who, again, could arrest them because they're doing that and put an end to it. But that would disrupt the entire investigation.

NARRATOR: What would you do in Mike’s shoes? Do you overturn your entire undercover operation in the name of safety, just to make sure those kids make it through the day alive? That you make it through the day alive? Or do you cross your fingers and hope for the best? After all, the bigger investigation could potentially save many more lives. Maybe that’s the greater good. Maybe, just maybe, those amateur weapons manufacturers have done enough due diligence to at least protect their own children. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: Those were the kind of really hard decisions to make - of how to mitigate the harm that could come out of it.

NARRATOR: As you’ve probably gathered, Mike did survive his first assignment. He weathered the accusations of being an FBI agent, and he weathered the psychological intensity of the job. He doesn’t want to get into the specifics of how the case was resolved but he can say this...

MICHAEL GERMAN: The Los Angeles case involving the white supremacist skinhead groups resulted in successful prosecutions for the production of illegal weapons, the trafficking in illegal weapons, the manufacture and use of explosive devices. There were a number of bombings that we solved. Luckily, nobody had been hurt in those bombings yet so it was perfect timing for the operation. 

NARRATOR: The FBI was able to seize dozens of illegal weapons and make a series of arrests. The investigation also broke up several different criminal cells, one of which had committed multiple racially motivated bombings. As a foray into undercover work, it was a trial by fire. But it was a success for the Bureau, and it was a win for our rookie undercover agent. He had not only played a part in subverting potentially deadly crimes. He also believed that the work played a symbolic role, helping to mend the fractured relationship between law enforcement and the communities it served. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: After that, I was transferred to another office. And after the trials were done, I called the domestic terrorism operations unit because, again, I - growing up in the military - I was used to the concept of an after-action report. You sit down with everybody involved in the operation and figure out what went right? What went wrong? What tactics do we keep? What do we get rid of? How do we make sure that we avoid whatever obstacles we ran into next time? But they told me that they weren't interested in talking with me, that I should just get on with my career. 

NARRATOR: That seemed odd. Surely a debriefing was in order. This wasn’t ‘case closed’ on white supremacy. Mike had experiences to pass down.

MICHAEL GERMAN: And I was a young agent and I thought: “Okay, maybe I'm like a blind squirrel who happened to cross a nut and got lucky. In this case. I'm happy to accept that.” And I'll just go back to work. And then the Oklahoma City bombing happened.

NARRATOR: 168 people died in the Oklahoma City Bombings in April 1995. Hundreds more were injured. Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the bombings, was affiliated with white supremacist groups and had a bone to pick with the federal government and the FBI. McVeigh became the face of the anti-government militia movement, which, ostensibly, sought to uphold the American constitution. Rather than hang out the banner of white supremacy, militia groups like the one McVeigh had been associated with preferred to hide behind the pretense of defending American rights.

MICHAEL GERMAN: So post-Oklahoma City bombing, you see a lot more of these groups calling themselves militias. And there was a militia group that had formed in the Pacific Northwest that an FBI informant had revealed were experimenting with explosives, so we started an undercover operation there - similar crimes: weapons manufacturing, illegal weapons manufacturing, and trafficking and the manufacturing of explosive devices.

NARRATOR: A perfect job for Mike, who was able to take what he learned from the last go-around and improve upon it. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: That case also ended in successful prosecutions. And everybody was happy to pat me on the back about that case and the case agent. But again, there was no interest in doing any kind of after-action report. And I saw that as a failure, that when 9/11 happened, I wasn't surprised. Even though it had nothing to do with those cases that preceded 9/11, there was the same kind of breakdowns in the bureaucracy. And what I saw after 9/11 was that there wasn't an effort to break down that bureaucracy, but rather add to it and make it more secretive and more powerful.

