LEONARD: Political Prisoner

June 26, 1975

June 26, 2020 Man Bites Dog Films Season 1 Episode 1
LEONARD: Political Prisoner
June 26, 1975
Show Notes Transcript

On the morning of June 26, 1975, a firefight broke out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and members of the American Indian Movement. By noon, three people lay dead: AIM member Joe Stuntz, and special agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. But why was the FBI shooting at AIM activists on sovereign Lakota land in the first place? 


Episode 1: June 26, 1975

STEVE KROFT
On June 26, 1975, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, two FBI agents Jack Cohler and Ronald Williams, were shot to death virtually at point blank range with rifles. Did you kill them?

VO
This is a clip from a 1991 60 Minutes segment. The voice you just heard is Steve Kroft. And this is Leonard Peltier.

LEONARD PELTIER
No, I did not. No.

STEVE KROFT
You didn’t pull the trigger?

LEONARD PELTIER
No, I never killed those agents.

STEVE KROFT
Did you fire at those agents?

LEONARD PELTIER
Yes, I fired at them.

STEVE KROFT
Why?

LEONARD PELTIER
Because they were firing at me. ANd i fired back.

STEVE KROFT
Are you guilty of anything?

LEONARD PELTIER
The only thing I’m guilty of is trying to help my people.  

VO
On June 26, 1975, two plainclothes FBI agents assigned to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, were tailing a red pickup on Highway 18. When the truck pulled off the road and onto Calvin and Cecilia Jumping Bull's ranch, Coler and Williams followed. What happened next is a matter of intense dispute. Either the passengers in the lead vehicle jumped out brandishing rifles and began firing at the agents. Or the agents shot first.

But by noon, Coler and Williams were dead. So was an Indian by the name of Joe Stuntz. And nearly 50 years later, with heart trouble and early-stage lung cancer, Leonard Peltier sits in the Coleman Federal Penitentiary serving out the first of two consecutive life terms for his presence at the shootout.

You’re listening to LEONARD—a new podcast series about Leonard Peltier, the longest-serving political prisoner in American history. I’m Rory Owen Delaney. 

And I’m Andrew Fuller. We’ve spent the last year working to share Leonard’s story with a new generation of people: who he is, how he ended up behind bars, and why we believe he deserves to go free. 

Leonard is 75 years old, and his health is poor. With COVID-19 ravaging prison populations, Coleman is the last place he should be right now. But time is running out. It’s literally now or never to help get Leonard released.

As you may have guessed, Andrew and I are a couple of white guys. The Lakota call us Wasi'chu. It means “The greedy one,” or literally, “he-who-takes-the-fat”. 

So why are two Wasi'chu telling Leonard’s story? This is how we feel we can best use our privilege right now: advocating for a man—and his people—who’ve been brutalized for more than 400 years. 

More importantly, we’re telling this story because Leonard granted us permission. Last year we got in contact with Leonard through Paulette D’auteuil at the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee: the non-profit organization that’s been fighting for Leonard’s release for decades.

It took us a while to convince Leonard that our intentions were genuine. That we weren’t just trying to profit off of him. And ultimately: he gave us his blessing. But in an email, he also left us with a warning. Here’s Peter Coyote, reading for Leonard:

PETER COYOTE
Okay, brother, let’s do this. But follow my lead or you will lose me. I’m not going to support something that isn’t accurate.  So let’s do this. And let’s get your shit together. And let’s get things done.

VO
Leonard added a smiley face. But he couldn’t have been more serious. Re-telling Leonard’s story right now could literally be the difference between him leaving prison alive... or dying behind bars. We also want to be up front with you, our audience. This podcast is a work of activism. We don’t question Leonard’s innocence. But that doesn’t mean we’re choosing our facts selectively. 

KEVIN SHARP 
It's really hard to break through the misinformation. 

VO
This is Kevin Sharp, a former United States District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee. And he’s been petitioning the Trump administration to grant Leonard clemency. We’ll be hearing a lot more from him in episode 3. 

