Open Letter to Paul DeMain
by Bob Robideau, Spokesperson for New Mexico AIM (reprinted with Permission from Dark Night Field Notes Summer, 1994)
I read with consternation and disgust what editor Paul DeMain claims is his "balanced and objective" assessment of the recent AIM Tribunal conducted in San Raphael, CA, and related matters ("Aim Supporters Convene in Minneapolis for Ceremony," News From Indian Country, April 8, 1994). In response, I would say that if DeMain's article is what passes for balance and objectivity not to mention accuracy in Indian Country, then the quality of native journalism has gone astray.
The truth is that Paul didn't bother to adhere to even the most minimal standards of professional even-handedness in writing his story. For example, he provides Vernon Bellecourt with ample space to make all sorts of ridiculous accusations Colorado AIM leader Ward Churchill, without so much as contacting Churchill to see whether there might be another side to the story. This obvious bias translates itself into a number of inaccuracies. One example is that Bellecourt is allowed once again to repeat as "truth" the blatant falsehood that Churchill is a Non-Indian. The truth is that Churchill's genealogy has been checked out by two separate Cherokee researchers, both of whom have concluded that he is indeed of Cherokee descent. Further, Ward has been formally and repeatedly recognized as an Indian by significant sectors of the Denver and Boulder Indian communities. The last I heard, naming your relatives and community recognition were still respectable ways of verifying Indianness...or are things done differently up there in Great Lakes country?
Actually, if Paul had done the sort of homework he requires of his reporters when it came time to write his own "analysis," he would have known that there was something seriously wrong with Vernon's story, right from the start. In the first place, Ward and Vernon have had strong political differences since 1985. During that whole period, Vernon has been trying to discredit Ward as being everything from an FBI Agent to a CIA Agent. But never once during the 1980s and early 90's did Vernon claim Ward was not an Indian.
It's only been within the past couple of years that he began saying that. There's something definitely rotten in Vernon's actions here. More evidence can be found in how he keeps going on about how Ward and Glenn Morris (also of Colorado AIM, and another target of Vernon's "white man" charges) were expelled from the International Indian Treaty Council. He seems to have forgotten that in order for them to have become IITC delegates in the first place, they had to have been accepted as Indians. At one point in 1982 or '83, Bill Means even went to Harvard, where Glenn was in law school, and asked him to take over as Director of IITC.
For Churchill's part, he says he was originally recruited into AIM by Clyde Bellecourt way back in 1973, during one of Clyde's speaking tours. So, since when did Clyde start recruiting "white men" as AIM members? I remember Ward from Yellow Thunder Camp during the early '80s (when I was LPDC director and we had a camp in support of the effort), where he was accepted by all the AIM members there as Indian. I don't remember either of the Bellecourt brothers showing up to help defend the Yellow Thunder site, though. Maybe, unlike Ward, they were too busy pushing drugs to Indian kids back in Minneapolis. (This was, after all, the period of activity which resulted in Clyde's arrest and confession of nine counts of distribution; these were crimes against our people that we cannot forget.)
From here, things begin to get truly bizarre. Vernon insinuates that Ward "must be" some kind of "CIA operative" because he and Russell Means once met with Elliot Abrams. I seem to remember hearing that Vernon himself met with Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and Frank Carlucci during the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties. Should we therefore conclude that Vernon is a closet Republican? Frank Carlucci went on to head up the National Security Council and CIA. Should we conclude that Vernon must be a U.S. Intelligence agent of some sort? Or, as Churchill himself put it, "I also met with Tomas Broge and Fidel Castro in Cuba, why doesn't Vernon accuse me of being a Sandinista or a Cuban intelligence agent?"
In another outlandish insinuation, Vernon has implied that Ward is "government connected" because of the number of "secret" FBI documents he's been able to access in researching two books he co-authored with Jim VanderWall, Agents of Repression and the COINTELPRO Papers. The reality is that none of the documents are secret. Churchill reviewed 12,000 pages of documents pertaining to AIM at the law office of attorney Bruce Ellison in Rapid City, South Dakota. Another 21,000 pages of documents on AIM are microfilmed at the University of South Dakota; 17,000 pages are available to anyone who wants to review them at the FBI Reading Room in Washington, DC. Perhaps Vernon has forgotten that he himself caused about 10,000 pages of the material to be released under the Freedom of Information Act in 1978 during the Longest Walk. Black Panther documents? Call the law offices of Jonathan Lubbell in New York, where 170,000 pages are stored. Or try the Peoples Law Office in Chicago for another 110,000 pages. Puerto Rican Liberation Movement? The Center of Constitutional Rights in New York has a whole file cabinet full of documents. The only thing Ward is guilty of in going through all this stuff is a lot of hard work.
