Whitmer case jargon: 'Left of boom' describes the line between FBI surveillance and arrests

October 10, 2020, 9:01 AM

Scene from an earlier investigation (Photo: FBI)

It's OK to call us word nerds, a point of pride.

That's why we appreciate finding a nugget of law enforcement jargon amid the mound of Michigan anti-government plot coverage. It appears deep in a Detroit Free Press report on the strength of federal evidence against 13 accused domestic terrorists.

The colorful slang -- "left of boom" -- is shared by legal scholar Barb McQuade of Ann Arbor, a former federal prosecutor who's now a University of Michigan law professor and MSNBC analyst.

Eighteen paragraphs into the Freep article, she describes the tricky balance between watching potentially violent conspirators and pouncing before anything happens:

"On the one hand, you want to continue long enough to build sufficient evidence to get a conviction at trial. On the other hand, you don't want to wait too long and endanger human lives."

One phrase the FBI frequently uses is "staying left of boom." The word "boom" indicates the violent act.

"If you imagine placing it all on a timeline, left of boom is some moment before the bad incident occurs," McQuade explained. "You want to disrupt a group like this left of boom, but you need to allow sufficient time for the investigation to gather evidence that you can prove that they were taking significant steps and they intended to follow through with this and it wasn't just idle talk or blowing steam — which is often likely to be an anticipated defense in a case like this."

Barb McQuade: "left of boom is some moment before the bad incident." (Photo: MSNBC)

The goal is to document enough evidence for convictions.

"The line is whether they’re engaging in conduct that could be violent and dangerous to human life," McQuade said. "In this case, you’ll see not just that they were saying negative things about the governor but that they were training, building improvised explosive devices, testing those devices, surveilling her home, surveilling a bridge in the area. 

"The legal term is 'taking a significant step in furtherance of a conspiracy.' Did they take significant steps? In this case, there were a number of them."

Read more:  Detroit Free Press

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