in Anna Mae Aquash's murder
What follows are excerpted portions of videotape 3 (of 4 total) of an interview with Richard Two Elk, conducted June 16, 2000 at the Native American Journalists Association conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tape 1 was excerpted in the July 14 edition of Press/ON; Tape 2 in the July 21 edition.
Richard Two Elk - I figured that she probably crawled, trying to get there, she was trying to get to somewhere, you know, you can imagine the state that you're in, if you're still alive, you know, what are you trying to do? You're either trying to get up or get some help or get somewhere, and that's as far as I can tell, and I do have a background in criminal investigation. I do have a background in medical. I was a combat medic in the Army. I worked in the EMS system in New York City and I've been in crime scenes. That's the best that I could formulate from the case, was that after they left and she fell, that she tried to move and inadvertently went over, o.k.....
Paul DeMain - We have, me and Richard came across an FBI document that basically says that while Anna Mae was in Denver, her anger toward Vernon and Clyde led her to say something like, if the AIM leadership isn't going to help Leonard out, maybe I'll go to the FBI and tell them who actually shot the agents.... So it brings up the issue of, and I've had people tell me that the reason she was executed was to protect people at the Jumping Bull compound, because someone became convinced that she was going to go to the FBI and tell them who actually shot the agents.
Richard Two Elk - Right. Well, you had to look at different people, I think that there is a foundation to that and that's the whole purpose of it, the foundation, because the role of Butler and Robideau in dealing with her and a role of her situation in Denver AIM, clearly what it does is it demonstrates, and there were a lot of people at the time, we'd get pissed about they were doing this, or not doing that or whatever, and then we'd speak out on that and I think that it was her general consensus was that things were not right and they needed to be made right and that's part of what was getting her in trouble with Denver AIM because she wasn't just going with the program, and that was the opportunity that presented itself that allowed the women to zero on her, because of her nature of saying things, whereas they might feel them but they wouldn't say them. She would say them and then they could kind of, you know, whisper to each other and it kinda like snowballed. Everybody didn't just have a sense of who she was or what was going on, and she was outside the click, so I know that Butler and Robideau, and I know both of them, I know Butler and Robideau were interested in containing the information about the FBI shooting. I don't think, from what I know, that Peltier was directly the one who shot or hit the FBI, but a fire fight is a fire fight, and you're just kicking rounds every which way and you can't really say it was this or that or whatever. Whoever had the weapons that had the capacity to make those hits at that range, would be the one who actually made the hit, but you couldn't really say it was this person or that, because when it goes down everybody just starts putting rounds out. So the thing that happened with them trying to determine whether she was going to come forward and say actually who killed the FBI agents, was questionable because Robideau was making a lot of claims at the time, you know, 'I hit 'em,' he was doing a lot of that at the time, 'That was my....' ya know, and when he and Butler got off, they were basically home free. And so they could basically turn around and say, he didn't, we know it wasn't him, without saying it was me. Again, you have to separate the sense of bravado and machismo from the actual reality of a fire fight in a combat zone and you have to understand that no one can really claim, 'I did this,' or 'I didn't do this.' It comes down to very mechanical specifics and particulars in terms of witness and evidentiary information, what bullets were in the agents, what weapon fired those bullets, who had that weapon. They say Peltier was the only one with the AR15, but if you were in South Dakota at the time, that's so far off the line of thought of what was going on, a lot of people had AR15s. A lot of people had AR15s. I had a 223, you know, it doesn't work like that... [T]hat's the whole strategy that's important to understand is the security that exists within the Indian community and the nature of the way things are done, we really never will know for sure. All we can do is take what we have and run with it, so that's why I've taken the position that I've taken, because I know from the people I've talked and from what I've seen and experienced and witnessed myself, what the case is, I can't sit there and argue some of the particulars of the case from an evidentiary point of view, but I can say, I know that this woman was killed, I know that she was killed by AIM and I know that AIM leadership made the call and I know that they need to be held accountable and responsible for it, and what I've done is I've taken my pipe, my feathers and the medicine and I've moved forward with that. Because if I had a political agenda, if I had a philosophical agenda, they would literally eat me up, because I couldn't operate at the level that I need to operate at to be able to survive the barrage. So what I've done, because it was my brother, I've taken my pipe, I've taken my medicine, and because of some of the appointments that I've been given from the grandmothers on Pine Ridge as Chink-sa-lou-ha and A-kee-chi-ta then what I've decided is we need to take these actions to Help. So what I've done is, I've taken my pipe and my medicine and I've gone forward and I'm making these calls and saying, I don't know about the FBI, I don't know about evidence, I don't know about charges, I don't know about proof. What I know is that you guys were involved in this and you need to come forward and help us deal with this, that's all.
