She was a mom of two who’d gone from cocktail waitress to dancer to pay the bills. A cop’s daughter who’d always harbored dreams of fighting crime. And, for four and a half years, a confidential informant who helped the feds bring down a white supremacist behind a 2004 Scottsdale, Arizona, bombing that maimed a Black man — and who had plans to do much worse.
Now, in an exclusive interview with journalist Jeff Maysh on Substack, Rebecca Williams reveals her true identity and tells the wild story of her recruitment by the ATF and the undercover operation that could have cost her her life. Williams went undercover for the ATF between January 2005 and June 2009, Maysh details, often working alone and with no formal training. First, she cozied up to twin brothers Dennis and Daniel Mahon, K.K.K. and White Aryan Resistance members who one ex-ATF agent says “could be the greatest serial bombers that ever lived in this country.” Later, her handler expanded their investigation to have her meet with Robert Joos, a religious zealot who ran a bizarre church and an extremist camp stocked with illegal weapons in remote Missouri, who had been an adviser to the Mahons.
Williams first encountered federal agents through her brother Phillip, a career criminal who’d agreed to infiltrate the Hells Angels after he’d sold drugs to an undercover officer. On a routine visit, Phillip’s handler noticed Rebecca and asked if she’d be interested in undercover work. “It sounded cool at the time,” she tells Maysh, “and I guess it was sort of sexy, you know, the whole spying game.” Maysh describes Williams’ first meeting with ATF Special Agent Tristan Moreland at the bureau’s Phoenix office in January of 2005:
Moreland ran his eyes over her. “She’s lived a little in life, she has a lot of street smarts, and she’s run with some rough crowds,” he recalled thinking. She had an edge and would be believable, he concluded. When he told Rebecca there had been a bombing that seriously injured a Black person, she was intrigued. “They said they needed me to just go and talk to a couple of guys and everything would be recorded. They said that I could get up to $100,000.”
Moreland had shown her photos of Dennis and Daniel Mahon, but warned her not to look them up. Naturally, Rebecca started digging. Dennis Mahon was “one of the scariest guys around” in the 1990s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
A day later, she called Moreland back. She’d do it.
Williams was given a cover story — her name was Becca Stephens, and she was on the run from the law after a failed bombing attempt — and a trailer outfitted with a Confederate flag. She parked next to the Mahons in an Arizona RV camp and immediately struck up a friendship. During their first conversation over beers and sips of 190-proof Everclear, Dennis told her he was a K.K.K. Grand Dragon, showing a photo of himself wearing the green ceremonial hood, and another in which he was doing the Nazi salute. He also gave her his copy of The Turner Diaries, a novel about a race war which had inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “He talked a lot about overthrowing the government with an underground revolutionary war,” Williams told Maysh. Maysh continues:
Daniel boasted about drive-by shootings and blowing up cars, according to transcripts of the secret recordings later heard in court. “We thought we were doing the right thing. We were just trying to send a message,” he told Rebecca. “When I would take someone’s car out, it wasn’t anger. It was a sense of duty. It is like a military operation. You plan for it. Equip for it.”
Rebecca, hoping to captivate the men the way [her alter ego] “Stevie” did customers at the strip club, stayed quiet, even standoffish. Dennis was smitten. “I just want to cuddle with you. You’re so beautiful,” he told her, but as the night wore on, Rebecca made it clear she wanted to go to bed — alone. “Your day may come someday,” she teased, before steering him out the door. Hidden microphones recorded Rebecca as she slipped into bed.
“Motherfucking weirdo,” she whispered.
Within a month of their friendship, Maysh recounts, Dennis had promised to introduce Williams to Joos — who investigators later learned was the first person Mahon had telephoned after the Scottsdale bombing. The brothers also brought her to a local gun show, on the hunt for everything she’d need to make a bomb under their tutelage. As they shopped, she asked Dennis if he’d made successful bombs. As Maysh describes it:
He leaned in close and whispered: “Yes, the goddamn diversity officer…Scottsdale Police Department, had his fingers blown off.” Then he caught himself and said he had told “white cops how to do it.” She had got her confession.
While Williams thought her work was done, the ATF was too intrigued by the idea of Joos and his training camp to let her go. They enticed her with a raise. She deepened her relationship with the Mahons, visiting with them periodically and becoming pen pals over the next few years with Dennis, who eventually arranged a meeting between her and Joos in January 2008:
There was a dusting of snow on the road as Rebecca steered a rental car through the Ozarks, following a map to Joos’ 200-acre-church compound near Powell, Missouri (population: 49). The church had registered a logo consisting of two capital “Ns,” side by side, that looked like the lightning bolts in the Nazi “SS” logo. Rebecca met Moreland for a roadside briefing. He had bad news. Due to the remote location, surveillance was impossible. She was going in alone. No backup.
After Rebecca drove [through a large gate, Joos] locked it behind them. They drove through a graveyard of broken-down vehicles, as stray cats mewed and dogs howled. Inside rickety buildings, Rebecca noted several long guns, and as they strolled among the walnut trees, Joos chatted about survivalism and conspiracy theories. As casually as someone on a YouTube cooking channel, he taught her how to make napalm using household soap.
Joos led her deeper into the woods, showing her distant caves where he hid supplies. “He said if he ever found out that somebody was trying to infiltrate them, that they would disappear,” she recalled. When it was time to leave and Joos opened the padlock and said his goodbyes, she was relieved. “I hope I didn’t freak you out too much,” he wrote in a letter not long after she left. “I know Dennis would really like you to participate in what we are developing here.”
Over the next year and a half, Williams continued gathering information and evidence for the ATF through her relationship with an increasingly suspicious Dennis Mahon, parrying his fears that she was a “plant” by turning the paranoia back on him. Finally, at 7 a.m. on June 25, 2009, the bureau swarmed the Mahons’ home and arrested the brothers. When Moreland, who had also gone undercover late in the operation, cuffed Dennis, Maysh recounts, the terrorist said, “We knew. We knew…you and the girl. We knew.”
Thanks in large part to Williams’ work, Dennis Mahon was found guilty on three counts related to the Scottsdale bombing and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Joos was sentenced to 78 months for possession of illegal firearms. (Daniel Mahon was tried but not convicted of any crime.) The ATF recommended Williams enter the witness relocation program, but she declined to be a “sitting duck,” as she put it to Maysh. She is now living off the grid in a home purchased with her ATF money. But she hasn’t lost her thirst for adventures in crime-fighting: She is currently working independently on solving a local cold case.