About Ward's famous "association" with Soldier of Fortune magazine, which Vernon throws out there from time to time to "prove" something he's never been quite clear about. This boils down to a less than 90-day period in late 1976/early 1977 when Ward hired on with the magazine to find out what they were up to. He found out quite a lot. And he published his findings exposing the recruitment of U.S. mercenaries to fight in Southern Africa in one of the 1980 issues of Africa Today (look it up in the library, Paul). His expose of U.S. mercenary involvement in Central America was later published in Covert Action Information Quarterly - hardly a "right wing" publication - and then reprinted in The Best of Covert Action Information Quarterly in 1990. Ward's only "crime" here seems to have been to have succeeded at the kind of investigative journalism Paul DeMain ought to be doing and encouraging rather than condemning.
The most absurd part of Vernon's nonsense about Ward that found its way into Paul's article was the idea that Ward "orchestrated" the December 1993 AIM Summit meeting held in Edgewood, NM. The fact of the matter is that the summit meeting was first proposed by Russell Means, I coordinated it, and New Mexico AIM hosted it. Ward Churchill attended it along with other members of Colorado AIM, and representatives of a dozen other autonomous AIM chapters nationally. The one thing we all agreed on at Edgewood was that Vernon and Clyde Bellecourt have absolutely no authority to dictate AIM policy, to appoint or remove AIM members in any chapter, to call themselves "National AIM Leaders," or to run a "National AIM Office." That's what we thought, that's what we said, and we didn't need Ward Churchill to say it for us.
Vernon's misrepresentation of what happened at Edgewood is indicative of a wider pattern of behavior on his part. The membership of Colorado AIM has unanimously reaffirmed Ward Churchill as a member of its Leadership Council on separate occasions over the past several years. Each time, Vernon has been off in Minneapolis, completely out of the picture and claimed that Ward has "manipulated the outcome" or "duped" the membership (it should be noted that on at least two occasions, Ward wasn't even there when the vote was taken). When Russell Means wrote a letter in 1993 stating that Ward, a "member of the leadership council of Colorado AIM," was authorized by the membership to speak for Colorado AIM, Vernon falsely asserted that Ward has "forged" it.
When the Elders Council of Colorado AIM put out a similar letter in early 1994, Vernon lied again, saying that Ward had written it for them. What Vernon is really saying is that other Indians are so stupid that we can't make our own decisions. If we disagree with him, he calls us "naive" or "misled." Without his brilliant instructions, so the story goes, we will repeatedly pick a non-Indian FBI or CIA agent to be among our leaders. I, for one, am sick of his self-serving, patronizing bullshit. And I'm really getting sick of writers like Paul DeMain playing along with it.
Nothing is true, or even "partly true," just because Vernon Bellecourt says so. To the contrary, as anyone familiar with his history can attest, he has quite a record as an accomplished liar (e.g., Vernon's efforts to portray Russell Means as a CIA agent in the mainstream press during the 1980s. Now Vernon says he "loves Russ.").
This takes us to the AIM Tribunal conducted on March 26 and 27. Paul allows Vernon to pass the whole thing off as yet another undertaking by Ward Churchill. No mention is made of the fact that sixteen separate AIM chapters signed on as plaintiffs in the 26-page indictment of the Bellecourt brothers which the Tribunal assembled to consider. Paul contacted the representatives of not a single one of these chapters in order to find out if they saw things differently. Nor is mention made of the fact that the five-member Tribunal itself included such long time, respected AIM members as Joe Locust (Cherokee, co-founded of Denver AIM, along with Vernon), Regina Brave (Oglala Lakota, a Wounded Knee veteran), Dian Million (Athabascan, of Northwest AIM and former spokeswoman for Leonard Peltier), Sharon Venne (Cree, legal counsel to the Treaty 6 Chiefs in Canada and former IITC delegate to the United Nations), and Cal Poly University History Professor Donald Grinde (Yamasee).
How a group of this caliber might have been conned into participating by a "white man masquerading as an Indian" is truly mysterious, and Paul DeMain never bothered to contact any of them to find out. Instead, he quotes Vernon Bellecourt who wasn't even there - to the effect that the whole thing was just a sham conducted by Ward Churchill, and, in boldfaced type no less, that the "Tribunal is a smokescreen for other concerns."