KEVIN SHARP
Even people who want to support Leonard talk about this in the wrong way because everyone's confused. ‘You know, he was convicted of shooting and killing two FBI agents.’ No he wasn't. By the time it comes out that the ballistics test—what we'd refer to as exculpatory evidence—was hidden, it's a Brady violation. It should be over.

EDGAR
I'm just now opening up. I never talked about this stuff before, you know, kind of kept in my pocket. 

VO
This is Edgar Bear Runner. Over the decades, some of the most influential people on the planet have called for Leonard’s release. Kevin Sharp has been working on Leonard’s case for the last two years. Multiple Popes, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, Kurt Vonnegut, and Marlon Brando have all called publicly for his release. But Edgar Bear Runner has been there since the beginning. Even at 68, battling stage 4 prostate and bone cancer, Edgar’s advocacy hasn’t waned. 

EDGAR
But I'm willing to tell my side, my perspective.So we got to do something about it. We gotta keep, uh, the noise up… I can help, help you to go, whoever's left, whoever is still alive, a lot of our people died, you know, all gone. Uh, but there's still some people.

EDGAR
You can come out anytime you want. Anytime.

RORY
Perfect.

EDGAR
Plan on the first week in August.

VO
Edgar has his own story to tell. He was on the Pine Ridge reservation on June 26, 1975: mediating between the Indians and the Federal Government. But he also knows how to find and talk to people with knowledge of that day—knowledge that they haven’t been able to share publicly in half a century. Knowledge that could help free Leonard.  

One of the people Edgar wants to help us find is a woman named Angie Long Visitor. Angie was a witness for the prosecution at the grand jury back in 1975 that brought charges against Leonard, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler.

Edgar believes the FBI violated her constitutional rights in order to coerce her testimony. 

If she’ll speak with us, she could shed new light on the tactics the government used to make its case. But Angie’s been hard to find. Because she doesn’t want to be found. 

We’re on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as the guests of Edgar Bear Runner. He’s helping us make sense of what happened on the Jumping Bull ranch the morning of June 26, 1975, when an Indian and two FBI agents were killed in a shootout that resulted, eventually, in Leonard’s arrest and 44-year incarceration.

But to understand why the FBI was shooting at Indians on the sovereign Pine Ridge Reservation, and why Indians were firing back, we need some context. A LOT of context, actually.

If this podcast was 100 seasons long we couldn’t document the full brutality the Indians suffered at the hands of European settlers. The cultural genocide started when Columbus landed in the, quote, “West Indies,” unquote. 

And if you ask almost any Indian living on a reservation in 2020, the oppression continues unabated to this day. 

By the way, we decided to use the term 'Indian' throughout this podcast -- rather than 'Native American' or ‘Indigenous’ -- because that's the word Leonard, Edgar Bear Runner, and all the other Lakota we spoke with use to describe themselves. 

None of these names is accurate. Before the Europeans showed up, the Sioux called themselves Ikce Wicasa -- which translates to the natural humans. The free, wild, common people. 

But back to Pine Ridge. If we can whittle it down, the series of events that led to Leonard’s arrest began almost a decade before the incident at Oglala: in July, 1968.

As the ‘60s drew to a close, 100 years after the Civil War had ended, America was in the throes of a second major reckoning with its colonialist past. 

Even though neither law would ever live up to its potential, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act had addressed segregation and voter suppression of African Americans in the South. 

But there were no Indian-only drinking fountains in Minneapolis or Chicago. Disenfranchisement of Indians was just as brutal as the oppression of Black Americans; it just wasn’t as visible. The misery of the indigenous peoples was mostly hidden from public view: out on the reservations.

So in the summer of 1968, a group of Indians decided to make their misery visible.  And to do so, they formed AIM: the American Indian Movement. Much like the Black Panthers—or Black Lives Matter half a century later—AIM was created to focus attention on police brutality and endemic poverty in native communities.

It’s worth noting here that AIM was actually founded in Minneapolis—50 years before George Floyd was lynched by Derek Chauvin while three other officers stood guard.

