In the interest of privacy, I have left out the names of the parties or the organization involved in this story.
In the summer of 2006, my partner and I took on a new client; a prosecuting attorney.
She had been hired by the government, to serve as outside counsel in a trial incriminating the leader of one of the world’s largest white supremacist organizations. The trial had been ongoing for almost a year with no major interruptions, when this attorney began getting death threats at home and on internet message boards. She was even followed home from one of the hearings. My partner and I were called upon to accompany her for the final day of the trial.
With a surveillance team placed outside the courthouse, our duties were simply to provide transportation to the trial, escort our client into the courtroom, take a seat close by, and to not let her out of our sight. Pretty basic. However, at the last minute, the trial was opened to the public. Nearly 100 white supremacist supporters and fellow members of this “brotherhood” decided to show their support for the man on trial by coming into the courthouse. This was a very different scenario from the one we’d anticipated when we took this prosecuting attorney on as our client!
Most bodyguards make sure they are noticed, using their size to intimidate any would-be trouble makers. Thanks to my bald, shaved head, in this crowd of white supremacists, I went undetected as a bodyguard, and I intended to keep it that way.
As the morning proceedings began, I glanced around the room to assess my surroundings. The majority of the crowd was taking a genuine interest in the trial, with the exception of one man, who seemed to be staring at my client. He looked almost hypnotized, he was staring so hard and continuously. I was not too concerned about him being in possession of any weapons, since there had been extensive screening and searches prior to admitting anyone into the courthouse.
But I was concerned about a physical attack or the use of an object already in the room as a weapon. There are always those individuals who take the leap of faith over the small barrier to attack a defendant or lawyer, so I was on the alert. The first half of the final day of the trial came to a close, and the court was recessed for a 30 minute break. My client retreated to the prosecutor’s chambers; a small room only accessible by a small door in plain sight. Nearly all of the crowd filed out of the courtroom to the common area to get refreshments, use the phone, restrooms, etc. I asked my partner to sit tight in the courtroom, while I go out to mingle with the crowd in the common area.
In all my years as a bodyguard, there have been two things that I always kept in the back of my mind: 1) The power of a handshake, and. 2) People love the sound of their own name.
Once in the common area, I spot the man who had been staring at my client, and casually work my way over to him and extend my hand, “Hey how are yah? I’m Mike” … I introduce myself. We shake hands and he tells me his name is Jerry. “Nice to meet you, Jerry” I say. We small-talk back and forth for a couple minutes, since I’m supposed to be “one of them” I have to listen to his white supremacist comments and pretend to agree with him.
The bells chime that the trial is about to continue, and we head back to the courtroom. I notice Jerry is by himself, so I say “Jerry, why don’t you sit up with me, you can hear much better and the air conditioning vent is right above me, so it’s not as hot as the rest of the room.” Jerry complies, sitting next to me, and is thrilled that he has made a new friend so quickly. I’m thrilled because now he’s close enough for me to manage. So the next hour goes by, my new friend Jerry and I whisper some more small talk back and forth.
Then, he asks me “How many people in here do you think are undercover cops?” I reply, “Not sure, Jerry, haven’t really thought about it.” He then makes a comment that he doesn’t have the time of day for any “non-supporters,” using very colorful language, which I will not repeat. Finally, the trial comes to a close (it was adjourned for another month). It is time to say goodbye to my buddy Jerry, so I say “Well Jerry, sometimes people just have a job to do.
It’s unfortunate that you deem people to be guilty by association, but I hope after today you realize that sometimes people are impartial and are simply putting food on the table for their kids.” He stares at me confused, not quite sure what to make of what I just said. Then I stand up, shake his hand, and say “It was a pleasure to meet you Jerry, you take care.” I walk to the front of the courtroom with my partner behind me, take my client by her arm, and escort her right out of the counsel’s exit and to our waiting car.
It turned out that “Jerry” was the second in command behind the white supremacist leader who was on trial. He was also a man with an extremely violent history.
My story is a prime example of how bodyguards often are called upon to use our wits, and not our size as a deterrent. I truly believe that if I had acted as the stereotypical bodyguard, standing at the front of the court room in a suit and tie, sporting an ear piece and sunglasses, that this story might have turned out differently. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and wear a different hat. If it means pretending to be something that you’re not and saying things that you don’t believe to be true–but it ensures your client’s safety–then you’ve got to do it.
I am happy to report, by the way, that when the trial resumed a month later, it was behind closed doors.