"The principle office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten,
and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity.” —Tacitus
12 Myths versus Facts
Myth: Native American occupiers heroically defended Wounded Knee village from trigger-happy lawmen itching to turn a peaceful demonstration into a bloodbath; only the advice and counsel of Justice Department negotiators and an Army Colonel averted whole-sale carnage.
Fact: On the night of February 27, 1973, Wounded Knee village fell victim to a commando-style raid by militants who started fires, shot out the streetlights, and began looting the store, museum and Post Office. They shot at responding firemen and policemen and took 11 hostages, mostly old people and children. Justice Department lawyers embarked on a doomed strategy of appeasement and delay, while the village was slowly destroyed from within. An Army colonel tried but failed to handicap law enforcement professionals with an ill-advised “shoot to wound” policy. Militants played to the cameras during daylight hours while at night, they opened fire on government roadblocks. The insurgents broke virtually every ceasefire agreement, save the one that finally ended the standoff 71 days after it began. By then, the real victims, the village residents—most of whom were uninsured—had lost everything they owned. Wounded Knee village was completely destroyed and was never rebuilt.
Myth: The occupation of Wounded Knee was a spontaneous event, a last desperate attempt to stand up for justice in opposing a corrupt tribal government.
Fact: AIM leader Russell Means had been planning the takeover of Wounded Knee for years. When the time was right, he ordered his followers to take the village. The duly elected tribal government was in the process of enacting several service-related projects for the reservation, many of which fell by the wayside after the village was destroyed and a period of violence ensued.
Myth: The Occupation of Wounded Knee was a “symbolic” demonstration by aggrieved residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Fact: Wounded Knee was invaded by mostly reservation outsiders. Before they could pose as aggrieved villagers, the invaders ousted the real residents, many of whom were their fellow Indians.
Myth: The Wounded Knee occupiers were poorly armed, poorly funded, and posed little or no threat to law enforcement officers.
Fact: Wounded Knee militants were initially much better armed than the handful of FBI Agents and BIA officers who were ordered to erect makeshift roadblocks in order to contain the violence. The militants’ initial cache of weaponry was either stolen from local gun shops and the Wounded Knee Trading Post, or was partly funded by grant money from the federal government. As the standoff continued, AIM insurgents infiltrated a porous village border and resupplied themselves with large caliber ammunition and scoped rifles. On several occasions, the insurgents ventured out of the village and opened fire on government-manned roadblocks. FBI Agents, U.S. Marshals, and BIA officers were under constant threat of deadly gunfire.
Myth: The Wounded Knee occupation consisted of peaceful activists led by AIM leaders who just wanted to be left alone. If the government forces had withdrawn, the standoff would have ended.
Fact: The occupation was designed to attract media attention. AIM leaders believed television and newspaper coverage was essential to their continued success. Without a soapbox, the militants would have likely moved onto to a more provocative media event as they had done countless times before. Reporters as well as government negotiators were fooled into believing the militants wanted to reach an accord.
Myth: Government forces overreacted to the takeover with military tanks and aircraft and illegally employed military assets.
Fact: Government negotiators as well as the law enforcement officers who manned the roadblocks exhibited extraordinary patience and restraint in the face of nightly gun attacks. Had they not shown restraint, there would have been many more casualties than the two that resulted from pitched gun battles in the final weeks of the standoff. Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), not tanks, were used to defend roadblocks and act as metal cocoons to protect FBI Agents and U.S. Marshals. Reconnaissance aircraft took photographs of militant bunkers (constructed from the burned-out hulks of stolen vehicles) that would otherwise have been too hazardous to obtain. Justice Department officials went to great lengths to ensure compliance with the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA), which forbade the active use of military assets in civilian affairs. Successive federal courts found that the PCA was not violated at Wounded Knee.
Myth: The takeover of Wounded Knee village was a “liberation.”
Fact: Once the bona fide residents were kicked out of their homes, armed militants vied for power and enforced heavy penalties against assumed traitors. In the process, several people were allegedly murdered, including Ray Robinson, the only black male occupier seen in the village. His remains, along with the bodies of several others, are said to be buried near the village ruins. Robinson’s friend, Al Cooper, has publicly corroborated his near-death experience after AIM leaders accused him of being a snitch. One woman reported being raped, while several young, white females are believed to be among the dead. These murders have never been solved because the bodies, including Robinson’s, remain undiscovered.
Myth: AIM member Leonard Peltier was framed and railroaded into jail for the murder of FBI Agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler.
Fact: Peltier was convicted of aiding and abetting in the murders of the Agents based on the evidence against him. Numerous appeals have upheld his conviction.
Myth: Peltier was exonerated by a mysterious man wearing a hood over his head. Known only as Mr. “X”, the man with a gravelly voice claimed on national television that he murdered the Agents, not Peltier.
Fact: Mr. X’s creation and subsequent appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes was later exposed as a complete hoax dreamed up by Peltier supporters at the home of actor Max Gail. Several Hollywood performers were fooled into believing in Peltier’s innocence, among them Robert Redford, Ed Asner, Harry Belefonte, Jane Fonda, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, and Barbara Streisand.
Myth: Peltier is innocent of murdering Agents Coler and Williams because he has never admitted guilt and because there was no evidence that linked him to the killings.
Fact: In front of four witnesses, Peltier boasted of killing the Agents. As one of the men pleaded for his life, Peltier allegedly said, “…I shot him anyway.” Both Agents died instantly after being shot in the face at point-blank range. Shell casings ejected from Peltier’s weapon matched a shell casing found at the murder scene.
Myth: AIM leaders and supporters claim that hundreds of murders on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s were never investigated by the BIA or the FBI.
Fact: Every bona fide murder on the reservation was investigated by the FBI. In May, 2001, the Minneapolis Field Office published The Pine Ridge Report, An Accounting for Native American Deaths, (.) Sadly, many of these deaths were alcohol-related. Very few of them were actual murders and most of those involved AIM members, such as the murders of Anna Mae Aquash and Jeanette Bissonette.
