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Stand with Standing Rock, Washington, D.C. ,10 December 2016 | Image by slowking4, CC BY-NC

Leonard Peltier is the crown jewel of American injustice. He is 79 years old and has been locked in prison for almost 50 years for crimes which the government admits it cannot prove he committed. Today he is afflicted with diabetes and a worrisome aortic aneurysm.

As an advocate for the American Indian Movement (AIM) Peltier was well known to the FBI in the early 1970s.

Following a controversial trial Peltier was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two FBI agents (Ron Williams and Jack Coler) in a June 26, 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

AIM was founded in Minneapolis in 1968, its activism reached an apex on February 27, 1973 when approximately 200 AIM followers seized and took control of the town Wounded Knee, S.D. From the onset the FBI, vehemently opposed to the AIM, chose to use a paramilitary group of vigilantes known as the GOON squad as a proxy to wage internecine warfare on the AIM members, their supporters, and relatives. It turns out that the vigilante right-wing paramilitary GOON squad was in fact funded by the U.S. government. 

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf – Page 16

In the wake of Wounded Knee the GOON squad did its grisly work with total impunity including ambush murders, fire bombings and extremely violent physical assaults using baseball bats and tire irons. “More than 50 AIM members and allies died through violence – bodies were found along roadsides or deposited in areas immediately adjacent to the Reservation.”

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Pages 18-19

FBI agents had supplied GOONs with armor-piercing bullets, grenades, and even plastic explosives to use against the AIM members.

https://openyls.law.yale.edu/bitstream/handle/20.500.13051/7738/10_3YaleJL_Lib83_1992_.pdf Page 91

Between March 1, 1973 and March 1, 1976, the per capita murder rate on Pine Ridge was 170 per 100,000. By comparison, Detroit, Michigan (at the time, considered the murder capital of the United States) had a rate of 20.2 per 100,000. For that period of time Pine Ridge most likely was the murder capital of the entire world.

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 18

Against this background of inflamed violence the FBI was increasing manpower in the region not to help or protect the AIM members but to be prepared to engage in an all out paramilitary assault against them. Among the outrageous lies publicized by the FBI was that various AIM centers were fortified with hardened bunkers.

On June 5, 1975, three weeks before the firefight, an FBI Document titled “Law Enforcement on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation” described “[P]ockets of Indian population which consist almost exclusively of AIM members … It is significant that in some of these AIM centers the residents have built bunkers which would literally require military assault forces if it were necessary to overcome resistance emanating from the bunkers.”

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 19 (Emphasis added.)

On July 9,1975 William Muldrow of the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a memorandum declaring that the “bunkers” were nothing more than aged root cellars and that the “trench fortifications described by the FBI to the press did not exist.”

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 20 (Emphasis added.)

Ten days before the firefight erupted the FBI was vastly increasing personnel in the region. “On June 16, 1975, the FBI increased its manpower by ordering additional Special Agents into South Dakota for a temporary 60-day period. This build up and the presence of SWAT units that appeared to be collaborating with Wilson’s GOON Squad added to an already very tense situation. In this hostile environment, violent assaults, murders and drive-by shootings were common.”

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 20 (Emphasis added.)

As described by William Muldrow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights the entire reservation, roughly the size of Connecticut – was a tinderbox about to explode. “It was in this climate of fear and tension in 1975 that the two FBI agents, in unmarked cars and clad in civilian clothes, we’re shot in a firefight.”

William Muldrow Director (Retired) Rocky Mountain Regional Office U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 11/1/1999


To this day it is still disputed how the shooting started and who shot first. FBI media liaison Tom Coll wasted no time claiming that the agents were “lured” into a “‘carefully prepared ambush’ where they were ‘fired upon with automatic weapons’ from a ‘sophisticated bunker complex’, ‘riddled with fifteen to twenty bullets apiece’; ‘dragged from their cars’; and ‘stripped’; and – in one version – ‘scalped’.”

https://openyls.law.yale.edu/bitstream/handle/20.500.13051/7738/10_3YaleJL_Lib83_1992_.pdf Page 94

By the government’s own estimates there were over 40 Native Americans present at Pine Ridge during the firefight and many were shooting.

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 21

Four men — Leonard Peltier, James Eagle, Robert Robideau and Darelle Butler — were charged with killing the agents. In the summer of 1976, with Peltier seeking political asylum and fighting extradition from Canada, the government tried Butler and Robideau. If Peltier had not escaped to Canada but was tried together with Butler and Robideau he too would have been found not guilty.

