This is a follow up to the September 12, 2019 NPPA blog entitled, Really, Mr. X. is Back?
What follows continues a review of an early August radio interview with one of Peltier’s attorneys, Larry Hildes of Bellingham, Washington. Set forth below are direct quotes followed by factual responses challenging Hildes’ claims:
The Claim: FBI Agents conducted an illegal picket and violated federal law:
Clinton promised to and didn’t in the face of a demonstration, on-duty FBI Agents, several hundreds of them staged a picket, which is illegal under the Hatch Act, demanding Leonard not be released.
This is a classic example of someone exercising their First Amendment right of freedom of speech and expression while publicly denying it to others.
Categorizing December 15, 2000 as a “picket” is disingenuous and against common usage and definition of the term. The term implies protesting and usually denying access, as with a union strike or when Peltier supporters yell, scream and chant (with bullhorns) and carry all manner of signs. This was nothing of the sort.
This is what Hildes is referring to:
On a cold, crisp Friday morning in Washington D.C., a number of FBI Agents gathered at the Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial where a prayer was offered and the names of FBI Agents killed in the line of duty were read. Later, several hundred (there wasn’t an exact count but estimated at around 500), FBI Agents gathered at Pennsylvania and 15thStreet NW and at noon, two by two, in a dignified and solemn procession walked to the perimeter of the Ellipse, ultimately gathering at the West Gate of the White House. All were in business attire and there was no chanting or verbalizing of any kind. The procession was led by two agents carrying a single large white banner that read, NEVER FORGET FBI Special Agents, Coler and Williams, Killed June 26, 1975, while two others held large photos of FBI Martyrs, Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams. (Footnote 1)
A representative from the group was invited into the White House to deliver over 10,000 signed petitions and signatures asking then President Clinton to fully review the murder of Agents Coler and Williams and to not consider granting clemency to Leonard Peltier.
So much for the “picket” claim and although a large gathering, it was nowhere near the meaning of a “demonstration” either.
It was a legal gathering. The organizers had secured permits from the U.S. Park Police and the Metropolitan Police Department. The organizers gave guidance for those who participated to take Annual Leave for that time, but since it was conducted at noon, some may have used that time as their lunch break.
Hildes opines that this gathering to express the opinion that Peltier should not be granted clemency was “illegal” and violated the “Hatch Act.”
Perhaps Hildes should understand that the Hatch Act prohibits certain federal employees from being viewed as partisan and openly supporting any particular candidate or party and/or using their federal position to engage in a political agenda or activity.
The Constitutional authority to grant federal pardons or clemency rests solely with the President, and is discretionary. Its intent is to be separate from political considerations and based solely on the facts of each petition, it is a legal and not political remedy.
Hildes is invited to review the list of “Mays and May Nots” available for review on the government Hatch Act website. (Fn. 2) Hildes would be hard pressed to find where the December 15th procession to the White House violated any of those restrictions.
But, we can make it much simpler:
On September 28, 2019 an email was sent to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel describing exactly what is stated above regarding the 12/15/2000 actions of federal Agents bringing the petitions against Peltier’s bid for clemency to the White house.
On September 30, 2019 the following was received:
Dear Mr. Woods,
None of the activities described in your email would violate the Hatch Act.
Chief, Hatch Act Unit
U.S. Office of Special Counsel
So much for improperly accusing citizens of violating federal law by exercising their own rights to free speech and expression. (Fn.3)
The Old Cowboy Boots story
The Claim: The Agents were looking for a man who stole cowboy boots:
(the FBI Agents)…supposedly looking for a man who had stolen a pair of boots and was involved in a minor burglary ring. Not, not Leonard.
This incident, turned fairy tale has been a cornerstone of Peltier folklore. There was no “burglary ring” or “supposedly.” Instead, there was a serious incident in which federal warrants had been issued for Jimmy Eagle and three others. Agents’ Coler and Williams were searching in the Oglala area of Pine Ridge following up on information that the fugitive Jimmy Eagle may have been in that area, which ultimately led to the events of June 26, 1975.
But perhaps the best way to demystify this claim is to provide an excerpt concerning the victims from an Editorial Essay that was posted on the NPPA website in 2000 and updated in 2005 (Fn. 4):
On the evening of January 17, 2005 Mr. Jerry Schwarting was telephonically contacted and asked if he would be willing to discuss the incident which occurred on June 23, 1975. He agreed. Mr. Schwarting stated that he considered Hobart Horse a family friend and after a day of branding cattle with several other individuals agreed to provide Hobart Horse a ride to the residence of Teddy Pourier. Also at this residence were Herman Thunder Hawk and Jimmy Eagle. Accompanying them to Pourier's residence was a younger male, Robert Dunsmore. Mr. Schwarting is white; the other individuals were Native Americans.