Police were killing unarmed people of color in 1968. They’re still doing it today.  And Police brutality is actually one of the main reasons Leonard Peltier became active with AIM. He’d joined the movement officially in November, 1971. 

But he didn’t become deeply involved until he took a job in Arizona. The level of police brutality he witnessed in the southwest shocked him.  Here’s an excerpt of a conversation between Leonard and the British documentarian Michael Apted from 1991. Leonard was incarcerated at the Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas at the time. Only the transcripts remain of this exchange, so Peter Coyote is reading for Leonard again. 

PETER COYOTE
I moved to Page, Arizona because they were building a power plant on the Navajo nation. I mean, I was making good money. I was bringing home something like 300 dollars a week after taxes and everything. And I probably would’ve been very satisfied with that. Because I suppose it was alright, it was good, to make some money for a while, you know, to be able to buy things. I started hanging around in Flagstaff, and I rented a whole room in this hotel where a lot of the Indians stayed. And one day I was sitting in the window and this Indian comes walking into the parking lot. A police car pulled up. I was sitting there watching it, you know? And the guy didn't look drunk; he wasn't staggering or nothing. But they started talking to him. They started getting into an argument. And they beat the hell out of him. I mean literally with batons, right? I mean they were really, really working on him. So I hollered out the window, I says: 'Hey, I'm a witness to this. And that's police brutality". And they looked up and see me and they stopped. And I says, "I'll go to court against you quick," you know? “If this guy brings charges against you, I'll go to court quick." And they told me, "Well you mind your own business or you'll get the same thing." I says, “Well, c'mon with it," you know? 

PETER COYOTE
I kept noticing that type of racism against the Navajos, all through the time I was there.

VO
In the transcript of their conversation, Michael Apted then asks Leonard: What about the politics of the American Indian Movement? What attracted you to that?

PETER COYOTE
AIM wanted to get the government to honor the treaties. That was one of the main goals, the politics of it. To stop the dual justice system. Because I've experienced that all my life, observed it, witnessed a lot of brutality by law enforcement agencies, businesses—everything. Discrimination against Indians. There's been numerous cases of where a non-Indian would kill an Indian, and if he was unfortunate, he'd end up with a little small prison sentence. So these were some of the things that AIM was going to try to correct. 

VO
To bring maximum attention to police brutality, economic inequality, and legal injustice, between 1969 and 1973, A.I.M. masterminded a series of high-profile occupations and protests.  In November of 1969, a coalition that included AIM, calling itself Indians of All Tribes, seized the island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.

RICHARD OAKES
I have a proclamation I’d like to read you:  

VO
This is Richard Oakes, a member of the Mohawk, and one of the main leaders of the Alcatraz occupation addressing a group of journalists who’d sailed out to the island.

RICHARD OAKES
We the Native Americans reclaim this land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all Americans Indians by right of discovery. We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land and hereby offer the following treaty:  We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for $24 in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these 16 acres is more than was paid when Manhattan island was sold but we know that land values have risen over the years. Our offer of $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47 cents per acre the white man is now paying the California Indians for their land. We will give to the inhabitants of this island, a portion of that land for their own to be held in trust by the American Indian government. For as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea. To be administered by the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs. 


VO
The occupation of Alcatraz didn’t topple the federal government. But it did bring heightened awareness to the plight of Indians. And it certainly raised the profile of the activists involved—for good... and for bad. 

Not long after the Alcatraz occupation ended, Alcatraz leader Richard Oakes was shot to death in Sonoma, California by a white supremacist named Michael Morgan.

Morgan was charged with voluntary manslaughter. But the jury sided with the defense and acquitted him. Morgan had fired his weapon in self-defense they agreed—even though Richard Oakes wasn’t armed. 

Furor at Morgan’s not-guilty verdict sparked outrage among Indians across the country. And in October, 1972, their rage coalesced into “The Trail of Broken Treaties”: a cross-country protest seeking to bring national attention to the subhuman treatment Indians had suffered, literally, for centuries. 

