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Leonard Peltier Supporters Hoping for a Presidential Pardon

Adrian Jawort
12/21/12

To Leonard Peltier supporters, the fact that Barack Obama has taken such personal interest in the U.S. government’s relations with American Indians renews hope of a presidential pardon after he was denied parole in 2009 for his role in the murder of two FBI agents on June 26, 1975.

However, there’s one glaring obstacle in the way of his way potential freedom, and ironically it stems from one of his biggest adherents that brought his plight to the public eye: Peter Mattheissen, the author of the controversial 1983 book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. The book brought Peltier’s case to fame—“immortalized” him—and he’s since garnered sympathy from the likes of Indian country to two Nobel Peace Prize winners to a host of A-list celebrities who deem him a political prisoner.

After Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams approached an American Indian Movement (AIM) compound on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in search of a suspect named Jimmy Eagle, they were incapacitated by a hail of gunfire before being summarily executed. This is not disputed. But according to Matthiessen’s version of events, it all began when a brawl ensued after a night of drinking and cowboy boots were stolen. The FBI was looking for the perpetrators of the stolen item(s), and one of the culprits named Teddy Pourier was described in In the Spirit of Crazy Horse as “a small light-skinned boy who could have passed for a white anywhere else.”   

Truth be told, however, Pourier was a six-foot, 200 pound Oglala Sioux with long traditional hair in his early 40’s and the brawl was anything but a typical boys will be boys-type scenario. Pourier, Eagle, and two others had held captive at gunpoint college student Jerry Schwarting and an actual boy of 14 named Robert Dunsmore. For an entire night the victims were beaten as guns were fired over their heads repeatedly. Dunsmore was kept undressed and had bruises on his forehead from the barrel of a gun being pressed against it. That’s why the FBI searched for Eagle—not because of cowboy boots.

Perhaps Mattheissen had a case of mistaken identity when describing Teddy Pourier, but his misleading tone sets a precedent if one reads between the lines. If Mattheissen told the real backdrop of the cowboy boots story, it’d detract from his continuous narrative of creating contempt against agents of the state who only sought to oppress Indians instead of serve them. 

Indeed, it was renowned Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz who noted in a New York Times book review that because Matthiessen goes out of his way to obtain a paranoid atmosphere, he “inadvertently makes a strong case for Mr. Peltier's guilt. Invoking the clichés of the radical left, Mr. Matthiessen takes at face value nearly every conspiratorial claim of the movement, no matter how unfounded or preposterous. Every car crash, every unexplained death, every unrelated arrest fits into the seamless web of deceit he seems to feel was woven by the FBI and its cohorts.”

Following Matthiessen’s assumptions, a list of 57 AIM supporters whose deaths were supposedly never investigated by the FBI was produced by Peltier supporters. When the cases were reviewed, most of the actual murders listed in their jurisdiction were in fact prosecuted. Undoubtedly tensions between the GOONs and AIM led to violence, but many deaths listed were the result of automobile wrecks, domestic violence, children playing with guns suicides, and exposure. Also listed as supposed murdered AIM supporters were a 9-month-old baby who died after an inebriated mother fell while holding her, and a 16-month-old and his 7-year-old sister who’d been abused to death.

Dershowitz wrote while reading In the Spirit of Crazy Horse that he wanted to shout at Matthiessen for his naivete because “…allegations, such as systematic beatings and ‘contracts' on the lives of AIM leaders, do not seem credible. Mr. Matthiessen surely provides no proof beyond the self-serving claims of the alleged victims and their partisan lawyers.”

Caught up in such a frame of mind, Mattheissen was easily taken in when the late AIM member Bob Robideau contrived a plan of conjuring up a shadowy, sunglass wearing, black hooded figure by the name of “Mr. X.” Before In the Spirit of Crazy Horse was printed in its 1992 second version, the secretive Mr. X went on record for it claiming he committed the murders Peltier was framed for. He did the same act for the Robert Redford narrated Incident At Oglala film. While Mr. X ‘s intent was to further the case of Peltier’s innocence, his fabrication has condemned him to being a permanently imprisoned martyr.

In Serle L. Chapman’s (Cheyenne) extensive interview with AIM member Dino Butler in the book We, The People of Earth and Elders Volume II, Butler said he was adamant against using the Mr. X illusion. Creating lies to fight liars would make them “lose in the end.” Mr. X was utilized anyway for what Butler called hidden agendas—he said Robideau sold the Mr. X story to Oliver Stone and Robert Redford’s scriptwriters for $10,000 a piece. Perturbed, Butler told anyone who asked about Mr. X the story was “bullshit” since other AIM members had collectively agreed not to use the story. “I believe the story was concocted just to keep Leonard in jail longer,” Butler contemplated to Chapman.