While there, after some prompting and friendly dares from Hobart, Schwarting agreed to wrestle Hobart Horse for fun; he did, and beat Hobart three times. It was at that point the evening turned from an impromptu social gathering into a dangerous and criminal confrontation. Schwarting was beaten by the others, and held, along with the young teenager Dunsmore who was stripped of his clothes. They were both threatened, even with castration, and had guns repeatedly fired over their heads by the others.
During the telephonic interview, Mr. Schwarting, on his home computer, reviewed the NPPA section (above) concerning this incident and agreed that it was an accurate summary of what had happened. Mr. Schwarting added that at one point they stole his vehicle, jacket and boots, and clarified that the boots were only two months old and cost $200. Two hundred dollars in 1975 was a good sum of money to for a pair of boots.
Mr. Schwarting stated that during this episode he was put in fear for his life, was cut several times by Hobart and still carries the scars to this day…
The fact remains that there was a violent confrontation, felony laws were violated, charges were filed, including robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, warrants issued, and on June 25th, one of the subjects, Teddy Pourier was arrested. Agents Coler and Williams were pursuing a fugitive investigation at that point and were attempting to locate and apprehend Jimmy Eagle on June 25, and at Jumping Bull on June 26.
To claim that the "Incident at Oglala" was over a stolen pair of old cowboy boots, as Peltier and the LPDC have repeatedly suggested, would be like saying Leonard Peltier has never changed his version of what happened at Jumping Bull that fateful morning.
The Claim: A Federal life sentence was seventeen years:
And, I will point out that if he had done the standard federal term for murder he would have done seventeen years on each count, he would have been out ten years ago. He’s not out because of his politics.
This Federal life sentence premise goes along with a couple of better ones Peltier has offered, all of which are equally untrue:
In October 2018 Peltier claimed:
“I have been here too long. The beginning of my 43rdyear plus over 20 years of good time credit, that makes 60+ years behind bars.”
Work on the math a bit longer: The Bureau of Prisons guidelines just don’t work that way.
In February 2016 Peltier offered (the all-caps are his; bold are editorial comments):
“I HAVE EARNED ABOUT FOUR TO FIVE YEARS GOOD TIME THAT NO ONE SEEMS TO WANT TO RECOGNIZE. IT DOESN’T COUNT, I GUESS? (That’s correct, it doesn’t count) AND WHEN I WAS INDICTED THE AVERAGE TIME SERVED ON A LIFE SENTENCE BEFORE BEING GIVEN PAROLE WAS SEVEN YEARS. (Seven years? Maybe on another planet) SO THAT MEANS I’VE SERVED NEARLY SIX LIFE SENTENCES AND I SHOULD HAVE BEEN RELEASED ON PAROLE A VERY LONG TIME AGO. (Not quite) THEN THERE’S MANDATORY RELEASE AFTER SERVING 30 YEARS. (No, the “mandatory” Peltier is imagining is “eligibility for parole”) I’M 10 YEARS PAST THAT. THE GOVERNMENT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO CHANGE THE LAWS OF (Sic) TO KEEP YOU IN PRISON—EXCEPT IF YOU’RE LEONARD PELTIER, IT SEEMS. (No, they haven’t for Peltier. Any changes are for the entire Federal inmate population.)
Can’t get the story straight; is it seven years or seventeen as his attorney suggests?
Peltier seems to always forget the fact that he is serving two consecutive life sentences, one each for Agent Coler and Agent Williams. Peltier also conveniently omits that he owes an additional seven consecutive years for the armed escape from Lompoc Penitentiary.
Here’s a simple offer, provide any proof that a life sentence in 1976 when Peltier was sentenced for murder was seven or seventeenyears.
What will be found is that a life sentence was typically assumed to be thirty years before an inmate would be eligible for parole, with no guarantees at that point either. On balance Peltier is on the hook for sixty-seven (67) years; thirty for each life sentence plus the additional seven. Since the parole board has nixed any chances of release, that leaves roughly 24 years and counting.
“He’s not out because of his politics.”
Let’s pretend to understand this premise and try to place it in some context, along with the fact that Peltier has claimed to be a political prisoner almost from day one.
Where was the political connection to what happened at Jumping Bull?
Peltier and those in the camp were AIM members. Peltier et al. would retort with Cointelpro, (omitting that the program had been shut down four years earlier). The FBI did not know that Peltier, a fugitive wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer, was on the Reservation.* There is nothing to indicate that the FBI was aware of the AIM encampment along White Clay Creek adjacent to the Jumping Bull property. Agents’ Coler and Williams were searching for fugitive Jimmy Eagle and followed a red and white vehicle from Highway 18. We do know how things rapidly developed because there was an eyewitness. Agent Williams, describing over the FBI radio that those in the vehicle they followed were about to fire on them. And we do know how it ended that day for Agents Coler and Williams. Later, Peltier was indicted and a warrant issued. He was added to the FBI Ten Most Wanted list, arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to consecutive life sentences. Nothing politically motivated there. A straight-up criminal case with many appellate decisions to fill in the details, only one of which favored Peltier for a period of time.