Myth: The FBI used a COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) against the AIM leadership and their lawyers.
Fact: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover formally terminated all COINTELPRO operations on April 28, 1971, long before AIM gained a national presence. Although the FBI has always relied on informants in investigating federal crimes, the FBI never employed a COINTELPRO against AIM. To the contrary, AIM leaders used their own version of a COINTELPRO to threaten and intimidate their members into towing the line, including pitting one member against another. In fact, AIM leaders ordered several of their own members to be interrogated at gunpoint. Members who collected donations to AIM were threatened if they did not turn over all money directly to the leaders and members who testified in court were intimidated into committing perjury. For example, in the trial of convicted killer Leonard Peltier, the court determined that, “The two witnesses testified outside the presence of the jury that after their testimony at trial, they had been threatened by Peltier himself that if they did not return to court and testify that their earlier testimony had been induced by F.B.I. threats, their lives would be in danger.”
Notable Events in the History of the American Indian Movement
July, 1968: AIM is founded by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt and others, as an offshoot of a government-funded anti-poverty program in Minneapolis.
July, 1970: Dennis Banks leads AIM members in a failed fleecing of a Lutheran Church in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. The following year, the same house of worship donates $45,000.
November 24, 1970: Russell Means and Dennis Banks lead a group of raucous followers during the 350th anniversary of Plymouth Colony. Stunned organizers dressed in Pilgrim outfits watch the militants board a replica of the Mayflower and proceed to vandalize it. There are no arrests.
December 16, 1970: The Airlie Center in Warrenton, Virginia, a meeting complex, is the site of a three-day conference on Indian affairs. Intoxicated AIM members cause several thousand dollars worth of damage. No arrests.
May 16, 1971: AIM stages a sit-in at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, resulting in injuries and arrests.
June 6, 1971: Russell Means leads 50 Indians armed with baseball bats and pick handles in a demonstration at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. A week later, AIM stages a sit-in at an abandoned U.S. Army Nike Missile Site near Chicago, Illinois. On July 1, protesters throw stones and Molotov cocktails, injuring three policemen.
September 22, 1971: Russell Means leads approximately 60 rabble rousers against the BIA building in Washington, D.C. The protesters try unsuccessfully to place officials under citizen’s arrest. Twenty-four persons are arrested after thirty-five to forty AIM members scuffle with GSA Security officers.
February 20, 1972: Raymond Yellow Thunder, a fifty-one year old Sioux from Porcupine, is found dead in a truck in Gordon, Nebraska. Yellow Thunder died from a head injury suffered three days earlier while locked in the trunk of a car driven by white out-of-town hoodlums. Three youths are later convicted of manslaughter. AIM members, along with “big city” reporters, descend on the small town of 2500, declare widespread racism, administer atonement, and distort the facts of the case.
March 9, 1972: A year before the Wounded Knee takeover, Russell Means leads 300 Indians to the village following Raymond Yellow Thunder’s funeral. The Trading Post is looted and an estimated $50,000 in Indian artifacts is stolen, thus setting the stage for the larger scale operation of the following year.
April 4, 1972: AIM seizes the BIA jail in Fort Totten, North Dakota.
June 8, 1972: AIM members and sympathizers demonstrate against an Indian dance being performed by Boy Scouts in Topeka, Kansas. Fist fights break out and five AIM members are arrested.
July 2, 1972: Eight AIM members are arrested and charged with inciting a riot and assault after disrupting an All-Indian Pow Wow in Flagstaff, Arizona.
November 1, 1972: AIM members arrive in Washington, D.C. in an ill-fated peace protest, known as the Trail of Broken Treaties. A few days later, the group storms the BIA HQ building after a government snafu is interpreted as a double-cross. AIM members destroy priceless artifacts and Indian land deeds. Total damage is estimated at two million dollars. Government negotiators pay AIM leaders $67,000 as travel money to leave the city. No arrests are made. AIM leaders return to South Dakota and declare war on Rapid City businesses.
November 20, 1972: AIM returns to the Pine Ridge Reservation, where Russell Means clashes with Tribal Chairman Richard Wilson. The Tribal Council authorizes the establishment of a forty-man team to protect reservation buildings. The group is given the name, the “Goons.”
January 21, 1973: AIM member Wesley Bad Heart Bull is stabbed to death during a fight outside a bar in Buffalo Gap, South Dakota. Bad Heart Bull was seen beating another man with a tire chain. AIM leaders vow a day of reckoning.
February 6, 1973: In a filmed entry, AIM members arrive in the small town of Custer, the County seat, to register their complaints with town officials over the Bad Heart Bull death. A riot ensues. Rocks and bottles are thrown and a small building is burned to the ground. No one is seriously injured.
February 23, 1973: Following several death threats, the U.S. Marshals Service places Tribal Chairman Richard Wilson and his family under protective custody and moves them to an undisclosed location.
February 27, 1973: AIM members invade and pillage Wounded Knee village. Eleven residents are taken hostage. The FBI and BIA establish roadblocks around a fifteen-mile perimeter. Two days later, Justice Department lawyers arrive to negotiate with AIM leaders. Militants initiate almost nightly gunfire on the government barriers. The occupation lasts 71 days.
March 11, 1973: Two FBI Special Agents pursue a stolen U-Haul van outside the Wounded Knee village perimeter. SA Curtis Fitzgerald is shot by a militant who fired from the rear of the van. The incident occurred during an agreed ceasefire. Agent Fitzgerald sustains debilitating injury to his hand.
March 26, 1973: U.S. Marshal Lloyd Grimm is struck in his upper right chest by militant gunfire. Grimm is paralyzed from the waist down and later dies from complications. Earlier that day, AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks are seen returning to the village after disappearing for two days.
March 27, 1973: Not far from Wounded Knee, outspoken AIM critic Leo Wilcox is found burned to death in his car.