Organized by AIM, a caravan of cars, vans, and busses set off from California bound for Washington, D.C.

The convoy swelled as it traversed the nation. And when the demonstrators arrived on the east coast in early November—just days before President Nixon's reelection—the Trail of Broken Treaties protest had grown into the largest gathering of American Indians to ever assemble in the capital. 

AIM demanded to meet with President Nixon so they could deliver a 20-point position paper articulating their grievances. 

PROTESTOR
We did not come to arrest anybody. We did not come to disrupt traffic, to shout obscenities.

VO
You’re hearing from one of the protestors who traveled to Washington to confront President Nixon.

PROTESTOR
Or burn flags or to confront anyone physically. We came here for meetings. 

VO
But the Nixon administration refused to receive them. So AIM seized the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in D.C.—visible from the West Wing of the White House—and held it for 6 days. 

In the end, the Nixon administration caved and gave the Indians $66,000 to cover their expenses and vacate Washington. But the truce didn’t resolve anything. In fact, it just ratcheted up tensions on both sides.

And those tensions erupted fully in 1973 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. 

That was the year that Dick Wilson was elected as Pine Ridge tribal Chairman. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Wilson and his GOON squad in the next episode. 

But for now it’s enough to know that the traditional members of the Oglala Nation, along with the leadership of AIM, believed Dick Wilson was a corrupt puppet of the Federal Government. 

So to protest his election, AIM and members of the Oglala Lakota took over the village of Wounded Knee—where in 1890, soldiers of the US Army killed more than 300 unarmed Lakota—and began a third high-profile occupation in as many years. 

NEWS ANCHOR
We have tonight one of the strangest stories to come along in a long time. A group of American Indians has taken over the town of Wounded Knee in South Dakota and they’ve been holding it for nearly a whole day.

VO
That’s how NBC Nightly News led the first day of coverage about the occupation.

RUSSELL MEANS
I feel that this is history repeating itself almost exactly.

VO
And that’s the voice of Russell Means, a leader of AIM, speaking to a film crew in the early days of the Wounded Knee takeover.

RUSSELL MEANS
We are suffering the same hardships they suffered. Starvation, hunger, inadequate shelter. Inadequate warmth. Same inclement type weather. The same harassment, surrounded by much more firepower than they had. The fact that they were forced to surrender and give up all their arms and then were massacred. We’re not going to make that same mistake. If they're gonna massacre us, we're gonna take some of them with us.

VO
After a 71-day standoff that claimed the lives of at least two Indian protestors, the occupation ended in a stalemate. 

Nearly 600 members of AIM and the Oglala Lakota were charged with crimes ranging from trespassing to attempted murder.

Only 2% were ever convicted. But the damage had been done. By tying up its leadership in court, the Federal Government had crippled AIM. And the organization never recovered. But things were about to get a lot worse. 

Between 1973 and 1975, the Guardians of the Oglala Nation—the GOON squad; Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson’s personal extrajudicial militia—turned Pine Ridge, literally, into the most violent place in America. 

Despite having a population of only 10,000, at least 64 people were killed by the GOONs during a two-year period—almost all of them members or sympathizers of AIM.

To put that number in perspective, so many people met violent deaths on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1974 that it’s like if, in 2019, 14,000 people were murdered in Los Angeles.  

So that’s why, if you were a member of AIM camping out on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, and you heard bullets whizzing by your head, you didn’t have much time to wonder if the shooters were aiming for you. You already knew they were. Because they’d been shooting at you for two years.  So you grabbed your rifle, dug in, and fired back. 

As we’ve gotten to know Leonard’s case, and the circumstances surrounding the shootout at Jumping Bull Ranch that led to Leonard’s arrest, nothing is simple. Everything requires context. 

So let’s go back to the summer of 1975.

ROBERT REDFORD
On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents assigned to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Jack Coler and Ronald Williams were investigating the whereabouts of a young Indian, Jimmy Eagle, who was wanted for the theft of a pair of cowboy boots.

