Free all Political Prisoners!

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier, a 74 year old indigenous man, part Anishinabe, and part Lakota and Dakota, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa (English misnomer for the Anishinabe) Nation has served forty-three years in prison for the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975 which he did not commit. He is a political prisoner who was convicted as part of the FBI’s Cointelpro action to destroy AIM.

After the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, a corrupt tribal chairman, Dick Wilson created a period of political violence on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was trying to get the US government into mining uranium in the Badlands for its nuclear programs. The more traditional members of the Lakota nation were firmly against this destruction of the environment. Dick Wilson hired groups of vigilantes, called GOONs for Guardians Of the Oglala Nation, who initiated what became known as the Reign of Terror on the reservation. Known traditional opponents of Dick Wilson were stopped while driving on the reservation, pulled out of their cars or trucks and severely beaten. Then matters got worse and GOON squads started driving around the reservation shooting into dwellings and indiscriminately killing elders, women, and children and setting some places on fire! John Trudeau, a noted poet and artist, lost his wife, three children, and his mother-in-law in one of these fires. Over a three-year period over 67 people were murdered and the FBI refused to investigate even one of these murders. Violent crimes like murder and rape were what the FBI had jurisdiction over on reservations. Instead the FBI was busy arming the GOON squads because the US government wanted the uranium mining project to go forward. Finally, the traditional people asked AIM to provide protection for the elders, women, and children. Leonard Peltier was one of the AIM leaders who set up camps near family compounds to protect the people.

Two young FBI agents in separate unmarked cars chased what they described as a red pick-up truck onto the Jumping Bull compound with a highly suspect warrant for a young Lakota man accused of stealing an expensive pair of cowboy boots (not exactly on the level of murder or violent rape). They did this even though they had been warned by tribal police not to enter the reservation. No one now knows how a shoot-out between the FBI agents and the occupants of the truck got started, but Leonard and other campers heard gunshots being fired and went running up to protect the elders and children living on the compound. As the shooting went on, the two FBI agents were wounded, radioed for back-up, and then killed. Unexplained to this day is what hundreds of federal law officials were doing in the vicinity of this isolated community, but within a short while they had the compound surrounded and an indigenous defender, Joseph Stuntz was killed by a federal sniper. Joseph Stuntz murder was never investigated, and no one was ever charged in his death. Leonard Peltier and the other AIM campers managed to escape from the encircled compound and fled the area.

Eventually Bob Robideau, Leonard Peltier and Darrell Butler were charged with the murder of the two FBI agents. Mr. Robideau and Mr. Butler were tried by a federal jury in Iowa and acquitted on the grounds of self-defense given the climate of fear on the Pine Ridge Reservation and there was nothing to tie them to the shooting of the two agents. Leonard had fled to Canada, fearing he would not receive a fair trial. He was arrested in Canada in February of 1976 and extradited to the US based on false affidavits signed by Myrtle Poor Bear stating that she was Mr. Peltier’s girlfriend who saw him shoot the agents. Eventually the truth came out that she had never met Leonard and had not been present on the day of the shoot-out. The FBI threatened that they would kill and mutilate her 13-year-old daughter as had been done to Ana Mae Aquash to get her to sign the affidavits. 

Mr. Peltier’s trial was moved to North Dakota where a conservative judge refused to allow the case for self-defense and most of the evidence of the Reign of Terror that had existed on the reservation. The FBI also lied about a ballistics test claiming that it tied Leonard to the weapon used to kill the two agents. Actually, the ballistics test said that the weapon in question had been too badly damaged in a car fire to be able to be tested.  Over 140,000 pages of FBI evidence were withheld from Mr, Peltier’s defense lawyers. Given the judicial and FBI misconduct and outright lies, Leonard was found guilty and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

During Leonard’s ongoing appeals, the prosecuting attorney admitted that the government had no idea who had actually shot and killed the two agents, but that Leonard was guilty because he was present at the shoot-out even though the government stated that there were over forty indigenous people present at the time. The federal courts have continually denied Leonard’s appeals for a new trial even while admitting all the misconduct and lying that had occurred, the federal parole board has continuously denied parole to Leonard because he hasn’t admitted guilt and his appeals for clemency have been continuously ignored. In 2000 when President Clinton was considering a pardon for Peltier, 500 FBI agents illegally marched in Washington in protest. Clinton left office without signing the request after previously stating that this case deserved serious definitive consideration. According to the federal government’s own policies for calculating life sentences, Leonard should have been released over twelve years ago.

Leonard was the Peace and Freedom candidate for the president of the US in 2004 and is currently being considered to be the candidate for vice-president of the US on Gloria La Riva’s Party for Socialism and Liberation presidential ticket in the upcoming 2020 election. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the work he has done while in prison to help his people. Leonard is currently incarcerated in a federal maximum-security prison in Florida and was just recently denied a request for a transfer to a prison closer to his home and family.

Leonard Peltier is now a seventy-four-year-old man in failing health with diabetes, high blood pressure, and other serious physical problems who has spent over forty-three years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He rarely receives the medical care he needs. It’s way past time for Leonard to receive some kind of belated justice.

For more information about Leonard Peltier’s case and the Reign of Terror on the Pine Ridge Reservation, please read Peter Matthiesson’s excellent book “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” where this activist first learned about what happened. Mr. Matthiessen’s book was banned for 17 years because it exposed a rape case against a former governor of South Dakota, The governor sued Mr. Matthiessen for libel. However, since Mr. Matthiessen told the truth, the governor lost his case, and the book was once again allowed to be published. Leonard wrote a powerful, moving memoir titled “My Life is My Sundance” as well. There is also an outstanding documentary called “Incident at Oglala” produced by Robert Redford and directed by Michael Apted.  

Leonard can be reached and current updates on his case can be found through the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
Free Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu Jamal, the remaining members of the Move 9, and all political prisoners!