What other concerns? Well, according to Vernon, it's all part of an ultra-high-level government plot designed to destroy the Bellecourts because they are genuine Indian radicals. Now, we've finally arrived at an element of truth. It appears that there is some kind of conspiracy going on. And it does seem to be aimed at genuine Indian radicals. But the question is: who are the radicals, and who are the conspiring provocateurs who have been assigned to destroy them. Maybe a couple of questions will help clarify things in this respect. Ask yourself what kind of radical is it that receives, by his own estimation, more than $4 million per year in federal funding. What kind of radical is it that receives, again by his own estimation, more than $3 million per year in major corporate bucks. And what kind of radical would accept money from Honeywell, a corporation that is responsible for creating weapons capable of mass human slaughter. Answer: neither the government nor big corporations fund radicals, because radicals (by definition) are out to oppose both the government and the corporation. But the above amounts are what the Bellecourt brothers themselves acknowledge receiving from such sources.
Taking another direction, one of the standard techniques used by FBI (the US government's political police force) operatives is to "bad-jacket" genuine radicals. That is to say, they spread rumors and false information designed to make real activists appear to be agents. Now, go back and read the sort of unsubstantiated shit Vernon Bellecourt has been spreading about Ward Churchill [and Glenn Morris, Bobby Castillo (Leonard's International Spokesperson), Russell Means, and me, among others]. If this isn't a classic case of bad-jacketing...try this other fact out regarding Vernon's behavior. I know that for a fact. I know because I was there when Vernon put the bad-jacket on Anna Mae Aquash that eventually cost her her life. My knowledge is first-hand. I was one of the AIM security guys Vernon instructed to take Anna Mae out on a mesa near Farmington, NM, in 1975, and interrogate her about being a federal informant.
It's this kind of thing - not some kind of "manipulation" by Ward Churchill which caused the AIM Tribunal to be convened. And it was the proof of this kind of thing which caused all five members of the Tribunal to find both Vernon and Clyde guilty of subverting AIM at the end of the San Raphael session (Clyde was also found guilty of being a drug dealer). And there still is a lot of unanswered questions concerning this kind of thing which has caused us to schedule a second session of the Tribunal for Minneapolis in September.
We are going to get to the bottom of this stuff, and we're going to do so in a way which is open and above board, not through whisper campaigns. Here is just a sample of the questions we want answered in September.
Whatever happened to that million dollars Vernon claimed to have brought back from Libya in 1990? How was Vernon Bellecourt able to get all nine of his "political" charges against him dismissed? (Every other AIM leader except Clyde has done time because of their politics, including Leonard Peltier who continues to be confined.) How much did Vernon receive for campaigning (as a "Famous AIM Leader") on behalf of LaRouche-connected presidential candidate Lenora Fulani in 1988?
Maybe I'll also get an answer to another set of questions which have been bothering me for a long time now. Why didn't Clyde or Vernon Bellecourt lift a finger to help Leonard Peltier, Dino Butler and me during our trials after the 1975 Oglala firefight? Why haven't the Bellecourts done anything at all to create a platform for Leonard's freedom since he was railroaded into prison? I mean, they've never to my knowledge contributed a dime, nor given a radio interview on his behalf, nor written anything in his defense in the 18 years he's been in prison. And I think if they'd done anything I'd know about it, since he's my cousin as well as my co-defendant, and I've served as the National/International Director of his Defense Committee during two separate periods since my release from Leavenworth Federal prison in 1979 after serving four years for my political acts.
This brings up an even uglier question. Why is it that every time the Defense Committee has started to get something going for Leonard, the Bellecourts have gone into a frenzy trying to undermine the credibility of key people involved? In this, Ward Churchill is a perfect example. Over the past five or six years, he has published two major books drawing public attention to Leonard's case. He's also published a couple dozen articles on Leonard, made hundreds of speeches, given interviews on radio, TV, and in the newspapers, and even teaches a class on the topic at the University of Colorado. He's done these things voluntarily, and he's not made money from them (any "profits" go directly to the Defense Committee).
All this readily explains why Ward has long served as one of the handful of people authorized by Leonard to speak on his behalf, while neither of the Bellecourts have ever been empowered in that way. What it doesn't explain is why Vernon in particular has gone to such lengths to try and convince us that a man with Ward's record is "federal infiltrator." At this point, I won't say that Vernon is himself an actual agent (although if I had to pick between Ward and Vernon as to who is a cop, I'd choose Vernon every time).
And it is about time Paul DeMain begins reporting the way it is rather than the way he wishes it was.
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