VO
If that voice sounds familiar, it’s Robert Redford. And this is a clip from Michael Apted’s 1992 documentary, Incident at Oglala. The next voice you’re going to hear is Norman Zigrossi, the Former Assistant FBI Regional Head for South Dakota.

NORMAN ZIGROSSI
They had a warrant for Eagle and so they turned around and started following the vehicle which we believe led them into the Jumping Bull complex. 

ROBERT REDFORD
The Jumping Bull compound was an area on the reservation set back from the highway which consisted of four Indian residences and a camp site containing a dozen or so members of the American Indian Movement.

VO
And here’s Robert Sikma, Former Assistant US Attorney

ROBERT SIKMA
Coler and Williams drove right towards the Jumping Bull property. At that time Special Agent Adams was about 15 miles away on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and he had his radio on. And he could hear the conversations between Williams and Coler. He said, ‘They’re not going to stop. Looks like they’re going to run. It looks like they’re going to shoot at us.’ Then, ‘They’re firing at us. We’re under fire.’ 

VO
Next we hear from Darelle “Dino” Butler, a member of AIM who was camping at the Jumping Bull’s. Here’s how he recalls the first moments of the shootout. 

DINO BUTLER
We had a camp set up down there over by the creek, a quarter mile away from here. I was just getting up that morning. Pretty soon I heard the shots. When I stepped out of the teepee, one of the young brothers came, was running down the hill towards the camp, and he was saying, ‘Get your rifles.’

VO
Here’s Norman Zigrossi again.

NORMAN ZIGROSSI
The agents were following the vehicle into a field, into a hollow. The Red Scout went up a dirt path type of place. They got to a fence. And the agents were following. Separate cars. They came out of the Jeep, anywhere from 6 to 7, 8 people, maybe 4, and opened fire.

VO
Bob Robideau, another AIM member, who was later put on trial for his role in the shootout, remembers running up from the camp to defend the compound. 

BOB ROBIDEAU
Sporadic gunfire was going on while we were trying to run up here and assist in whatever was happening. We had no idea what was happening

VO
Norman Brown, who was just 15 at the time, followed the more elder AIM members to protect the residences on the property. 

NORMAN BROWN
Soon as we got to the rise we heard some rounds go by us. It was in a real quick moment. And we ducked. And that’s when we started returning fire. From what I saw it was two vehicles with their hoods open.

VO
Here’s Robideau again. 

BOB ROBIDEAU
These two individuals obviously saw us when we came up. They turned toward us and they were firing at us. We simply responded by firing back at them and we got into the best positions we could in order to protect ourselves and the women and children that were in the houses.

VO
And finally, here’s Leonard Peltier. 

LEONARD PELTIER
And I heard crying, and everything, I thought, we gotta get these women and children out of there. There were were little babies there. I thought the old folks were there. I said we gotta get these people out of there, ‘What the hell is going on?’

VO
At some point during the exchange of gunfire, as he was trying to get to his trunk to retrieve his rifle, FBI Agent Jack Coler was hit in the arm. Here’s Former Assistant US Attorney Robert Sikma again. 

ROBERT SIKMA
By that moment the FBI office in Rapid City, one of the girls heard “I’m hit.” And then heard a groan. At that point is when Special Agent Williams himself had been shot and injured to the point where he no longer communicated.

VO
Bob Robideau, up on the rise with the other AIM members defending the compound, remembers looking down at the plainclothes agents, now both immobilized. 

BOB ROBIDEAU
I discovered that both of them had been hit by my gunfire.

VO
Robideau then explains how he and the other AIM members—including Dino Butler, but not Leonard Peltier—approached the agent’s vehicles. 

BOB ROBIDEAU
And about half way I heard several shots fired.

VO
Here’s US Attorney Sikma again. 

ROBERT SIKMA
Special agent Coler was laying on the ground along the side of his car. He had a tourniquet made of Special Agent Williams’s shirt wrapped around his arm. Special Agent Williams put his hand forward like this, and when he raised his hand, the gun was put against his hand and fired, and part of his hand and the bullet went through his head and carried off the back of his head. And he was dead. And it was at some time in that same time that Special Agent Coler was shot through the top of the head first. In an instant thereafter was shot through the neck, carried away the bottom part of his jaw, and he died instantly.