April 4, 1973: Assistant Attorney General Kent Frizzell, chief negotiator for the government at Wounded Knee, reports some progress in discussions. Frizzell learns that AIM Attorney Ramon Roubideaux and negotiator Hank Adams are honestly seeking a settlement, while AIM attorneys Mark Lane and Kenneth Tilsen merely want further disruption. A tentative accord is announced whereby Russell Means would be bonded out of jail and flown to Washington to attend a White House conference. Once the conference begins, Means agrees to contact his security man at Wounded Knee, Stanley Holder, who will commence immediate disarmament.
April 5, 1973: Russell Means, now in Washington, reneges on the April 4 agreement. The occupation continues.
April 17, 1973: Wounded Knee infiltrator Frank Clear is struck by a stray bullet that had penetrated the wall of a church. He dies eight days later.
April 21 (on or about), 1973: Civil rights activist Ray Robinson is shot during an argument with AIM leaders. He later bleeds to death and is buried just outside the village. Six others are rumored to be buried near Robinson, victims of secret murders behind the barriers.
April 26, 1973: Russell Means gives fund-raising speech at UCLA and is again arrested the next day in Los Angeles.
April 27, 1973: During one of the fiercest gun battles of the occupation, Lakota Buddy Lamont is fatally wounded by government fire.
April 29, 1973: The Wounded Knee Trading Post burns to the ground.
May 5, 1973: The FBI confiscates a large cache of food and supplies destined for the village. The death of Buddy Lamont has a demoralizing effect on the occupiers. Without power, water, or functioning toilets, the militants agree to a truce that will end the occupation.
May 8, 1973: Dispossession is affected. The American flag is raised after a short ceremony near the 1890 mass grave.
February 12, 1974: The Wounded Knee trial of Russell Means and Dennis Banks opens in Saint Paul. Judge Fred Nichol presides over the case. Three months before the trial began, Judge Nichol hosted defendant Banks in his home, so that Banks could meet the judge’s wife. This information is not made public until after the trial ends.
September 12, 1974: The Wounded Knee trial jurors are dismissed to deliberate the case. One of the jurors falls ill and cannot continue.
September 16, 1974: Alleging “government misconduct,” Judge Nichol dismisses all charges against the defendants. A period of violence engulfs the Pine Ridge Reservation.
October 10, 1974: At an AIM encampment near Los Angeles, a taxi driver is murdered. Two AIM members are acquitted of the crime May 24, 1978.
January 2, 1975: AIM occupies an abandoned monastery near Gresham, Wisconsin. The stand-off ends 34 days later. Later that year, part of the monastery is severely damaged by fire.
March 1, 1975: Martin Montileaux is shot in the throat following an argument with Russell Means and Richard Marshall in a men’s room stall at a bar in Scenic, South Dakota. Montileaux later dies from his injury.
March 12, 1975: After being confronted by AIM leaders, Douglas Durham announces at a press conference that he is a paid FBI informant. Durham witnessed Banks’s visit to Judge Nichol’s home in Sioux Falls.
March 14, 1975: Judge Nichol recuses himself from hearing Wounded Knee cases.
March 25, 1975: Jeannette Bissonette is shot to death while sitting in a car on property owned by Tribal Chairman Richard Wilson’s brother. Royer Pfersick is attacked by Leonard Crow Dog at Crow Dog’s home on the Rosebud Reservation. Throughout the rest of the year, Pine Ridge and the surrounding areas are besieged by shootings, brawls, and murders.
June 5, 1975: Carter Camp, Stan Holder, and Leonard Crow Dog are found guilty of abducting, confining, and beating four postal inspectors during the Wounded Knee occupation.
June 6-18, 1975: Anna Mae is interrogated by Leonard Peltier at gunpoint at the AIM National Convention in Farmington, New Mexico.
June 23, 1975: On a ranch near Batesland, South Dakota, two youths are threatened, robbed, and beaten by four perpetrators, one of whom is Pine Ridge resident Jimmy Eagle.
June 25, 1975: Teddy Pourier is arrested and charged with participating in the beating. FBI Special Agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler, accompanied by BIA police officer Glen Little Bird and trainee Robert Ecoffey, search the White Clay area for Eagle. After interviewing local residents and observing several young men near the Jumping Bull ranch, the officers decide to resume the search the next day. Upon leaving the area, the officers question three youths seen walking near the road. All three give false names, and are taken into custody. None is identified as Jimmy Eagle.
June 26, 1975: Agents Williams and Coler resume the search for Eagle. They return to the Jumping Bull compound where wanted fugitive Leonard Peltier opens fire on them. Other shooters join in, and soon, both Agents are wounded. Along with Peltier’s cousin, Robert Robideau, and a third man, Dino Butler, Peltier approaches the Agents and finishes them off. Peltier later boasts of shooting Agent Williams in the face at point-blank range. AIM member Joe Stuntz is shot and killed in the pursuit of Peltier and his accomplices. A massive manhunt begins.
July 26, 1975: Banks is convicted on Custer riot charges and sentenced to fifteen years. He flees to California. There, Governor Jerry Brown grants him sanctuary from South Dakota extradition.
August 5, 1975: Crow Dog is sentenced to five years for his role in the Wounded Knee postal inspector incident. He is given a suspended sentence pending good behavior. Carter Camp and Stan Holder fail to appear for sentencing and become fugitives.
September 2, 1975: Crow Dog viciously assaults two Indian men and confines them for hours at his ranch on the Rosebud Reservation.
September 5, 1975: The FBI raids Crow Dog’s ranch. Several people are arrested, including Anna Mae Aquash, for weapons possession. Anna Mae is questioned about her knowledge of the Bissonette killing.
September 10, 1975: A car carrying explosives and driven by Robert Robideau blows up on a highway near Wichita, Kansas. The weapon used to murder Agents Coler and Williams, an AR-15, is recovered from the wreckage.
November 14, 1975: Fugitive Dennis Banks, driving a motor home, along with fugitive Leonard Peltier, Ka-Mook Banks, and Anna Mae Aquash, is pulled over by an Oregon State Trooper. AIM members Russell Redner and Kenneth Loud Hawk are following the motor home in a white station wagon carrying 350 pounds of dynamite. Banks, still behind the wheel of the motor home, opens fire on the officer. Banks speeds away from the scene and abandons the vehicle a short distance away. Peltier escapes on foot. Several illegal weapons and bomb-making materials are recovered from the vehicles. Ka-Mook and Anna Mae, along with Loud Hawk and Redner, are placed under arrest. Anna Mae falls under increasing suspicion that she may have tipped off law enforcement. AIM leaders fear she is cooperating behind bars.