NARRATOR: Mike continued to work for the FBI until the early 2000s. His career ultimately spanned 16 years, 12 of which he worked undercover. But after the 9/11 attacks, he became concerned about the Bureau repositioning itself as a domestic intelligence agency, citing what he called a long history of abuse of intelligence powers. He left the FBI as a whistleblower and later went to work for the American Civil Liberties Union as a national securities lobbyist. And that’s led him to what he does today, researching and writing on law enforcement and intelligence reform. As he sees it, there’s plenty of work to be done and there always has been.

MICHAEL GERMAN: It's interesting that public attention has not more recently started focusing on white supremacist violence and far-right militant violence, and it's often spoken of as a rise in white supremacist activity, rise in far-right militant violence. The problem is there's not really any evidence of that because the government doesn't even track white supremacist violence. The FBI today can't tell you how many people white supremacists killed last year - or the year before, or the year before - because they simply don't track it. It's not a priority. 

NARRATOR: These crimes are investigated as a matter of bureaucratic precedence. As Mike explains it, ranking high on the list makes a big difference in how deadly and otherwise violent incidents get handled. Terrorism gets top billing. When white supremacist violence get classified as domestic terrorism, it ends up higher on the priority list. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: But more often, they would call it a civil rights violation, a hate crime. And, in fact, the Justice Department's policy is to defer the investigation of hate crimes to state and local law enforcement. What happens is most police departments don't acknowledge that hate crimes occur within their jurisdiction. So this policy of deferring hate crimes to state and local basically just puts them in a black hole. 

NARRATOR: And as can be the case with bureaucracies, things can get rather Kafkaesque.

MICHAEL GERMAN: The Justice Department also prosecutes white supremacist violence as a violent crime, which is sixth on the priority list. And again, the policy is to defer to the state and locals. So often when they do take these cases, it's because the state and locals have asked for help. But where the state and locals are not asking for help, they don't get involved. So much of the white supremacist violence that happens in the United States, nobody knows about.

NARRATOR: And yet, Mike says, this kind of hatred is in the air Americans breathe.

MICHAEL GERMAN: That's kind of the hardest thing for people to realize, that white supremacy is not some fringe extremist belief on the edge of our society, but rather permeates the entire thing and is really the foundation of the entire thing. And you can see that in every aspect of the criminal justice system, from who the police stop and frisk to who they pull over when they're in a car, who they decide to search, who they arrest, the use of force in making arrests, all the way through to the length of sentences. And there are people who wear badges and wear judge's robes who would never, ever be caught dead at a Klu Klux Klan rally, but who support these ideas and tacitly support these groups.

NARRATOR: Now that more politicians are out in the open with hateful, discriminatory, and violent rhetoric, Mike says it’s opened the floodgates to more of the skinheads and neo-Nazis he used to know to come out of the woodwork. 

MICHAEL GERMAN: And by encouraging that kind of violence, it became much more public. Whereas, when I was undercover in the Nazis, the groups that were trafficking in illegal weapons and other criminality wouldn't have gone to a public protest.

NARRATOR: Mike continues to advocate for fairer law enforcement and intelligence reform in the United States as a fellow at the Brennan Center at the New York University Law School. He never expected to see the groups he infiltrated becoming such a visible part of American life. It’s hard to feel hopeful, now that neo-Nazism is back in the news but he does believe it’s possible to move the needle.

MICHAEL GERMAN: I don't think I could continue doing this work if I didn't think I was having an impact. But white supremacy has been a foundational part of the creation of our country. So I don't think there is a possibility of eradicating it. I think that we can reduce it significantly and we can reduce the impact of the violence. But this is a persistent problem that we have to recognize is a whole-of-society issue. Violence is a law enforcement issue. The rest of it is for society to deal with. And we just have to have the political will to force our policymakers to enact more effective and fair policies.

NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another glimpse into the shadows with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

Former FBI agent Michael German spent 16 years in the FBI where he worked undercover investigating white supremacists, right-wing militants, and financial crime. He left in 2004 and is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. He has also authored two books.

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