BOB ROBIDEAU
When we arrived at the cars…

VO
Bob Robideau again.

BOB ROBIDEAU
We discovered that both of these individuals were dead. At that moment it seemed that our whole lives had been transformed. The only thing we could look forward to was death.

VO
If, as you’re listening to Robideau and Sikma, you feel like something’s missing, you’ve picked up on one of the mysteries at the heart of the shootout. Someone did shoot the agents at point-blank range. 

ROBERT REDFORD
In 1989, a man, who identified himself only as Mr. X, came forward and admitted to killing the FBI agents.

VO
Here’s Bob Robideau. 

BOB ROBIDEAU
It was only a couple of years ago that I had the opportunity to talk with the individual that was the individual that killed these two agents. He told me that he was coming to the Jumping Bull home to deliver explosives that we had asked him to bring here. Shortly after he had passed Oglala housing, two cars entered highway 18 behind him. He became very apprehensive because he didn’t know who they were. He pulled off onto the Jumping Bull home and he glanced in his rearview mirror and noticed that these two cars had followed him onto the property. And he became very apprehensive then. He stopped. He got out of his pickup, along with the driver, and when they got out of the pickup, they brought with them their weapons. And when they did that, these two individuals also got out of their vehicles bringing their weapons with them. And he claims that these individuals fired on them first. Others evidently joined in. There were bullets flying all around. And they realized that hey we got this dynamite and we better get it out of here. And that’s exactly what they did. They got back into their pickup and pulled it further up on top and out of the line of fire of these two individuals.

LEONARD PELTIER
This story is true…

VO
Here’s Leonard Peltier again.  

LEONARD PELTIER
But I can’t, and will not, say anything about it. For me to testify against anybody or even mention or try to get someone in trouble is wrong. Because it’s against my belief, my religion, my culture, it’s against everything we’ve fought for and stood up for and what we were told by our elders is what a warrior society is all about. It’s the only thing I got left in life. Right now I’m just living, being stored here as a piece of meat if you put it literally. And I’ve got my dignity and my self-respect. And I’m gonna carry that with me, even if I die here, that’s just my fate.

JEAN ROACH
So there's been so many mistakes and the only thing that I don't know who made up the idea, which is keeping Leonard in prison, cause they did the Mr. X thing. Right?

VO
This is Jean Roach. We’ll hear a lot more from her in episode 2. But back in 1975, she was living at the AIM camp on Jumping Bull ranch. And she thinks Mr. X is a distraction from the core facts of Leonard’s case.

JEAN ROACH
And you guys might find out more info and I really don't care. It just pisses me off because there is no Mr. X. There never was. 

VO
There’s a lot more to the Mr. X story. In fact, we may dedicate an entire episode to him: who he is, or as Jean Roach just alluded to, whether he exists at all.  

But for now, it’s much less important to prove that Mr. X killed the agents, and much more important to show that Leonard was, quite literally, framed by the FBI. 

And one of the people who can help tell us how the Federal Government built a fraudulent case against Leonard... is Angie Long Visitor. 

BREAK

To help Leonard, you can purchase his artwork at whoisleonardpeltier.info. All proceeds go to fund his legal defense. So check out his stuff. He’s incredibly talented. You can also help Leonard on social media by tweeting messages of support for Leonard’s clemency to @POTUS and @realdonaldtrump -- as well as to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. We know the President loves Twitter, so tweet, tweet, tweet. Let’s keep Leonard in his timeline and mentions!

EDGAR
See where there's a guy standing by a pickup. Maroon and silver pickup, the tree and the red pickup. Pull in here.

ANDREW
Pull in here?