Paul DeMain - Is John Boy a relative of yours or the Nelson family?
Richard Two Elk - He's not a relative of mine, I've heard, I've had in my investigations and talking to different Oglalas, I've had people say that he's one of Theda's boys, I've had people say that he was one of her kids that was not accepted, but I don't know. I feel like he has a relationship on Pine Ridge, he has a relationship among the Oglalas, who that is, I don't know.
Paul DeMain - When we talk about family members, we're not always talking about genetic family, we're talking about, in the Indian way, clan members.
Richard Two Elk - Right, and there's more a sense of that, then blood line relationships, and that's a lot of what happens among Oglalas and Indian people generally and I think it kind of paralyzes the whole thing of why you can't get information from Indian people.
Richard LaCourse - Richard, you told us something here today which is the very first time I've heard this, for as long as I've tried to concentrate on this in detail, which is the FBI interviewed Arlo in 1994. That's very recent.... What do you know about that interrogation, is it subject to Freedom of Information Act?
Richard Two Elk - Excellent. I don't know but if you could make it that I think it would be very valuable.
Richard LaCourse - Has he talked to you about it? The path of the inquiry and so forth?
Richard Two Elk - Well, I'll tell you what happened. He did time and I'd have to look at the record, and you could see when he did time. He did time in CDC, Colorado Department of Corrections and he was in prison in Colorado for vehicular assault or some other charge, and when he was in prison, he used to call me collect and we'd visit. I don't know if I was the only person he called collect or if I was the only person that would accept collect calls from him and talk to him for half an hour just because I was his brother. We had this ongoing relationship and then he finished his sentence and they let him out, and I believe that probably was '93, '94 something like that. When he got out of prison, I'd have to get out a calender to do a time run to see how long, but he was out of prison for quite a while, he came up, we visited, we talked, we hung out and did a lot of stuff and then all of a sudden, I believe it was the summer of '94 and again the record would demonstrate the specific dates but, he just disappeared and he's always disappearing so people didn't really think that much of it. I run checks on him on an ongoing basis and I've always been doing that for as long as I can remember. I started running checks on him and nobody could tell me anything and about a month went by and I didn't hear from him. Nobody had heard from him so I couldn't figure out where he was. He had come down to Panama City, Florida one time and he got in trouble over here and I don't know if you were aware of that but he got arrested and did time in Panama City for a weapons charge and so I thought maybe he'd done that again and I thought maybe he'd done something like that again, went some where and got crazy and got thrown in, so I wasn't sure what was going on. I just knew that he was gone. And then I got another collect call, you know they say somebody from department of corrections wants to make a collect call and it gave his name Arlo Looking Cloud and I said, 'yeah.' I took the call. I said, 'What the hell, what'd you do? Did you get busted again or what?' He was kind of quiet for a while and he said, 'Well you know,' he says, 'You remember Anna Mae?' I said, 'Yeah, yeah, I remember.' He said, 'They got me in on that.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'They got me in on that charge. They want to charge me with her murder.' I said, 'Wait a minute now. They want to charge you with her murder?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Well how the hell did that come about?' Over a process of about 3 or 4 month period he made phone calls to me of a similar nature, even though the phone calls came from a different location each time he called me. He called me one time from El Reno. He called me another time from Lonpoc. He called me from Macalester. He called me another time from Jefferson County Jail out in Golden where the FBI has one of their regional detainment offices. Each time he called me, they were doing this interrogative process with him. Because of, he knew that I'd been in the military. He knew that I have a security clearance. He knew that I knew something about how these things worked. And so he called and asked me for help and so our conversations over the period first, he asked me well, 'What should I do?' After I thought about it a while, I asked him for myself to tell me what he knew and to tell me as much as he could about the case. So we'd be talking and he'd have to go back in to holding or something and I started developing a sense of where we were going in terms of this whole conversation and I started going for particulars in terms of the case and what happened and that's when I started reading all the information and trying to lock in, getting him to divulge as much as he could, from an inside point of view. He also would ask me about lie detector tests. He would ask me about the interrogative process. He would ask me about the likelihood of charges, and at that point I basically advised him and I feel that that's how he arrived at where he is, because I advised him that he needed to be straight forward. He needed to think about his overall statement. He needed to be truthful and tell as much as he could, as much as he knew, without divulging a whole lot of other people's names, but to get himself clear. If he shared enough information of the right type, then they wouldn't charge him and my whole purpose at that point to avoid him getting charged because he would call me and say, 'They're trying to charge me with this. How can I not get charged?' And so that was the whole gist of our conversations.