December 10, 1975: Anna Mae is taken from the Denver home of Troy Lynn Yellowwood by John Graham and Arlo Looking Cloud and put in the back of Theda Clark’s red Pinto hatchback. Several witnesses observe that Anna Mae is bound and carried against her will.
December 11, 1975: Anna Mae is taken to the offices of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense Offense Committee in Rapid City. She is interrogated by Lorlie DeCora-Means and Madonna Gilbert, members of the Means clan. WKLDOC lawyer Bruce Ellison is said to be taking part in the questioning. Ted Means, Clyde Bellecourt, Tom Poor Bear, and legal aides Candy Hamilton, Kathy James, and Toby and Lucky Hollander are present. Hamilton later testifies that earlier in the day, Ellison had told Thelma Rios-Conroy that Anna Mae was being held at the WKLDOC office. According to News From Indian Country sources, Ellison is said to have encouraged the idea that Anna Mae was an informant. Anna Mae is moved to two residences owned by Thelma Rios-Conroy, where she is allegedly raped and assaulted by John Graham.
December 12, 1975: Anna Mae is again put in the back of the Pinto. Theda Clark, Arlo Looking Cloud, and John Graham drive her to the Rosebud Reservation home of Bill Means. AIM members Ted Means, David Hill, and Clyde Bellecourt are present and confer. Russell Means, on trial in Sioux Falls, is rumored to be staying at a home in Wanblee, South Dakota. Anna Mae is taken to the home of Vine Richard “Dick” and Cleo Marshall in Allen, South Dakota. Dick Marshall, Russell Means’s friend and bodyguard, is given a note that tells him to “take care of this baggage.” Cleo refuses to keep Anna Mae. Dick Marshall allegedly gives the murder weapon to Arlo. Later that night, Clark, Looking Cloud, and Graham drive Anna Mae to a remote part of the reservation near Wanblee. Looking Cloud and Graham force Anna Mae out of the car and drag her to a Cliff. Graham allegedly shoots her in the head.
December 15, 1975: Russell Means is convicted in Sioux Falls in connection with his role in the Custer riot but is free on bond.
January 6, 1976: Dennis Banks is arrested for several alleged offenses and bonds out of jail.
February 6, 1976: Leonard Peltier is arrested in Hinton, Alberta, Canada.
February 24, 1976: The body of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash is found by a rancher. The coroner, Dr. O. Brown, declares the cause of death to be exposure. Dennis Banks phones his wife, Ka-Mook, and informs her Anna Mae has been found.
March 2, 1976: The yet unidentified body of Anna Mae is buried at the Holy Rosary Mission.
March 3, 1976: The FBI Latent Fingerprint Division identifies the victim as Anna Mae Pictou Aquash.
March 8, 1976: FBI ASAC Norman Zigrossi asks for exhumation of the body. The same day, WKLDOC attorney Bruce Ellison also files for exhumation. Ellison appears at the FBI office inquiring about the autopsy.
March 10, 1976: A second autopsy reveals a bullet wound in the back of the head. Death is ruled a homicide.
March 14, 1976: Anna Mae is buried at an Oglala grave site. AIM leaders are no-shows at her wake and funeral.
March 18, 1976: First Federal Grand Jury convenes in Pierre, South Dakota. WKLDOC attorney Bruce Ellison claims attorney/client privilege.
May 12, 1976: Federal Judge Robert C. Belloni dismisses, with prejudice, all charges against the Oregon defendants in the motor home arrest. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturns the “with prejudice” aspect of the dismissal. The government later appeals, and the charges are reinstated.
May 17, 1976: WKLDOC attorney Ken Tilsen mails Anna Mae’s wallet back to her sisters in Nova Scotia with a letter that says the wallet came to him “through a circuitous route.”
June 7, 1976: The trial of Robert Robideau and Dean Butler opens in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The pair are charged with aiding and abetting the murders of Agents Coler and Williams. Testimony brought out during the trial casts doubt on the assumption that Anna Mae Aquash was an FBI informant. On July 16, the jury returns verdicts of not guilty.
August 6, 1976: Russell Means is acquitted of murdering Martin Mountileaux. Richard Marshall is convicted in April. Marshall later confesses to the crime and serves 24 years in prison. He is paroled in 2000.
December 16, 1976: Under extradition to the U.S., Leonard Peltier is transferred from Vancouver to Rapid City.
March 4, 1977: Leonard Peltier goes on trial for the murder of Agents Coler and William in Fargo, North Dakota.
April 18, 1977: Peltier is found guilty of two counts of aiding and abetting murder in the first degree and is sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
April 10, 1979: Peltier arrives at Lompoc Prison, California, after being transferred from Marion Federal Penitentiary in Illinois.
July 20, 1979: Peltier escapes from Lompoc. A young inmate, 20-year-old Dallas Thundershield, is shot and killed during the escape.
July 25, 1979: Leonard Peltier is captured in the hills of Santa Maria, California. Eventually, he is transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.
February 4, 1980: Leonard Peltier is sentenced to seven additional years, over his two consecutive life terms, for escaping from prison and carrying a weapon.
August 6, 1980: Judge James A. Redden, ruling in favor of the government, refuses to dismiss charges against Redner, Loud Hawk, and Banks in the Oregon motor home stop.
June 30, 1980: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Black Hills of South Dakota were illegally taken from the Lakota people. The decision calls for a cash settlement, an amount as of June, 2007, exceeding three quarters of a billion dollars (with accrued interest) in unclaimed restitution.
July 29, 1982: In a written opinion for the Ninth Circuit, Judge Stephen Reinhardt rejects the appeals of Banks, Loud Hawk, and Redner to have the Oregon charges dismissed.
