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Congressional Briefing for Leonard Peltier

Washington D.C., May 17, 2000

Kevin McKiernan, Freelance Journalist, formerly of NPR

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ALSO SEE: Eyewitness Journalist Kevin McKiernan Urges Closure for Divisive Period in Indian History (LA Times; Sunday, January 7, 2001).
Kevin McKiernan "was there on June 25, 1975, outside the Jumping Bull ranch on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, when some of the bullets were flying." In his editorial, he provides eye witness account to the "climate of fear" on Pine Ridge at the time, saying that "it matched anything I have experienced reporting from war zones like El Salvador and the Middle East." Mr. McKiernan concurs with Judge Heaney who wrote in his clemency plea, "At some time, the healing process must begin. We as a nation must recognize their unique culture and their great contribution to our nation."

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Video Clip: View an interview by Kevin McKiernan with Duane Brewer (former GOON), from "The Spirit of Crazy Horse," a 1990 PBS Documentary.
Audio Clip of Kevin McKiernan, from testimony to the May 17, 2000 Congressional Briefing on Leonard Peltier. Mr. McKiernan is a Freelance Journalist, formerly of National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Congressional Briefing for

Leonard Peltier

Washington D.C., May 17, 2000

Kevin McKiernan, Freelance Journalist, formerly of NPR

Introduction: Kevin McKiernan, freelance journalist, formerly of NPR, veteran journalist who corresponded for National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the only journalist who stayed at the Pine Ridge Reservation during the entire 71 days of siege. He also continued to cover issues at the Pine Ridge during the three-year Reign of Terror.

Kevin McKiernan: Good Afternoon. I am a journalist. I was inside Wounded Knee during the 1973 71-day occupation... it was a long time ago, but it seems like yesterday in many respects. In those days, the Pine Ridge Reservation was a place of great violence with little or no law enforcement. If you wanted as a reporter to gather information about the American Indian Movement (AIM) or the Lakota Traditional, there was a price to pay. I was one of a number of journalists personally threatened and even assaulted physically by vigilantes associated with Wilson's tribal government: my pickup truck on one occasion was hit by a bullet and another time the breaks on my car were cut.

At that time most of the traditional people on Pine Ridge believed that the FBI targeted the AIM Indians -- as they were called -- and overlooked crimes committed by Wilson and his followers. George O'Clock, the special agent in charge of the Rapid City office, once told me some years later, that the FBI got its SWAT team from Pine Ridge -- that during this period from 1973 to 1976, the FBI used Pine Ridge as a SWAT training ground for as many as 2,600 FBI agents. That's a period of only three years and that's when most of the abuses took place.

There is strong evidence of a relationship between the GOONs and the FBI; US Federal Judge Fred Nichols once told me that the FBI and the GOONs worked together because both were against the American Indian Movement. In another interview, then Senator James Abourzek told me the FBI chose sides in the Pine Ridge conflict, failed to investigate an epidemic of Indian killings, and engaged in the selective prosecution of AIM members.

In the 1970's I myself saw an illegal GOON roadblock on the Pine Ridge Reservation and I filmed the armed vigilantes taking property from AIM attorneys at gunpoint. At other times I saw the FBI pass easily through these roadblocks making small talk with the armed men, shaking hands, and then going on their way. And once I was with federal agents in a government van which drove off the road, into a ditch, and around such a GOON roadblock. No attempt was made to confront or question the armed vigilantes.

In 1976 I investigated the murder of Byron DeSersa, an unarmed resident who was ambushed and killed on a highway near the town of Wanblee. The survivors of that incident said that several vehicles associated with Wilson's GOONs had driven by their car and then opened fire on the DeSersa car. The survivors in the car identified the vehicles only less than an hour after the incident and gave the license numbers to the FBI in Wanblee. Although the killers had gathered to drink, celebrate, party, and discharge weapons in the direction of houses owned by AIM sympathizers in Wanblee, FBI agents in town refused to approach the house. Instead of making arrests, they allowed the party to continue all weekend and permitted the Wilson caravan the next day to leave town. Despite the many vehicles involved, only one Wilson man was eventually charged, and he served only two-to-three years on a reduced manslaughter charge.

I investigated other assaults as well, including the GOON caravan that attacked AIM lawyers and destroyed an airplane they had rented and flown to Pine Ridge. They had come there to gather evidence in several legal cases... The GOONs sliced open the top of one lawyer's car, beating the occupants and cutting a paralegal with a knife. Wilson himself commannded that operation and later he told me that he considered it a 'justifiable stomping". He was indicted on a misdemeanor by the judge and then acquitted by an all-white jury.

Years later I interviewed the commander of the GOON squad Duane Brewer who was also involved in that attack. He was well known on the reservation. In fact, he was a member of the tribal police. On camera, he told me that the FBI had provided him with intelligence on the activities of AIM members and that FBI agents had supplied him with armor-piercing bullets to use against the American Indian Movement. That is my statement.

Transcript from the Congressional Briefing for Leonard Peltier, Washington D.C., May17, 2000