But for the moment let’s play along with the political prisoner fantasy and assume Peltier’s arrest in Canada for the murder of two government agents was motivated by his affiliation with AIM and that the government agents were searching for Peltier all along. If one accepts that premise then the unprovoked attack on the Agents wasn’t spontaneous, but deliberate and planned and the government agents were lured onto the Jumping Bull property to be attacked, with Peltier administering the final coup de grace. Then it follows that Peltier isn’t a murderer after all, but as a political operative he assassinated two government agents. Peltier, the political prisoner is therefore an assassin. If one buys into the political prisoner fantasy then this is the result. You can’t have one without the other.
Peltier Under Oath
The Claim: Hildes wants Peltier to testify in the Washington State paintings case: (Fn. 5)
We are going to file a motion in the near future to ask the court to bring Leonard to the trial. I don’t know if we’ll win. We are going to try very hard. Because he has a right to be there. The jury has a right to hear from him personally, and you know, see him, and have him talk about why this was important and his expression, and you know, this case is an opportunity to bring more discussion about Leonard’s case, about who Leonard is, about why he needs to be out, he’s not in good health, he has a long litany of medical problems, and people who have been in the prison system for many years, and he’s been in prison since he was thirty.
There are really two points being made here:
1) To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, any publicity is good publicity, and Hildes is correct that if Peltier took the witness stand in Tacoma, Washington it would generate publicity and “more discussion.” Whether it would be good or bad publicity depends on a number of factors. Considering the location it’s possible that Peltier may add new followers to his dwindling supporter’s network who may go to his website, read the folklore propaganda, accept it at face value and gather around the Peltier campfire. The controversy may cause some to seek out titillating content and for some, heightened public curiosity. The percentage of those who are genuinely interested in the truth and make an effort to do the research and examine both sides, especially the appellate decisions where most, if not all of the spurious Peltier allegations against the government are completely vetted and discounted, may be a smaller percentage. However, those who do will certainly see through the myth.
2) How many attorneys would consider putting someone like Peltier on the witness stand in Federal Court, no matter what his client, Peltier, may want? (It’s likely Peltier would love to get out of USP Coleman for a while with a field trip to Washington State, along with the audience and spectacle of publicity it could generate. It would certainly salve his overbearing ego.) The obvious problem lies with all of Peltier’s baggage, beyond just the murders, conflicting public statements, a narcissistic autobiography drawn from the pages of Alice in Wonderland, the self-incriminating statements, the armed escape, etc., etc.; the list is very long.
There would likely be quite a number of federal prosecutors who would love nothing more than to question Peltier under oath on the witness stand. They would have an absolute field day. Imagine what foundation questions might be asked? (Certainly considering what latitude Judge Leighton may allow the Washington State Assistant Attorney General.) “Mr. Peltier, can you tell the jury where you are currently residing and why you are there?” Peltier could respond, “I’m a political prisoner who was given life sentences for supposedly killing two FBI Agents.” It would be quite a circus and an eye-opener for the jury. The media would salivate over headlines, notwithstanding the issue that the trial actually relates to Peltier-the-painter and his allegedly infringed First Amendment rights that likely would be lost in the ether of the moment.
Hildes’ comment during the radio interview may have just been bluster or wishful thinking. No attorney in their right mind would put the likes of Leonard Peltier voluntarily before any jury.
* * *
What is clearly evident from Hildes’ radio interview is that he is willing to pontificate about Peltier and offer statements that are difficult or nearly impossible to support, and as a result we have to agree in the undeniable premise that facts do matter.**
“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”
1) FBI Martyrs, Wall of Honor: https://www.fbi.gov/history/wall-of-honor
This is a ‘must see’ Video honoring FBI Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozhEumzwgKA
2) May’s and May Not’s:https://www.cdc.gov/about/ethics/pdf/lunch_and_learn/haflyer.pdf
3) 2005 Editorial Essay regarding Peltier’s legal team and the 12/15/00 event:
4) Old cowboy boots: http://www.noparolepeltier.com/faq.html#17
5) Peltier’s Washington State case: http://wwwnoparolepeltiercom-justice.blogspot.com/2019/09/peltier-really-mr-x-is-back.html
Update: On 9/16/19, by order of the court, the trial has been postponed until summer, 2020 due to an illness of the State’s attorney assigned to Peltier’s case.
* Peltier was acquitted of this charge.
** There are still other points to discuss regarding the radio interview that may be topics in Part III.