VO
It’s a scorching, muggy day in early August, 2019, and we’re on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the Oglala cluster housing project. It’s the day of the cultural parade, one of the highlights of the annual Pine Ridge pow wow. So we’ve got a full car. Our rented Nissan seats 5, but we’ve got 6 passengers: 4 adults, and 2 kids. Squeezed in the back, between his wife, Violet, and their two granddaughters, is Edgar Bear Runner.  

EDGAR
Yeah. I'm going to find out, uh--

ANDREW
Maybe they know?

Edgar
Kind of hold your recording equipment down. It scares people, too, you know.

Violet Bear Runner
Watch out for dogs.

VO
We pull into the driveway of Wanda Siers Little. Edgar goes out to talk with her. They greet him warmly, and nobody seems overly concerned about the two wasicu in the Nissan.  It’s dusty and hot and getting hotter. So the Littles—a dozen of them, 3-4 generations—hang out in the shade of the house.  Edgar goes up to a woman in her 70s with dark hair and glasses. That’s Wanda. 

Back in 1975, she and her husband, June, were living on a ranch adjacent to the Jumping Bull compound. Edgar turns and points to us. We wave sheepishly. A few minutes later Edgar returns to the car. He looks pleased.

EDGAR
I have some good friends here.

ANDREW
They seem really nice.

EDGAR
So I think we're making headway here. Everybody in this community knows Angie as a hermit. She sticks to herself. The Feds did something to her where she's ashamed of seeing people.

VO
Angie Long Visitor, along with her husband, Ivis, and their three children, were living on the Jumping Bull ranch back in 1975. NPR reporter Kevin McKiernan spoke with Angie just days after the June 26 shootout: Here’s Angie’s recollection of that morning:

ANGIE LONG VISITOR
I have one girl, she’s four years old, and a little boy, he’s two. And another little boy he’s 9 months old. So I told my husband that there’s a shooting here, and we just grabbed our kids and ran out. Oh I was just so scared. I just grabbed my kids and I just left. And we just started running real fast. Then we just went down the hill. When we got to the highway, one of my husband’s uncles gave us a ride to Oglala.    

VO
During their initial investigation, the FBI interviewed Angie Long Visitor multiple times. But they didn’t get anywhere with her -- or anyone else. The government convened a grand jury, but almost immediately had to dissolve it when at least 50 Indians, including Angie Long Visitor, Edgar Bear Runner, Jean Roach, June Little, and Wanda Siers, all refused to cooperate with the proceedings.

Frustrated, the Feds charged Angie Long Visitor with obstruction of justice -- and took her into custody on September 16, 1975. 

On November 24th, after being held in jail, separated from her children for three months, Angie finally agreed to testify before a second grand jury. 

We don’t have Angie’s exact address. There are a few trailers scattered on the horizon. Edgar thinks she could be living in any of them. So he waves down several passing cars. Eventually a driver points out where he thinks Angie lives.

EDGAR
If we could get Angie to talk and Angie to open up and say this, the Feds scared the shit out of me. They had me in jail for no reason on trumped up charges. They scared the hell out of me. And they made me say things I didn't want to say. But it is because of my freedom, my own freedom. I got say, make a false statement. If she could say something like that, man, Peltier could be free... 

EDGAR
...Peltier said, uh, go talk to that lady and find out why she said that. You know, who put her up to that? Um, he knows that what she said is bullshit. We just need to be nice to her to get her to tell the truth without threatening her or nothing like that, you know. Um, and man, that would open. She's the key to Leonard's freedom actually. 

EDGAR
So uh, hide the stuff here, and don't scare her right off. But I'll talk to her, if we can--

RORY
Exactly. Just chat with her.

EDGAR
You guys just stay back and I'll talk to her. If she's willing to talk and all that, then I'll call the over and you guys really make her feel important, you make her feel good. Uh, make her happy. That little laughter, it should get some good, good noise out of her.

RORY
Should I put this away then? Now?

EDGAR
Yeah, yeah. Put it away. I don't want it to psychology her. Won't even talk to me. Just hide this stuff right away.

RORY
Okay. I'm going to take it down.

