The FBI Files, 103 pages; 81/2 x 11 format; compiled by the
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Lawrence, Kansas; $5.00.
BY BILL KALMAN
DES MOINES, Iowa - On June 26, 1975, the US government's war against the American Indian Movement (AIM) came to a head. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), backed up by state troopers, sheriff's deputies, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police, and local vigilantes advanced onto Indian land near Oglala, South Dakota. Using the pretext of looking for a man whom they accused of theft and assault, the cops descended on the small town in the Pine Ridge Indian reservation and opened fire. At the peak of the assault more than 250 armed attackers surrounded the Oglala compound.
During the shoot-out, Joseph Stuntz, a young Native man was killed. No one was ever charged in his death. But the FBI organized the biggest manhunt in its history to find the "killers" of two of its agents who died of gunshots on the site.
Eventually, four men were indicted for the agents' deaths. Of the four, one was released due to lack of evidence, and two were tried and acquitted for acting in self-defense. The fourth, Leonard Peltier, was improperly extradited from Canada, indicted, and brought to trial. Peltier was found not guilty of the deaths by an all-white jury in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the summer of 1976.
The government, however, was determined to smash the AIM leadership. It succeeded in forcing a second trial in Fargo, North Dakota, less than a year later. On April 18, 1977, Peltier was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
Today, although he remains incarcerated in the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, Peltier is an internationally known figure who remains unbroken and outspoken in defense of Native American rights.
The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (LPDC) has recently published The FBI Files, a booklet featuring some of the government files on Peltier and AIM that were secured through the Freedom of Information Act.
Although the FBI is still withholding over 6,000 pages of related documents, the files that were released clearly reveal the dirty war that federal cops conducted against Native Americans who dared to fight for justice and dignity.
After the 72-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in February 1973 - also site of another infamous government massacre of Native Americans in 1890 - the FBI's campaign against AIM went into high gear. A May 1973 FBI memo to field offices advises, "Where evidence of extremist activity or involvement by a [AIM] chapter is determined or suspected, institute full and continuing investigation thereof to determine its activities, leaders, membership, and finances."
FBI disruption program against AIMThis kind of directive was part of the FBI's COINTELRO (Counter Intelligence Program), which a successful lawsuit filed by the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance helped expose. The lawsuit revealed the full scope of the FBI's disruption activities directed against Black nationalists, student anti-Vietnam war groups, and socialists. COINTELPRO actually grew out of the government attempts to disrupt the labor movement prior to World War II.
But the FBI did more than simply spy on AIM. The cop agency organized violent attacks against the organization. The government trained and financed a terrorist paramilitary outfit that functioned on Indian lands. Appropriately called GOON (Guardians of the Oglala Nation), this gang of thugs operated as the private police of Tribal Chairperson Dick Wilson.
The FBI Files documents the murders of more than 60 AIM members, supporters, and family members by GOON between April 1973 and July 1976 in Pine Ridge. Many more were beaten, wounded, or simply disappeared.
GOON leader Duane Brewer bragged about his connections during Peltier's trial: "We had a lot of visitors, you know, that would say, `I want to meet with three or four of your people for a short meeting,'" he said. "And you'd go to their room with this big suitcase and [they would] show you a bunch of weapons, grenades, plastic explosives, deadcord blasting caps, whatever."
Besides using GOON against AIM activists, the U.S. government maintained a virtual army of FBI agents, federal marshals, and BIA cops around the Pine Ridge reservation beginning in early 1975.
An FBI position paper written two months before the shoot out was entitled "The Use of Special Agents of the FBI in a Paramilitary Law Enforcement Operation in the Indian Country." This memo to the Attorney General's office complained that the "FBI encountered extreme problems... in adapting to a paramilitary role. The FBI... had to be equipped with military equipment, including Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), M-16s, automatic infantry weapons, chemical weapons, steel helmets, gas masks, body armor, illuminated flares, military clothing and rations."
Why FBI assumed paramilitary role.The memo explains why it was necessary for the FBI to assume a paramilitary role. "On a number of occasions, the Acting Director and officials of the FBI requested the [Gerald Ford] Administration and the Department [of Justice] to consider the use of troops at Wounded Knee... the government concluded that such use would be undesirable because... the use of Army troops against these Indians might be misinterpreted by the press and some citizens."
Three days after the 1975 FBI attack at Pine Ridge, a memo instructed special agents in South Dakota to "resolve any inconsistencies" in their stories, so setting in motion a government cover up. Though the FBI at one point thought as many as 47 people were involved in the shootings, they quickly began to focus on one. "The one individual that appears to have been identified by more witnesses than any other is FBI fugitive Leonard Peltier."
In fact, in August 1976, the government dropped its case against another AIM activist indicted along with Peltier, "so that the full prosecutive weight of the federal government could be directed against Leonard Peltier," the government documents state.
The FBI Files also reveals how the secret police analyzed earlier trials that resulted in acquittals for two AIM activists charged in the agents' deaths to figure how to successfully win a conviction at Peltier's second trial. Part of the FBI's tactics included intimidating and coercing two men, Norman Brown and Wish Draper, into falsely testifying against Peltier.
Though the government was successful in finally getting Peltier convicted, with every passing year his trial sentence and 20-year incarceration have become more revealed for what they are: a frame-up orchestrated by the federal government and its secret police.
The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee is organizing an executive clemency campaign to press President William Clinton to pardon Peltier.
The FBI Files, along with books like Peter Mathiessen's In the Spirit of Crazy Horse distributed by Penguin Press, and COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom published by Pathfinder Press, show the lengths the capitalist class will go to in order to protect their profit system. In the end, the employing class and its government stand exposed as the violent criminals they are.
To find out more about the LPDC campaign to free Peltier, and to order The FBI Files, contact the group at P.O. Box 583, Lawrence, Kansas 66044. Tel: (913) 842-5774. E-mail: LPDC@idir.net
Information provided by Brian Hauk.