Matthiessen called Butler and was “pissed-off” his credibility had been put in doubt, and Peltier also called and asked why he didn’t back the Mr. X story. In Chapman’s book, Butler said he simply told Peltier that it was because it was lie, and then explained his reasoning:

I said, “Imagine Leonard if I’m the President of the United States and there’s this piece of paper on my desk to release this Indian man who was convicted of killing two FBI agents but now he’s gotten so much support that people want to release him; but this Indian man is sitting in prison and he’s saying, ‘Yeah, I know who killed those agents but I’m not saying because it’s the warrior way and I don’t snitch on my own people.’ And I said, ‘Me, as the President, I’m not going to release you.’ Nobody is going to release you. You came out after the Mr. X story and that’s what you said, ‘Yeah, I know who Mr. X but I’m not going to snitch on my brother, that’s not our way.’ So who do you expect to release you, Leonard? Don’t you see why this story was created?”

When Peltier supporters catch the ear of the president, it’s a question Obama will undoubtedly ask himself. It’s also a question Peltier and his supporters will also have to acknowledge if they want their argument for a presidential pardon taken seriously.

A lifelong Montana resident, Adrian Jawort is a freelance journalist, writer, and poet. A proud member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, he is a contributor to Indian Country Today Media Network as well as Native Peoples, Cowboys & Indians and many other publications.

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Anonymous's picture
If you have read 'In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse' By Peter Maithison you would know that Lenoard was the fall guy.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Time to Free American Indian prisoners...Now
Anonymous
jamessimon500's picture
Here's another one of Matthiessen's questionable assertions: “Leonard Peltier, who was in charge of security at the [AIM] convention, was given the responsibility of confronting Anna Mae Aquash with the spreading rumors that she was also an informer; he handled this in his own easygoing way.” According to Minnie Two Shoes, Iris Thundercloud, and several other Indians, Leonard Peltier interrogated Anna Mae by putting a loaded gun in her mouth, calling it “truth serum.” A few months later, allegedly on orders from AIM leader Dennis Banks, Anna Mae was shot in the head, pushed off a thirty-foot cliff, and left to die. Peltier, the guy who finally admitted in 1999, 24 years after the fact, that he approached the wounded agents, (but only after pressed by CNN's Mark Potter), would have us believe that Mr X is real, that his conviction had more to do with uranium mines than with his AR-15, and that Anna Mae was lying when she told people what he had done. So, who is the real liar?
jamessimon500
Anonymous's picture
If someone else killed the FBI Agents, then why didn't he do the right thing.........have honor and confess. If someone else did it, then he is a coward to let his Sioux Brother do his prison time. I am not convinced he is innocent and I am Native also.......Shawnee.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Bottom Line Steve Shipe says: 1) Is society a threat to the health and safety of Leonard Peltier? If not, then favors his release; 2) Is Leonard Peltier a threat to the health, safety, property of the members of society outside the prison walls? If not, then favors his release. 3) Does Leonard Peltier want to be released? If so, and the answer to the first two questions is no, then someone needs to forgive Leonard, for their own sake, and stop this block placed on his release by however they are: the Justice Department, the BIA, some faction within the Sioux Nation, some powerful Sioux family. I believe my God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Taku Wakan are not happy with those who continue to punish Leonard. I believe someone fears a Leonard Peltier with credibility and that is why his incarcereation continues. The ways Leonard has been treated are the ways of those with guilt and fear, not justice. Steve Shipe PO Box 275 Maurertown VA 22644 Ps: I wish to thank Mr. Dershowitz for his interest in this matter.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Your story just adds more confusion. If this is what you endeavored to do, you are successful. Steve Shipe
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
So it took you all these years to come up with this self indulgent yearn.Leonard has already served a life sentence for this crime. Do you really think Obama cares about your analysis of the event. Like Clinton, Obama has neither the will or the guts to grant Leonard the parole he deserves. This piece should go in the trash bin where it belongs.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
SO,I am only a half breed. Does that mean that I can get away with murder? And do you think Obama is you lord? If you kill you deserve to be put away from any one before you think you can do it again? Susie
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
A White House petition to Pardon Leonard Peltier failed because it got only 2500 signatures. I don't know who started it or if a campaign was first organized, but isn't it time to do so? Can someone in a hub position (e.g., at Democracy Now, AIM, "Indian Country," etc.) put out a call to relevant groups, announce the intended petition asking for clemency (Mr Peltier's words, not a pardon) via relevant outlets, and then launch it? I'd do it, but it would likely fail again because I'm just one person, not linked into any of the movements or communities. With all the love mentioned by Amy Goodman in her discussion with Mr Peltier on Democracy Now, it would seem some organizing might be possible to help Mr Peltier achieve at least a bit of justice. Kind Regards Daniel Jordan
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Serle Chapman is not a Cheyenne but a Brit and a well-known FBI informant.
Anonymous

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