Paul DeMain - And he's been granted some kind of immunity?
Richard Two Elk - As the result of that process, he was given immunity but a very restricted immunity, only in the context of the specific statement that he made on record at that time. So the extent of his immunity is on that and nothing beyond that. So he doesn't have immunity and that's where it gets, that's why he isn't going to talk anything beyond, because if he goes out and he does anything else or says anything else, there's a high likelihood that he will get charged based on the information that he divulged. So he's on very hairy ground in that sense, so what happened was, I knew of the investigation. I knew the particulars. I knew what had happened, but the magnitude of it was so unsettling and mind boggling that all I could do was just walk away and try to digest it for a while. That's when I went to him after he got out of jail and said, 'Stay away from my, stay away from my kids, my family, I gotta figure this out.' It was hard for me to sit there through those years and try to handle that information and sort through the information and try to figure out as much as I could and to watch the larger investigative process going on, without stepping forward. And so, that's why I didn't share that information with anybody until last summer when I established contact with Robert Branscombe [Anna Mae's relative who has pursued the case recently]. And the whole reason I established contact with Robert Branscombe was because I was watching the whole thing play out, and I knew what the next step was that they were going to flush his ass down a big commode and they were going to set him up.
Paul DeMain - Talking about Arlo or Bob?
Richard Two Elk - Bob, in his effort to get information about Anna Mae's killing, because....
Richard LaCourse - Excuse me, who is the 'they' that are going to flush Branscombe?
Richard Two Elk - AIM leadership. Because of the fact that he was on the verge of starting to sort it out and figure it out that it wasn't an FBI hit, that it was in fact Indian people and it was in fact AIM members and he started asking questions on that point. And I caught word through the moccasin telegraph that he was an informant and that he was a federal operative and that he was trying to come back in and re bring the Anna Mae thing back against AIM and that the feds had sent him. So when I got the word through the moccasin telegraph, I knew what they were going to do to him and he didn't have a clue and so I made contact with him and I communicated with him from a military point of view, soldier to soldier and I basically said, 'Hey, I've got the information you need.' He came back and said, 'Well, what information? So I shared the information with him about how I was involved in the process of debriefing Arlo, in conjunction with the FBI in terms of his involvement in the death of Anna Mae. If it was possible through FOIA to acquire the documents of the third party role that I was brought into without realizing it when he contacted me. I'm not stupid. I have a security clearance. I've handled secure information in the military. I've handled what we call fire missions. I'm an experienced operator in that regard. I knew what was going to go on and what was going to be next and I knew the only way to keep Bob from going under was to share the information that I had and to start to go public. So I started actively putting out word in the moccasin telegraph that I was going forward with it, and I started talking to relatives and I told Arlo what we were going to have to do. I established contact with Bob. He came to Denver and I sat down and I started talking to him about this element of the whole thing that nobody seemed to have. And that was after going through everything that you guys had acquired to that point. And I saw that there were components of it that were not even present that I knew of and I had a sense of and I knew that the whole sense of the thing was. 'There was an FBI informant, Who was the FBI informant? Who within AIM was an FBI informant?' When that wasn't where it needed to go because it wasn't an FBI informant. It wasn't an FBI operation. It was an AIM operation and so everybody was essentially barking up the wrong tree and I was one of the few people who essentially knew that and was willing to come forward and talk about it. A lot of people know it but they're not going to talk about it.
Paul DeMain - What's our next step? What are you expecting us to do and how do you want us to, I mean this is on tapes, on video, we're journalists, we're ready to publish and print. What do you want out of this from us?
