June 26, 1975: A Tragic Day for All Americans
Update: Former FBI Agent Joe Trimbach's important remembrance of 6-26-75 appears in News from Indian Country and follows my commemoration.
On June 26, 1975, two young FBI Special Agents, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams, were shot to death execution-style at close range on Pine Ridge Indian reservation after they were already injured and on the ground.
These brutal, senseless murders did not bring anything good for the impoverished Pine Ridge Indians. Here is an overview of what happened.
The investigation showed that the two FBI agents didn't fire many shots. They seem to have been surprised and ambushed by the shooters.
The double-murder happened at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the Jumping Bull Compound on the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn, also called "Custer's Last Stand" (June 25-26, 1876).
I think that the murder was probably a kind of sick live theater with the two FBI agents unwittingly playing the role of Custer in a symbolic reinactment of "Custer's Last Stand." This writer makes the same point.
The tenured Plagiarist of Ethnic Studies Ward Churchill wrote up his account of this shooting in his disingenuous book Agents of Repression. Churchill characterizes his account as "reality" and claims that the FBI agents were to blame for their own deaths. Churchill suggests that the FBI agents initiated the shooting. In fact, it appears to me that the FBI agents were outgunned before they started shooting.
Churchill claims he was on Pine Ridge when the killings occurred and that he personally witnessed sweeps by the FBI and BIA as he was urinating alongside the road. Churchill also reportedly has claimed that he was a member of AIM security in the early 1970s.
In Agents of Repression, Ward Churchill describes the double murder of these young men, whose job was to make sure that reservation Indians were protected from serious crime, as follows:
"The reality...was that Coler and Williams were vastly outgunned from the moment they commenced firing, although it is doubtful they realized it at the outset. Further, AIM [ie American Indian Movement] and its supporters had sufficient firepower available to turn back the initial attempts at reinforcement, sealing the two agents -- Custer-like -- in their self-made trap" [page 241].
When Professor Ward Churchill claimed that the two murdered FBI agents died "Custer-like--in their self-made trap," he disparaged these victims of terrorism in exactly the same way that he disparaged the 9-11 victims as "little Eichmanns."
Here is an article about the controversy over these murders.
The No Parole Peltier Association (NPPA) has a lot of information about this crime. The site provides documentation from various perspectives. Some of these documents are even written by Ward Churchill, the tenured Plagiarist of Ethnic studies. It turns out that Ward Churchill was one of the people who contributed to the mythology about what happened on Pine Ridge on June 26, 1975.
I have posted earlier articles about the murders of Coler and Williams. This is probably the most extensive article.
I think that the tenured Plagiarist of Ethnic Studies Ward Churchill tells lies about the FBI that make Indian people distrust law enforcement. How can the FBI ensure good protection for Indians against crimes if the Indians don't trust the FBI?
Why would Churchill do this? Why would he try to sow distrust between the FBI and Indian people? I don't think it is because he is trying to protect Indians or correct FBI shortcomings; I think that Churchill is a provocateur who tries to incite trouble with his lies.
I saw that Churchill publishes his fabrications in the Covert Action Information Bulletin (CAIB). This publication was run by a man named Philip Agee. According to news accounts, Agee was fired from the CIA, went over to the communist side, and ended up in Cuba. Agee reportedly got assistance for his CAIB from the Soviet KGB and the Cuban intelligence. The purpose of the CAIB was to discredit the CIA and FBI.
Churchill also participated in a film called All Power to the People that Agee was an advisor for.
Churchill has written that people on Pine Ridge were murdered by FBI-backed death-squads during what he has described as a "reign of terror" on Pine Ridge. Churchill has claimed that 342 Indians were murdered and at other times that 342 Indians were assaulted and about 60 killed.
I read Churchill's account, and this "reign of terror" sounded vaguely familiar to me because a teacher and my father told me a similar story when I was a child. I did some research and learned that this story I was told as a child was called the Osage Indian Murders. I think that Churchill got his idea to fabricate a story about FBI-backed death-squads, "uninvestigated" murders and a "reign of terror" from the true story of the Osage Indian Murders, an actual historical event that---as in Churchill's fairy tale about FBI-backed murders on Pine Ridge---featured "uninvestigated," suspicious deaths during what became known as a "reign of terror."
The suspicious murders ended when the Bureau of Investigation (the early name for the FBI) got involved, worked with tribal leaders and Indian informants, and caught the criminal gang responsible for the Osage Indian murders.
It is facinating to read the old FBI documents about the murder investigation and to read the book called The Osage Indian Murders by Lawrence Hogan. This book is sold by the Osage Nation's on-line store.
The Bureau of Investigation interviewed many Osage people whose testimony helped the authorities end the vicious killings and punish a criminal organization led by mastermind William "King of the Osage" Hale. This was the FBI's first big case and the records are important history for the Osage Nation as well as for the FBI.