VO
We park outside of Angie’s trailer. An Indian man peeks out of the door as Edgar approaches and introduces himself. After a brief exchange, Edgar goes inside.  Fifteen minutes later, Edgar emerges.

EDGAR
I'm really happy today. Uh, I had a visit with, uh, Angie Two Lances. 

VO
It turns out Angie Long Visitor remarried and took the last name Two Lances.

EDGAR
Angie Two Lances…she's still got fear in her today. I, I could feel it in her...She didn't want nothing to do with any, any interviews. Uh, I made her laugh on different points, try to ignore that statement, her statement. Um, I told her that, uh, um, Leonard Peltier, uh, is sitting in there over 44 years for something he did not do. And we had, nobody's mad at you, Angie. Nobody's mad at you. They understand what the government put you up to that. Uh, it's time to, uh, to correct the wrong.

EDGAR
And first, she didn't want to testify. She put it off, well, come back in two weeks. Then she brought it down to a week and I said, these guys already come down here for a few of amount of days. They're leaving Monday. Back to LA. Well tell them to come back in a week. So I said, you know, um, everything costs money. They can't come back like that on a plane in two weeks, a week. And they're leaving Monday. So she said, well, I can't talk today cause I, uh, we're going to go to the parade...So I give her a $20 bill and I told her to buy cotton candy and enjoy yourself at the parade. Uh, but I have to do this, you know, even though I didn't have the resources, but it's working. It's working for me. And we're going to get a statement from her this Sunday evening. It's very important. We don't miss that.

VO
This is really complicated. Paying a source could be considered bribery. Coercion. We didn’t tell Edgar to give her money. It wasn’t our $20 bill that he handed her. But that doesn’t matter. There was a transaction. Money for a story.

Edgar believes that the payment doesn’t corrupt what she tells us—if she tells us anything. That it doesn’t harm her credibility or ours. He thinks it will actually make her more honest. Angie knows Edgar isn’t rich, so for him to give her $20 is a huge sacrifice on his part: That now she’s indebted to him; that now she needs to be honest. 

But it bothers us. And we also see Edgar’s point. The FBI kept Angie in jail on trumped-up charges for two months and interrogated her daily. They threatened that if she didn’t provide testimony against Leonard, she’d never see her children again.

If $20 can help reverse the damage, maybe it’s worth it? We literally don’t know.

EDGAR
I accomplished something for Leonard. We're going to, uh, have the damaging witness, uh, uh, to disclose, uh, why she said what she said, which she knew wasn't true. But we want her to say it out of her mouth why she testified. Bingo. Good day.

VO
Next time on Leonard: Political Prisoner: Edgar takes us to the scene of the shootout on Pine Ridge where he intervened as a mediator and bought time for Leonard to escape.

This podcast is produced by Rory-Owen Delaney, James Kaelan and Andrew Fuller. It was written, recorded, and edited by us. 

Thanks to Bobby Halvorson for the original music we’re using throughout the series. 

Thanks to Peter Lauridsen and Sycamore Sound for their engineering assistance. 

Thanks to Peter Coyote for literally helping to give Leonard a voice when we only had his words on paper. 

Thanks to Kevin McKiernan for giving us access to the audio from his reporting on Pine Ridge in 1975, and for helping us fact check this episode.

Thanks to Michael Apted for the tremendous work he did on his documentary, Incident at Oglala.

Thanks to Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, who was reporting on this story back in the 1980s.

Thanks to Paulette D’aueteuil at the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee.

Thanks to Kathy Peltier and Anne Begay and Rigo 23 for welcoming us into their family.

Thanks to Edgar Bear Runner for guiding us through his land and his history.

Thanks to Kevin Sharp for helping petition for Leonard’s clemency.

And thanks, most of all, to Leonard Peltier. 

To get involved and help Leonard, call the White House at 202-456-1111 and request immediate clemency from President Trump. [Space] For more information, go to whoisleonardpeltier.info or find us on social media. @leonard_pod on Twitter and Instagram, or facebook.com/leonardpodcast.

This podcast is a production of Man Bites Dog Films LLC. Free Leonard Peltier!