Richard Two Elk - Well, from what I understand about the process here is that when I started to put it together and understanding, why the hell I ended up standing where I was standing, in essence, o.k., I began to realize that it was something bigger than a political process. It was something bigger than an investigative process. What it really had to do with, is it had to do with the medicine and so that's when I basically picked up and started carrying forward and I've been able to take the actions that I have and make the statements that I make because of the fact that I hold that medicine in front of me and I stand firmly behind it. So, what I've done now, I've been given the position of being in charge of security at one of the most traditional Lakota sun dances at Pine Ridge and I've been given this task for two years already and this will be my third year and so a lot of the people that are at that sundance are relatives of mine. A lot of the people that are there are relatives of Arlo and they know Arlo. I've talked to a lot of them about this and what I'm doing this year is I'm going back to that sundance and I'm presenting this, to the medicine there. Tree Day is 4th of July, so I've talked to Frank Dillon. I haven't told Arlo directly but I've sent word to him that both he and Frank are called to come to that sundance to help me with security and that's my way of telling them that they need to come and face the medicine. And so, what I've told them is that they need to come and help me with the Sundowns. The option that they have is to come. If they come, then I put them before the medicine and we surrender them to the medicine. If they don't come, then they default on their ability to have any control over it, or any say so. The medicine takes complete control. So I've given them the opportunity for them to face the medicine. In the same way for the past year I've created ample opportunities for national AIM leadership to come forward and deal with this. And so, having given that, I know that with the medicine, I'm going to go to the sundance and present this regardless of whether they come or not. I'm going to present that from the context of my initial statement that my brother is a Lakota war leader, who wasn't supposed to be a criminal. He was supposed to be something else. But because the American Indian Movement used him and then cast him aside, he became established as a criminal and not the war chief that he's supposed to be known as, and so that's what I'm presenting to the people and that's what I'm presenting to the medicine. I'd like to take a recording of my statement, if I can get a copy of it, and I'm going to also have it translated into Lakota. I'm going to take my recorded statement along with the translation and we're going to run it on KILI, o.k. Tree Day is the 4th of July. I'm going to arrange to run it on KILI prior to Tree Day, so that I'll be there on the reservation at that sundowns within seven days of this word going out. And so, what I understand is, that I believe that the medicine guides us all and I believe that Anna Mae knows the truth of it and guides us all and as much as we might not want to, know some of the things that are truths in this case, we have to arrive at that point regardless. And I believe that if we stand behind the medicine and we take these kinds of steps, that it will take care of it all, o.k. So what I'd like to do is, if you could take and look at everything that we have and let me know what each of you think, because we each have a different perspective on how things go, if you see something about what we've talked about that you think is a point of emphasis or a strong point or a focal point then I'll follow you, o.k. Because it isn't about one person or any group of people, it's something that belongs to us all, and that's how it should be in the end. It belongs to us all. Somebody has to be able to go forward with that and that's what I have accepted as my part. And so whereas, I'm able to do that, then the support that I'm seeking is that we allow and we open the door and create the opportunity for Indian people to freely express what they've known for at least two decades in reference to the American Indian Movement, in reference to AIM leadership, and in reference to the crimes of the American Indian Movement and AIM leadership, o.k. Because, thousands of Indians have experienced that in one way or another. Most of them are incredibly terrified because of the thuggery that's characteristic of the American Indian Movement. Most of them are incredibly terrified of ever saying anything. They won't. If someone is willing to get up and publicly acknowledge and state that these things exist, that these conditions are present, then the people themselves will affirm that. I know that. So it isn't anything different than you might do at a ceremony, where the people who are direct participants are there and they're participating in a ceremony and I am part of the support element and so facilitate their ceremony and so that's all I do in this regard, is facilitate the ceremony that heals. The American Indian Movement belongs to the people. It doesn't belong to Vernon Bellecourt or Russell Means or Clyde Bellecourt or Dennis Banks. It's preposterous, to use one of Vernon's words, that one person in AIM leadership could say another person in AIM leadership is or is not AIM. None of them are AIM. None of them are. The grassroots people have always been the American Indian Movement and we continue to be the American Indian Movement. We don't have an official organization. We don't have an official capacity of officers. We have what I call AIM heart, and AIM heart is what moves us forward against those things that would threaten or harm us and it's already become popular opinion on the Pine Ridge among the Oglalas that the AIM leadership should have been turned over long ago to the young people. And I've heard from several youth who have expressed their desire for this leadership to remove them self and surrender that to them. That's a part of what we're doing. A part of what we're doing is we're restoring our self to the point to where we got cut off. When Anna Mae came, what was supposed to happen with the evolution of the Indian Movement in this country was that, they women, we were supposed to hand the staff to them. All of our societies, all of our tribal governments, all of our counsels were governed by women. We're