Agents of Repression: Withstanding the Test of Time

By Churchill, Ward | Social Justice, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Agents of Repression: Withstanding the Test of Time


Churchill, Ward, Social Justice


NEARLY 15 YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE JIM VANDER WALL AND I WROTE AGENTS of Repression. Of course, many things have happened during the intervening period that reflect upon the book's content and might thus be considered worth including in a South End Classics Edition. Incorporating such material would, however, have necessitated a substantial reworking of the book, and thus have detracted from the idea of a classic edition, per se. Moreover, none of the additional information would have altered any of the basic arguments and conclusions originally advanced. Rather, it would serve only to reinforce, amplify, and in a few cases clarify lingering ambiguities with respect to what we had already said. Brief summaries of some of the more significant developments since 1988 should prove sufficient to make the point.

In some respects, most important is the fact that Leonard Peltier, whose blatant frame-up forms one of the central themes discussed, remains entombed within the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas (27 years and counting). That this is so despite his prosecutor's open admission before the Eighth Circuit Court that the government had "no idea" who had actually committed the acts for which Peltier was convicted (see pp. 324-325), as well as the court's consequent determination that much of the "evidence" resulting in Peltier's conviction had been false (p. 325), results not least from the FBI having taken the historically unprecedented step of dispatching several hundred agents to conduct a public protest outside the White House at a time when it seemed likely Bill Clinton might commute Peltier's sentence to time served. (1) More or less simultaneously, it seems certain that ranking FBI officials put Clinton on notice that a pardon for Peltier would translate into a concerted investigation of the president himself once he had left office in January 2001 (allegations included everything from perjury in conjunction with the Lewinsky affair, to profiteering from Whitewater and related scams, to criminal abuses of authority committed amid the myriad cover-ups attending everything else). (2)

These maneuvers were coupled with an attempt by the FBI to rewrite the broader narrative of its counterinsurgency operations on Pine Ridge during the mid-1970s. That rewriting centered upon a pamphlet prepared and distributed at taxpayer expense in which the Bureau purportedly rebutted on a case-by-case basis the roster of fatalities among American Indian Movement (AIM) members and its supporters compiled by Vander Wall and me and attributed to the FBI's "reign of terror" on the reservation (see pp. 199-218). (3) In almost every instance, and all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, the pamphlet asserted that each death had been investigated "whenever [it was] appropriate" for the FBI to do so, that all resulting cases had long since been satisfactorily resolved, and that, for the most part, there had been no indication of murder in the first place (e.g., several victims allegedly died from "shooting accidents" or "hit and run" incidents involving "unidentified perpetrators"). (4)

Apart from the obvious utility of its doing so vis-a-vis the Peltier case, there are additional motives prompting the Bureau's renewed desire to confuse or distort popular appreciations of what transpired on Pine Ridge and why. It seems, for example, that the FBI retains a strong institutional interest in obscuring the truth of what actually happened to Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, an AIM activist from Canada killed execution-style on the reservation in late 1975 or early 1976. Given that Aquash was demonstrably bad-jacketed by FBI provocateur Douglass Durham in the months before her death, it has always been generally understood that she had fallen victim to this most well-refined and insidious of the Bureau's many "political neutralization" tactics (see pp. 211-217). Suspicions have remained rife in AIM circles, moreover, that the role of FBI personnel was far more direct than merely setting the victim up to be murdered. …

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