"Healing is possible only if you acknowledge your guilt, ask for forgiveness, and show remorse for the terrible crimes you committed. It is not too late. You must acknowledge the truth."
The above quote is from a statement made by Mr. Joseph Trimbach, a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), at the July 28 parole hearing of Indigenous activist and political prisoner Leonard Peltier. The statement was a reminder to the parole examiner of his predecessor’s findings, i.e., that Leonard Peltier would not receive parole until he “recognizes his crime” or, in short, confesses to a crime he did not commit.
On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents – Mr. Jack Coler and Mr. Ron Williams – entered private property on the Pine Ridge reservation, the Jumping Bull Ranch. They allegedly sought to arrest a young Indian man they believed they had seen in a red pick up truck.
A large number of American Indian Movement (AIM) supporters were camping on the property at the time. They had been invited there by the Jumping Bull elders, who sought protection. Many non-AIM persons were present as well.
For unknown reasons, a shoot-out began. A family with small children was trapped in the cross fire. Throughout the ranch, people screamed that they were under attack and many of the men present hurried to return fire.
When the skirmish ended, the two FBI agents were dead. The U.S. government claims they had been wounded and shot through their heads at close range.
A young Native American named Joe Stuntz also lay dead, shot through the head by a sniper bullet. His killing has never been investigated.
The red pick up truck pursued by the agents was never found or identified.
The more than 30 AIM men, women, and children present on the ranch were then surrounded by over 150 FBI agents, SWAT team members, Bureau of Indian Affairs police, and local vigilantes. They barely escaped through a hail of bullets.
Leonard Peltier was one of several AIM leaders present during the shoot-out. Murder charges were brought against him, as well as his two friends and colleagues Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, who also had been present throughout the incident.
Butler and Robideau stood trial separately from Leonard Peltier who, convinced he would never receive a fair trial in the United States, had fled to Canada.
At the trial of Butler and Robideau, the jury found both defendants not guilty by reason of self-defense.
Leonard Peltier was extradited from Canada on the basis of an affidavit signed by a Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman known to have serious mental health problems. She claimed to have been Leonard Peltier’s girlfriend at the time of the shootings, and to have been present during the shoot-out and witnessed the murders. Today, the government concedes that, in fact, Myrtle Poor Bear did not know Leonard Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. But then the government knew that all along.
Leonard Peltier was convicted in 1977 and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison. No known witnesses exist as to the actual shooting of FBI Agents Coler and Williams and there is no reasonable evidence that Mr. Peltier committed the murders. In fact, at an appellate hearing, the government attorney conceded, "We had a murder, we had numerous shooters, we do not know who specifically fired what killing shots... we do not know, quote-unquote, who shot the agents."
Trimbach’s statement was full of baseless accusations. For example, Trimbach raised the specter of an “ambush” on June 26, 1975, a claim that simply isn’t supported by the evidence. This is not new behavior. Current and former government officials have long interfered with Leonard Peltier’s due process rights with regard to fair consideration for parole by intentionally misinforming parole authorities and the public with regard to Leonard Peltier’s character and background, as well as the critical aspects of this case.
Trimbach also resurrected the testimony given at the 2004 trial of Arlo Looking Cloud in connection with the murder of Anna Mae Aquash. At that trial, the government prosecutor presented the uncorroborated testimony of a paid informant, Kamook Nichols Banks, who claimed Peltier had admitted to shooting the agents. There are a number of people who, had they been called to testify at the Looking Cloud trial, would have refuted Kamook’s claims. But Peltier was left with no way to defend himself. With this deceitful tactic, the government prevented Peltier from facing his accuser and cross-examining her. Quite obviously, the testimony (which had nothing whatsoever to do with the Aquash case), was presented for only one purpose—to prevent Peltier’s release from prison.
Mr. Trimbach, a self-published “author,” went further in impugning the reputations of spokespersons in favor of Peltier’s parole, including Robert Redford who produced “Incident at Oglala,” a documentary film on the case.
Trimbach also attacked renowned author Peter Mathiessen, a two-time National Book Award-winning American novelist and nonfiction writer. Mr. Mathiessen wrote “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” the definitive work on AIM and the Peltier case. The author successfully defended the book against lawsuits instigated, in part, by the FBI and brought in three different states, surviving an eight-year litigation. As acknowledged by the courts, “Matthiessen's reputation for not being sensationalistic or scandalous is well known. He is a highly respected author and his works have received wide acclaim.”