The University of Colorado Research Misconduct Inquiry and real scholars have determined that Churchill made up a story about the American Army deliberately giving the Mandan Indians smallpox. Churchill probably got the idea for his fabrication from a possible instance of deliberate infection of Indians by the British General Amherst in the colonial era.
I think Ward Churchill's claims about "uninvestigated" deaths on Pine Ridge and his fantastic claims of FBI-backed death-squads murdering Indians during a "reign of terror" were fabricated from whole cloth, just as his claims about the Mandan "genocide" were fabricated, and based on the true story of the Osage Indian Murders.
Of course, because he is an enemy of the FBI and of our democracy, Churchill changes one important fact: the FBI captured the men who murdered these wealthy Oklahoma Indians and worked hard to put these killers behind bars. Churchill would not tell how the FBI tried to ensure justice for the murdered Osage because it would not fit into his CAIB propaganda theme that the FBI is a political police that terrorizes Indians.
Update: Former FBI agent Joe Trimbach also wrote an article about the 6-26-75 anniversary in News from Indian Country to commemorate the deaths of these agents and of a Canadian Indian subsequently murdered by AIM, Anna Mae Aquash. I am posting the whole article because I want this for the historical record.
Former FBI agents say: Anna Mae Awaits Justice 6-27-07
by Joe Trimbach
.....June 26, 1975: A date not easily forgotten by FBI Agents. On that horrible day, Special Agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler were gunned down in an open meadow on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Following the initial hail of fire from the assailants, three gunmen approached the injured Agents and finished them off at close range. Ron Williams and Jack Coler are known as Service Martyrs, a special designation reserved for Federal Agents who gave their lives while engaged in direct adversarial action.
Their sacrifice is also remembered as the only two Agents in Bureau history to have been executed in the line of duty. Leonard Peltier, a member of a militant group of Native Americans, later bragged about being the one who shot Ron Williams in the face, as he sat pleading for his life. With the exception of a few days on the lam following a prison break, Peltier has spent the last 30 years behind bars.
Many of his brothers-in-arms, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), have tried to construct plausible alibis to support his claimed innocence. None of it has stuck, and many of the cover stories have only served to implicate AIM members in other killings, such as the execution-style murder of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash.
Anna Mae was a member suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. There’s an old Lakota saying when roughly translated means that medicine comes to those who need it. Put another way, what goes around, comes around. Well, here it comes.
June 26, 2007: The Supreme Court of British Columbia orders the extradition of John Graham to the United States. He is the alleged trigger man who carried out the executioner’s mandate against Anna Mae.
According to Arlo Looking Cloud (Graham’s convicted helper), Graham put a gun to Anna Mae’s head, pulled the trigger, and pushed her off a cliff. For the last several years, he has been under house arrest in Canada.
Like Peltier before him, Graham has surrounded himself with supporters, some of them pitifully uninformed. But unlike Peltier’s murderous rampage, Graham’s pre-meditation was evidently known to several others. In fact, dozens were said to be involved as co-conspirators, among them AIM legends, their lawyers, and the group’s lesser lieutenants. The commonality of dates underscores other parallels (the medicine at work). Jack Coler left two young boys. Anna Mae left two young girls. Ron, Jack, and Anna Mae were in the prime of their lives, all about the same age, 28, 29, and 30. In both cases, the killers acted on false information. Peltier thought the Agents were after him because he was a wanted fugitive.
The Agents were actually looking for someone else and didn’t even know Peltier was on the reservation. AIM leaders thought Anna Mae was an FBI informant. She was not. As it turned out, oblivious to the leadership, Anna Mae was loyal to the end. Ron pleaded for his life, hoping to prevail upon the humanity of his killer. In her final moments, Anna Mae did the same and when she realized the end was near, she asked to pray on her knees. (The request was denied.) Months before he placed a gun to Ron Williams’s head, Peltier had placed a gun in Anna Mae’s mouth, in one of her early interrogations. She died six months after the Agents, partly because it was feared that she would repeat Peltier’s boast which she heard “straight from the horse’s mouth.”
People familiar with the case believe that once Graham is on American soil, AIM’s legacy is up for grabs. As the embattled Professor Ward Churchill likes to say, the chickens have come home to roost.
The professor, however, would presumably not want the description applied to his old warhorse buddy, AIM leader Russell Means. On a cold morning in 1976, Means and his brothers boycotted Anna Mae’s funeral, evidently believing her guilty as charged.
AIM war chiefs and Anna Mae’s erstwhile friends must now reposition themselves for the coming storm. An old rusty prosecutorial engine is finally turning over, powered by an unlimited statute of limitations for murder in the first degree.
Former members know that aiding and abetting carries the same penalty that awaits Graham: life in prison. And so they are naturally concerned that Graham may cut a deal and sing like a canary. Stay tuned. This could get very interesting.
Joseph H. Trimbach is the former Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI. He is author of a forthcoming book, American Indian Mafia , An FBI Agent’s True Story About Wounded Knee, Leonard Peltier, and the American Indian Movement (AIM).