Early 1983: Peter Matthiessen releases his book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. It is roundly proclaimed as an authentic and thoroughly researched history of the American Indian Movement that also vindicates Leonard Peltier.
May 21, 1983: Judge Redden again dismisses firearms charges against the Oregon motor home defendants. Again, the government appeals.
October 8, 1984: Dennis Banks comes out of hiding to face arrest and arraignment for his role in the Custer riot. Judge Redden sentences Banks to five years non-reporting probation.
February 17, 1990: Author Peter Matthiessen meets Peltier’s alibi, the hooded Mr. X. Matthiessen is completely taken in by the ruse, later exposed by Dino Butler. After prevailing in a defamation suit by Bill Janklow and David Price, Matthiessen releases a second edition of his book in 1991 which includes an Epilogue, several revisions, and the interview with Mr. X.
April 18, 1991: In a letter to Senator Daniel Inouye, Judge Gerald Heaney argues that releasing Leonard Peltier from prison would promote a “healing” process.
September 22, 1991: CBS’s 60 Minutes airs the video of Matthiessen interviewing Mr. X, a man who, even behind a close-fitting cloth over his face, bears a resemblance to AIM member David Hill.
November 3, 1999: Russell Means and Ward Churchill conduct a news conference in Denver in which they accuse the FBI of involvement in the Aquash murder. Means admits that Aquash was taken to his brother’s (Bill Means) house, on the night she was murdered.
February 6, 2004: Arlo Looking Cloud is found guilty of aiding and abetting in the first-degree murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. He is sentenced to life in prison. In 2008, he is rumored to have testified before a grand jury.
June 26, 2007: The Supreme Court of British Columbia orders the extradition of John Graham Patton to the United States to stand trial for the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. The trial is scheduled for October 6, 2008 but is postponed after the indictment in ruled insufficient. The trial is rescheduled for February 23, 2009.
August 20, 2008: Vine Richard Marshall is indicted for aiding and abetting the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. He is scheduled to stand trial with Graham February 23, 2009.
AIM Mafia Perpetrators, Facilitators, and Victims
Anna Mae Pictou Aquash – A Mik’maq Indian from Nova Scotia murdered by order of AIM leaders who mistakenly believed her to be an FBI informant. Aquash was one of the few AIM members who was alcohol and drug free, and who genuinely held the beliefs and ideals AIM should have aspired to.
Dennis Banks – Co-founder of the American Indian Movement. Under his direction and influence, AIM grew from a small group of Native American advocates to a federally funded oligarchy of special pleaders. Showdowns and shakedowns marked an increasingly violent series of confrontations designed to extract atonement dollars used to purchase weapons and provide income for the AIM leadership, all to the detriment of their claimed constituents.
Vernon Bellecourt – AIM security chief who allegedly ordered the execution of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash. Along with his brother Clyde, Vernon never stood trial for his alleged involvement. Vernon passed away in October of 2007.
Ward Churchill – Former Professor of Indian Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Churchill has written several books critical of America. He caused a stir after posting an essay on the internet in which he likened the Trade Tower victims of September 11, 2001, to “little Eichmans” and elevated the suicide bombers to “combat support teams” hitting a legitimate target. More recently, the professor was fired after being found guilty of plagiarism, falsified scholarship, and falsified claims of Indian ancestry. Two of his books critical of the FBI, Agents of Repression, and The COINTELPRO Papers, have been shown to be replete with fabrications.
Arlo Looking Cloud – Along with AIM members Theda Clark and John Graham, Looking Cloud allegedly carried out Vernon Bellecourt’s order to kill Aquash in December of 1975. Her body was discovered in February of 1976 at the bottom of a bluff near Wanblee, South Dakota. She had been shot in the head. In February, 2004, Looking Cloud was convicted of aiding and abetting in the murder. On June 26, 2007, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered Graham’s extradition to the United States. AIM members fear Graham will cooperate with authorities in order to avoid a lifetime in prison.
Leonard Crow Dog – AIM medicine man and spiritual advisor who sanctified violence by engaging in or encouraging beatings, shootings, and murders. Crow Dog was one of the few AIM leaders who actually served time for participating in Wounded Knee-related beatings and assaults.
Bruce Ellison – Leonard Peltier’s long-standing lawyer and defender. Ellison has been implicated in the murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash by several AIM members who place him at meetings where Aquash’s fate was discussed. When questioned before grand juries, Ellison has repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Leonard Garment – One of President Nixon’s chief advisors, Garment adopted a strategy of appeasement, capitulation, and delay when dealing with AIM violence. Garment promoted the idea that AIM members who vandalized the BIA building in Washingon in November of 1972 should be let off the hook and compensated for travel expenses. As one of Nixon’s key advisors in the AIM takeover of Wounded Knee, Garment was partly responsible for the government’s slow response in ousting the invaders. Seventy one days later, the village lay in ruins and several lives were lost.
Judge Gerald Heaney – Judge Heaney of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was instrumental in confirming Peltier’s murder convictions but has since advocated freeing Peltier as a means to promote “healing.” Judge Heaney has suggested the law enforcement agencies overreacted to the Wounded Knee takeover and that the government should somehow share the blame for Peltier’s heinous crimes. The judge, unfortunately, played right into the hands of propagandists who use his public remarks to undermine justice and promote a series of lies and distortions.
Peter Matthiessen – Acclaimed author of the bestselling In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, a falsified history of AIM and Leonard Peltier’s claim of innocence. Matthiessen was conned into believing, and thus writing about, Peltier’s stories of an FBI assassination plot aimed at eliminating him while he was in prison. Matthiessen was also fooled by Peltier’s claim that a mysterious figure known as “Mr. X” was the real killer of the two FBI Agents. Though filled with countless distortions and falsehoods, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse is considered by many to be a book “meticulously researched.” Matthiessen cites as his main sources Leonard Peltier, Bruce Ellison, and Robert Robideau, Peltier’s cousin. Robideau claims to know who conspired against Anna Mae Aquash and has implicated Bruce Ellison and former AIM spokesman John Trudell in that ensuing murder cover-up.