“The jury agreed with the defense contention that an atmosphere of fear and violence exists on the reservation,” the jury foreman said, “and that the defendants arguably could have been shooting in self-defense.” https://famous-trials.com/leonardpeltier/748-home

Richard W. Held was Special Agent-in-Charge of the San Francisco FBI Office 1985-1993.
Held’s work contributed to the framing of Leonard Peltier, and to covering
up the truth about the agents’ deaths and the still unsolved
killings of 70 AIM supporters on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Credit

Peltier who fled for Canada was captured and subsequently extradited to the United States, albeit illegally. 

“Mr. Peltier’s extradition to the U.S. was achieved based on false affidavits—obtained by the government through coercion and deceit, and known by the government to be false. The false affidavits had been signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, a Native American woman known to have serious mental health problems.”


As later explained in a legal filing on behalf of Peltier, using the false testimony of Myrtle Poor Bear by the FBI was abusive:

“The use of the affidavits of Myrtle Poor Bear in the extradition proceedings was, to say the least, a clear abuse of the investigative process by the F.B.I.” — Hon. Donald Ross, in conjunction with United States v. Peltier, 585 F.2d 314, 335 n.18 (8th Cir. 1978).

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 1

Peltier’s murder trial was typical of the Stalin show trials of the 1930s. For instance, a damaged AR-15 (allegedly Peltier’s) was “matched” to a bullet casing supposedly found in the trunk of Coler’s car. Four years later, the FBI released a cache of documents including a teletype describing a more conclusive ballistics test that determined Peltier’s AR-15 could not have fired the fatal shots. Prosecutors called the .223 shell casing the “most critical” piece of evidence against Peltier and urged the jury to conclude that the matching shell casing proved that Peltier fired the fatal shots into the heads of the two federal agents – in “cold blood”

http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/LEGAL/uploads/2016clemencyapp.pdf Page 31

So there you have it, the government’s “most critical” evidence was a total fabrication and without it its impossible to prove who killed FBI agents Coler and Williams.

“Judge Gerald Heaney reminded [Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn] Crooks that in his summation at the Fargo trial he had pointed at Peltier as ‘the man who came down and killed those agents in cold blood.’ Pressed on this point by Judge Donald Ross, Crooks blurted in frustration, “But we can’t prove who shot those agents!”

Peter Mattheissen author of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2000/07/20/united-states-v-leonard-peltier/ (Emphasis added.)

In April 2022 the FBI released a statement regarding Leonard Peltier:

“The FBI remains resolute against the commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence for murdering FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. We must never forget or put aside that Peltier intentionally and mercilessly murdered these two young men and has never expressed remorse for his ruthless actions.”

“Peltier’s conviction, rightly and fairly obtained …”

The FBI stated this outrageous lie in a letter to the Huffington Post which they published in an article subtitled “The imprisoned Native American rights activist ‘intentionally and mercilessly murdered’ FBI agents, the bureau told Huffington Post. Except that’s not true.”


In 2000 former FBI Director Louie Freeh wrote, “There is no dissent within our agency, only the widespread belief that the criminal justice system of the United States rightly convicted and repeatedly affirmed that Peltier was nothing other than a cold-blooded killer.”

https://www.argusleader.com/story/blogs/jonathanellis/2016/07/27/fbi-leader-thanked-janklow-peltier-matter/87626144/ (Emphasis added.)

In 2017 the Chicago Tribune published an editorial titled “Clemency for Leonard Peltier? Never.” In response to that editorial, James Reynolds, the United States attorney who supervised the prosecution of Leonard Peltier penned his response stating in part: “It is a gross overstatement to label Peltier a ‘cold-blooded murderer.’”


Former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds speaks on behalf of Leonard Peltier at the American Indian Movement’s Grand Governing
Council’s Walk to Freedom on Sunday, November 13 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Darren Thompson for Native News Online). Credit

In July 2021 Reynolds wrote a letter to President Biden stating in part: “We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”


For over 50 years Leonard Peltier has steadfastly denied accusations that he killed the two FBI agents. By all appearances, the FBI out of pure spite and revenge wants Leonard Peltier to die in prison while serving two life sentences for crimes they admit they cannot prove he committed.

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