What did Trimbach NOT say in his statement?
For a two-year period, Joe Trimbach was the Special Agent in Charge of the regional FBI office in Minneapolis where he directed FBI activities on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
In 1973, Trimbach oversaw the government operation at the siege of Wounded Knee. The record shows that, without intervention, Trimbach’s shoot-to-kill order may have resulted in the slaughter of Indian protestors who wanted only to be heard and who had no intention of harming anyone. Trimbach called in the military and his use of military force was later ruled unlawful. (Note: To learn more about Wounded Knee II, see episode 5 of “We Shall Remain” at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/weshallremain/the_films/episode_5_trailer.)
During the Wounded Knee trial of AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means, Trimbach denied that he had applied to a court for wiretaps on the Wounded Knee telephone, despite the presence of his signature on the application.
A surprise witness at that same trial was former AIM member Louis Moves Camp who the government used to fill gaps in the case. Prosecutor Hurd himself reviewed affidavits produced by the FBI with regard to the Moves Camp testimony. After meeting Moves Camp, however, he apparently had some doubts as to the witness’ honesty. So much so, that he requested that a lie detector test be administered. Trimbach refused. Subsequently, Louis Moves Camp was exposed as a liar by his own mother, Ellen Moves Camp. It became patently clear that FBI agents under the command of Mr. Trimbach had knowingly prepared this man to give false testimony; or, at the very least, they had found his story so convenient that they had not bothered to find out if it was true.
Also, during the trial, Trimbach testified that the FBI had no informers infiltrating the defense team. His lie was exposed when Douglas Durham’s infiltration of AIM became known.
A couple of months later, during the trial of Leonard Crow Dog, Trimbach testified that he had no idea that Durham had been an informer, although one of the three agents in his own Minneapolis office, who followed him to the stand, acknowledged that Durham had contacted him at a special phone number at least 30 times during the Banks-Means trial; this agent said that Durham had been known to Trimbach from the start, and that he had notified Hurd and the other U.S. attorneys about Durham, as well.
After the Oglala shoot-out on June 26, 1975, Trimbach assembled a special sniper team and was en route to Rapid City, SD, within an hour of the first shots fired. He bragged in his “press release” about shooting at mostly unarmed women and adolescents as they escaped, and claimed, as he does now, that he was “horrified” that someone shot back in defense. He was soon consulting with Governor Richard Kneip about bringing the National Guard into Oglala, and meanwhile he radioed for high explosives, which arrived by Marine jet—again demonstrating a unique talent for escalating tensions on the reservation, the very conditions that made the Oglala firefight possible and even probable. The very next day, SAC Trimbach was replaced. It would seem that even FBI headquarters lacked confidence in Trimbach’s leadership.
At the Cedar Rapids trial of Dino Butler and Bob Robideau, Trimbach denied knowing that Banks or the AIM group were on the Jumping Bull land. FBI documents show this to be yet another lie.
At minimum, these facts indicate that Trimbach was reckless and irresponsible. They also prove his propensity for not telling the truth, even under oath.
But perhaps the most serious omission from the statement Trimbach made at Peltier’s parole hearing was the fact that, during his tenure, a period still referred to as the “Reign of Terror” by reservation residents, the agents led by Mr. Trimbach stood by and allowed some 64 local Native Americans to be murdered. Three hundred people were harassed, beaten, or otherwise abused. Virtually all of the victims were either affiliated with AIM or their allies, the traditional tribal members. The FBI had jurisdiction to investigate major crimes, yet these deaths were never adequately investigated or resolved.
Nor did the FBI agents take any measures to curb the violence on the reservation. In fact, according to the vigilantes, the agents on the reservation closely collaborated with them. The FBI provided weapons, ammunition, and intelligence to Dick Wilson’s vigilantes and otherwise supported their war against Pine Ridge traditionals and members and supporters of AIM.
Put this activity in today’s parlance, ladies and gentlemen. Joseph Trimbach and the agents under his command actively gave “aid in support of terrorism”.
Mr. Trimbach, we agree. Healing is possible. But only if YOU acknowledge YOUR guilt, ask for forgiveness, and show remorse for the terrible crimes YOU committed. It’s not too late. You must acknowledge the truth.