Judge Edward McManus – Judge McManus presided over the federal trial of Robert Robideau and Dean Butler, two men accused of aiding and abetting in the murders for which Peltier was convicted. Like his colleague Judge Fred Nichol, Judge McManus allowed his courtroom to be turned into a political forum which enabled defense lawyers to chase down a number of government conspiracy theories. While the judge was away during a trial hiatus, his unsequestered jury was deluged with a pro-AIM media campaign. After being twice deadlocked, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of self-defense.
Russell Means – Leader of the American Indian Movement whose main contribution to the group consisted of fiery rhetoric, escalation, and brinkmanship. Means honed his skills as an expert showman who excelled at fooling members of the media. Behind the scenes, he directed several violent actions, most of which resulted in injury, loss of life, and destruction of property.
Judge Fred J. Nichol (deceased) – The chief federal judge of South Dakota presided over the trial of Russell Means and Dennis Banks following indictments over their role in the raid, looting, and destruction of Wounded Knee village in 1973. Judge Nichol turned the trial of the two defendants into a trial of the government by succumbing to political pressures, unethical behavior, and a fear of being accused of racism. In his home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Judge Nichol held a secret meeting with Banks before the trial began. While the jury was deliberating, he solicited an ex parte meeting with the defense team where the group crafted a dismissal order. Judge Nichol dismissed all eleven charges against the defendants citing “government misconduct” and a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. He later recused himself from hearing any further Wounded Knee related cases after his meeting with Banks became public.
Leonard Peltier – AIM’s preeminent symbol of cowardice and violence. With a reputation as “AIM muscle,” Peltier aspired to be Dennis Banks’s bodyguard. According to several Native Americans, Peltier interrogated Anna Mae Aquash at gunpoint in 1975. Peltier serves two consecutive life sentences for the brutal slayings of two FBI Special Agents in June of 1975. Both Agents were shot in the face at point blank range. Peltier later bragged about the killings, yet managed to convince several politicians, authors, entertainers, world leaders, and human rights activists of his innocence. Although his support has begun to wane, Peltier still enjoys a worldwide following among true believers, political extremists, and self-anointed elites.
Perry Ray Robinson – Noted civil rights leader murdered by AIM members during the occupation of Wounded Knee village. Robinson’s body is buried somewhere near the village ruins, still waiting to be unearthed, as are the bodies of other victims rumored to have been murdered during the occupation.
Ken Tilsen – Former member of the American Communist Party and founder of the Wounded Knee Legal Defense Offense Committee. Tilsen is suspected of involvement in the murder cover-up of Aquash after acquiring the victim’s wallet. Tilsen, like Ellison, blames the FBI for her murder.
On a recent visit to Georgia, I wandered into a public library in search of evidence of academic distortion. It was easy enough to find. There, in the juvenile reference section, I discovered a two volume set entitled Native North American Biography (Edited by Sharon Malinowski and Simon Glickman, UXL, Gale Research, ITP, New York, 1996). A collage of admirable Native personalities graced the cover; the familiar face of actor Graham Greene appears next to the alluring poet, Louise Erdrich, shadowed by a stern-looking Sitting Bull. Further attracting the young reader is the assurance that this thoroughly researched reference profiles 112 Natives, all of them notable for their achievements in a wide range of pursuits, from civil rights to politics to literature.
While most of the profiles are reasonably accurate, the historical blinders are hard to miss when the American Indian Movement is mentioned. Prominent among the listed achievers are Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, Russell Means, and last but not least, Leonard Peltier. As you might have guessed, the accolades afforded these men are enough to make one gag with disbelief. I expect this encyclopedic volume can be found in thousands of libraries across America, where it waits to infect the minds of our children with the type of indoctrination most Americans would find shocking. I suspect the glut of errors is unintentional, and otherwise understandable, given the blow to truthfulness that comes from relying on the work of Peter Matthiessen, Ward Churchill, and Ken Stern. All three authors are credited in these questionable entries, as are several other clearly partisan contributors.
In an effort to help the wayward editors of this 1996 edition of history, let us examine a few excerpts and correct their mistakes, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but with the serious purpose of illustrating how perverted the historical record has become. I offer this service free of charge, with no expectation of recognition by the Gale Research Group of how I might be, as they advertise, “Changing the Way the World Learns.”
For the benefit of those who might be offended by the truth, corrective inserts are italicized. Otherwise, the warped version of history remains as the editors would have us read and believe. All in all, these passages, when corrected to 100%, do an admirable job of summarizing AIM’s true legacy, perhaps for the first time. To enhance the learning experience of our youth, I suggest having two students read aloud; one reads the original passage and the other adds the italicized correction. Let us begin with the ringleaders, or leaders, if you prefer.
Dennis J. Banks, pps. 23- 27:
“A founder and current field director of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Dennis J. Banks has been a tireless activist for Native rights, often in the face of his own outright hostility and violence… As a leader of the organization, he was at the head of some of the major revolutionary actions of the 1970s, such as an occupation of Alcatraz and the 1973 takeover of the town of Wounded Knee, where under his direction and leadership, at least seven people were rumored to have been murdered. In trouble with the law again, this time for his political activities, including bombings and shootings, Banks spent several years as a fugitive before serving more time in prison.
The fall of 1972 saw Banks… leading the Trail of Broken Treaties march across the United States to Washington, D.C. This symbolic march followed the legacy of broken promises made to Indians by the American government. Although meetings with the administration had not been prearranged, federal officials refused to do anything but talk with AIM leaders. Since they were also denied appropriate housing, which had been promised them by one of their own leaders, they went to the BIA building to protest. When riot squads tried to evict them, they occupied the offices for five days. Treated poorly and never given a fair hearing in Washington, mostly because they planned their arrival a few days before a national election when few politicians would be in town, the group was rightly blamed for damages to the BIA building and paid $67,000 cash as a payoff to leave town. After they left, they became the targets of brave men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which used spy tactics, that is to say, informants, to impede AIM’s unlawful activities.
