"Reign of Terror"

The Atmosphere at Pine Ridge

Throughout the three years after Wounded Knee II—long referred to by local Native Americans as the "Reign of Terror"—the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) carried out intensive local surveillance, as well as repeated arrests, harassment and bad faith legal proceedings, against AIM leaders and supporters at Pine Ridge. The FBI also closely collaborated with and supported the local tribal chairperson, Dick Wilson, and his vigilantes—the Guardians Of the Oglala Nation (GOONs). Mr. Wilson was notorious for his corruption and abuse of power.

The Cost

During this same period, the FBI's COINTELPRO conducted a full-fledged counterinsurgency war against the American Indian Movement (AIM)—complete with death squads, disappearances and assassinations—not dissimilar to those conducted in third world countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala.

During this "Reign of Terror," some 64 local Native Americans were murdered and nearly 350 were subjected to non-lethal but serious physical assault. 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 of the GOONs, with whom they closely collaborated.

By that time, the politically motivated murder rate on the reservation had climbed and tensions ran extremely high on all sides, setting the stage for the incident at Oglala on June 26, 1975.

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