On February 28, or 27, 1973, the historic takeover of Wounded Knee began, where innocent families were forcibly evicted from their homes, never to return. …In the occupation that followed, 2,000 Indians and various fringe groups from around the country under the leadership of AIM withstood APCs, which some ill-informed editors refer to as tanks, not so heavy night-flare artillery, imaginary helicopter strafing, and roadblocks. The siege did not end until May 9, or May 8, if one cares about historical accuracy. At the national convention in White Oak, Oklahoma, that year, boycotted by most every other Indian group in the country, Banks—widely recognized for his violence, charisma and communication skills—was elected leader of AIM…
On February 12, 1974, an eight-month trial began. Banks was acquitted of the ten felony changes, (sic) lodged against him because a corrupt judge alleged that the FBI, which some authors refer to as the prosecution had used illegal wiretaps, in reality a single open telephone line, installed to facilitate negotiations with no expectation of privacy, to listen to not very private phone conversations as well as AIM’s falsified documents and also unproven perjured—that is, deliberately lying—witnesses; but as it turned out, the only liars were the judge, the defendants, and their lawyers.
Banks urged AIM members to discipline themselves so as not to discredit the movement, such as by eliminating members thought to be informers. His efforts were thwarted by the FBI, but not before an innocent mother of two was murdered, apparently with his knowledge and consent. Bad publicity about Banks was deliberately instigated by Douglass Durham, an infiltrator who consistently outsmarted the AIM leadership and who cleverly had attached himself to an unsuspecting Banks as his pilot and bodyguard. Durham admitted on March 5, 1975, in Des Moines, Iowa, that he was an informant for the FBI. The leaders of the FBI, including SAC Trimbach and his team of intrepid Agents, had worked tirelessly to undercut AIM’s illegal and murderous activities masquerading as Indian rights activism.
…on July 26, 1975, a South Dakota court found Banks guilty for his involvement in the Custer courthouse riot. Rather than serve a 15-year sentence, he fled to California, where an easily fooled Governor Edmund G. Brown granted him amnesty until his term expired in 1983.”
Russell Means, pp. 245-250:
“In February 1972, Means led 1,300 angry Indians into the small town of Gordon, Nebraska, to protest the suspicious death of Raymond Yellow Thunder. The demonstration convinced town authorities, that in order to appease an angry mob, they needed to cave to demands to conduct a second autopsy (examination of a body after death) which had literally nothing to do with the case that eventually led to the indictment of two white townsmen, both of whom lived out of town, for manslaughter… Violence against Indians by AIM members increased all over the country that summer, leading to further defensiveness among local Indian people. Many Native Americans, especially on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, felt they needed to arm themselves against murderous attacks from AIM henchmen.
At the annual Rosebud Sun Dance celebration, Means helped plan a mass demonstration to occur in Washington, D.C., during the week of the 1972 presidential election… A series of cross-country caravans called ‘The Trail of Broken Treaties’… reached Washington on November 2.
Feeling that the government officials were pushy and didn’t take the Indians seriously, Means then led the group to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There they successfully seized and vandalized the offices and renamed the building the Native American Embassy. On November 6, a U.S. District Court judge ordered that the group be forced out. Angry and frustrated, the Indians destroyed furniture, priceless Indian artifacts, and equipment and removed files they felt exploited Indian people—a theft and destruction which seriously imperiled the land claims of thousands of Native Americans….
On February 27, 1973, Means and a group of nearly 200 armed supporters invaded, looted, and occupied the community of Wounded Knee… More than a month later, Means agreed to fly to Washington, D.C., to negotiate an agreement to end the siege, but the government refused to negotiate until all arms were laid down. Means, who had earlier agreed to the terms, reneged, and refused to surrender unconditionally and left the meeting… Highly publicized in the national media, the ten-week siege became known as ‘Wounded Knee II’ and won the sympathy and support of many misguided non-Indians, including several Hollywood personalities, to the Movement’s great detriment and loss of credibility.
Means ran against Wilson in the 1974 election for tribal council president. He was under federal indictment (charged with committing a crime against the national government) for actions during the Wounded Knee occupation and this was a good reason why he lost the election….
His trial opened February 12, 1974, and continued until September 16, when U.S. District Court Judge Fred Nichol, in one of the most crooked decisions ever to be handed down from a federal bench, dismissed the charges…
In 1975 Means was indicted for a murder in a barroom brawl, more accurately described as premeditated murder in a men’s room stall. His lawyer, William Kunstler, who had been one of the defense attorneys during the Wounded Knee trial, argued that the government had created so much fear that Indians were armed in self-defense, such as when Means entered the courtroom surreptitiously armed and, by his own admission, prepared to kill every member of the jury, should they make the mistake of finding him guilty. Thankfully, [t]he jury acquitted Means of the murder charge on August 6, 1976. He was convicted of riot charges relating to the 1973 Custer demonstration and served the paltry sentence of one month in jail. After further mischief, his sentence for causing a ruckus in April, 1974, at the Sioux Falls Courthouse (while the Wounded Knee trial was in progress) was reinstated. Means served one year of a four-year sentence in the South Dakota State Penitentiary.”
Leonard Peltier, pp. 274-279:
“A non-leader in the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the early 1970s, Leonard Peltier is serving two well-deserved consecutive life sentences… convicted of killing two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in 1975 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier claims he is innocent of these killings, and many uninformed people consider him a political prisoner, that is, they believe he was jailed for his virtually non-existent political activities rather than for the crimes of which he was convicted. With the support of a large and diverse group of hopelessly misguided individuals and organizations, Peltier works for his release from prison and for a facade of justice and improved conditions for all Native Americans. His supporters include hundreds of tribes who should know better, ignorant lawmakers in the United States and Canada, the often self-serving human-rights organization Amnesty International, religious and hopelessly naive leaders such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the British Archbishop of Canterbury, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, a Belgian princess, and a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Gerald Heaney, who has been repeatedly forced to admit that Peltier’s arguments are utterly unconvincing.
In February 1973, 300 traditionals (ostensibly Native Americans who wished to retain Indian tradition and identity, but in reality hundreds of Indian and non-Indian radicals, most of them reservation outsiders) and AIM members, but definitely not including (an incarcerated) Peltier, occupied the village of Wounded Knee… A 71-day siege opposed by the FBI, U.S. marshals (sic), and BIA police ended after several lives were lost, when U.S. government representatives agreed to investigate conditions on the Pine Ridge Reservation… The investigations never took place, although Justice Department attorneys and the FBI tried in earnest to find credible evidence of civil rights violations. An estimated 300 unexplained murders or ‘accidents’ occurred during this period, a figure later exposed as a wild exaggeration and a tool for AIM’s hate-inspiring agenda. At the supposed request of Oglala Sioux chiefs who feared for their people in the lawlessness at Pine Ridge, Peltier and six other AIM members returned in March 1975 to establish a so-called spiritual camp near Oglala, where a large cache of weapons and explosives were stockpiled to protect only the small number of people allied with AIM, in a crazy scheme to take over the reservation.
In the late morning of June 26, 1975, FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler entered the Jumping Bull property near Oglala, not supposedly, but lawfully, to serve a warrant for robbery and alleged torture, on a young Oglala named Jimmy Eagle. There were gunshots, allegedly initiated by Leonard Peltier, and the two agents, also allegedly by Peltier’s hand, and a young Coeur d’Alene Indian, Joe (Killsright) Stuntz, by a BIA officer who fired in self-defense, were killed. FBI agents, BIA police, and other law enforcement agencies moved in, many of them hours later, and the standoff continued for the rest of that day after the three alleged killers emerged from hiding in a culvert. While police and FBI agents searched for the right someone to charge with the murder of the FBI agents (no one has yet been, nor ever will be, charged with the justified shooting and death of Joe Stuntz), the U.S. Civil Rights Commission was called in to investigate the FBI’s search tactics, whatever that means.
In November 1975, Peltier, Jimmy Eagle, Bob Robideau, and Darrelle Dean (Dino) Butler were indicted for the deaths of agents Williams and Coler. Peltier had fled to Canada where he never asked for asylum (protection from arrest) because he was trying to avoid being arrested, figuring he had little chance of a fair trial, if the term ‘fair’ means the guilty go free. In February 1976, he was arrested in Alberta, Canada, and extradition hearings soon began in Vancouver. A Lakota woman named Myrtle Poor Bear claimed she’d seen Peltier commit the murders. After being threatened by AIM warriors, she later changed her story, saying that an FBI agent had said she might meet the same violent end as AIM member Anna Mae Aquash… who had been found murdered by her AIM friends, shot in the head on the Pine Ridge Reservation, strangely enough, right after Peltier’s arrest. Aquash, in fear for her life, had earlier told the FBI she knew nothing about the murders of the agents and would not cooperate with them.
In the summer of 1976, Dino Butler and Bob Robideau were shamefully acquitted of the murders of the FBI agents on the grounds of self-defense, and in September charges were dropped against Jimmy Eagle for lack of evidence. That left Peltier as the clear perpetrator, and on December 18, only partly on the basis of Myrtle Poor Bear’s story, he was extradited to the United States.
Peltier’s murder trial began in Fargo, North Dakota, on March 4, 1977… The defense was not allowed to present the majority of its case, which dealt with historical issues of treaty violations having nothing to do with Peltier’s murderous rampage. No one testified in court to having seen Peltier commit the murders, mostly because the teenage boys who witnessed the crime were intimidated and threatened into silence…
In a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, Peltier’s lawyers appealed his conviction before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit in December 1977. The appeal was denied on the grounds of the evidence of the murder weapon… In April 1979, Peltier was transferred to Lompoc Prison in California. Upon learning of a clever way to fool unsuspecting sympathizers, Peltier and friends hatched a phony plan to kill him, he and two, not three other inmates (one of whom needlessly died in the attempt), escaped from Lompoc… He was tried, convicted, and given seven additional years in prison for the escape, but one of the conviction charges, the escape conviction, was not reversed but rather reinstated after an en banc hearing was ordered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, having bought in to the possibility of a crazy assassin story…
Over 20 million people worldwide, believing themselves adequately informed, have signed petitions and written letters of support for convicted killer Peltier. Incredibly, [t]here are some 150 support groups throughout the United States, and support organizations also exist in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan. After Peltier’s final, unsuccessful appeal, followed by many more final, unsuccessful appeals, his lead attorney, Ramsey Clark, who admitted privately that Peltier is guilty as hell, submitted a formal application for executive clemency on November 22, 1993…
In the epilogue of the 1991 edition of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, the most well-known and now thoroughly discredited account of the events on the Pine Ridge Reservation, writer Peter Matthiessen described meeting a hooded someone who sounded a lot like AIM member David Hill, an individual—‘X’—who maintains that he actually shot the FBI agents… The story later collapsed, as did Matthiessen’s credibility.
In 1986, in a grand effrontery to the civilized world, Peltier received Spain’s Human Rights Award for ‘defending the historical and cultural rights of his people against the genocide of his race,’ thereby bringing disgrace and ridicule to all future recipients of that award. In 1993, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price, forever diminishing the significance of this award as well. From Leavenworth Prison, and later from the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Peltier directs the efforts of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC), established in 1985 to lobby support for his release. He is involved as the straw man in social and charitable causes and the Native American rights movement. He is also a painter whose creations are owned by the likes of Jane Fonda and other Hollywood diviners of virtue.
Yet, as Peltier has written in the LPDC’s newsletter, Spirit of Crazy Horse, now known as just Spirit, or perhaps more appropriately, Spiritless, ‘I have had to stare at photographs of my children to see them grow up, much like Jack Coler’s children have had to stare at pictures of their murdered father. I have had to rely on restricted telephone calls to be linked to my mother and grandchildren. Jack Coler’s children will never again receive a call from their father. I miss having dinner with friends. Ron Williams will never again have dinner with his friends. I miss taking walks in the woods. I miss gardening. I miss babies, I miss my freedom.’” There is justice in this world.