matriarchal by nature. It was the Wasicu that came and created the patriarchal mentality. We were blessed with the golden opportunity in the '70's to recognize that and realize that and to surrender the power to who it belonged to, which is the women. Incredibly enough, because of the insanity of the times, the women, turned on themselves and each other, and the men tried to destroy that one opportunity we had as Indian people to go forward. And so the whole purpose of bringing resolution to this case andbringing an end to the question is to do that. So not only do I call for them to come forward, but I call for them to step down, and to surrender on a national level the control of the American Indian Movement to Indian women. And that's where I think, as journalists and as Indian journalists, we can make the best thing possible come from this case. So that's where I go, and that's the only main reason I think that the whole thing should be dealt with. Were it not for that, I'd still be sitting over there by myself, watching the whole thing. But it's because I realized that and because I discovered that and understood that, the essence of it, that I came forward and started pushing for it because it isn't about my brother. I understand very well that there's a possibility and a likelihood that he could be formally charged and convicted in this case. But, that's not the interest that I have. What I have, is that it has to be finished now. That it has to be fixed and made good. We have among us, the wiping off ceremony of the Oglalas where when bad things have happened and you have to go and do a ceremony and it wipes it away from you. And that's kind of what we need to do here, in a lot of ways, not only for Arlo, but for all the Indian people. Because if we can freely realize and express and communicate these kinds of things, then the American Indian Movement will survive that way it was intended to in the beginning anyhow. Not behind politics or persuasion or male dominance, but as a movement of the people, because a lot of people out there have that sentiment. With this case rising as it is, there's been so much different kind of reaction among AIM membership and second level leadership. There are some people who don't even want to discuss the issue. There are some people who ally them self with AGGC. There are other people who ally them self with autonomous AIM and there are other people who refuse to discuss it at all and prefer to just go about their work at a grassroots level accomplishing what needs to be accomplished. I believe this kind of resolve will contribute significantly to resolving this whole issue and help people within the American Indian Movement to continue but to isolate and surgically remove those who are responsible for the death of Anna Mae. And so, if we can accomplish that, in the way that we handle the information that is available, then I think we can do something for ourselves that's been lost. And let the rest of them deal with what they have to deal with after that. So, this, Paul gave me this, and when I was in Denver at the March pow wow, Paul came to me and he talked to me. And what he told me was the elements of the case and I don't really trust anybody, I've been around too long to just jump up and give myself to anybody, so I kind of listened to him and heard what he said and said, well you know, we'll see. Then he sent me all this information and I kind of sat there and looked at all this information and I was really entertained by Blackhorse's file, because I could see in an Indian way what happened. But the most significant thing that happened to me, was when Paul contacted me about this communication and he told me about this bone. And it's Ma-to We-a, it's Bear Woman. For me, as an Oglala and as a soldier, I was given Mato Ka-ju-ta, the Bear Medicine when I was about 17, 18 years old. I understood that that bear medicine had to do with two particular things among the Oglala and one is the defense of the people and two is the ability to provide direct aid. And direct aid for me manifested in the fact that I then later joined the United States Army and acquired training in the medical field, so as a combat medic, as a person that has experience with EMS, I followed that medicine, all the way through my life, to become what I am supposed to be. When Paul told me about this bone, and I thought about it, and I said well, a lot of people come forward and the first thing that comes out of their mouth has to do with politics and a lot of it has to do with social standing. A lot of it has to do with all those other kinds of things that really don't have anything to do with anybody. But when somebody comes to me and they can put that medicine ahead of them as an aspect of who we are and what we seek to accomplish then they have my heart and they have my spirit, so that's why I brought this today, because Paul gave it to me last night, after having told me about it. He gave it to me and then I sat there after you left and I held it and my boy showed me a Wamblee that's in here. One of the most important associations and things that we have in common Paul and I is a friendship with my nephew Wamblee. So for hunters and trackers, I 'm a pathfinder, so for people of my nature, you're always paying attention to little sign and things that just kind of flicker and flash here and there. They don't always stay for very long. For me those were flickers and flashes that had a lot of value. So I held the bone last night. I then I realized that this was the medicine that was brought for me to hold today. Because one of the things that we talked about before was credibility and I recognize that that's always a question and always an issue. But, these are my credentials, the medicine. The things that to me represent the path that we have to take, it's guided by that medicine. It wouldn't be, if it wasn't for the medicine. It was the medicine that wouldn't let this go. It was the medicine that put me in all the places where I could look back and say, yeah I stood there, I stood there, I heard this, I saw this, because I didn't know that. I never thought of it or planned it or wanted it or intended it that way. When I stood over here, I looked back and said oh my goodness, because that's how I understood how I arrived over here. When I was getting ready to leave Denver, I thought about bringing my eagle feather, and my medicine that I've carried since I took my pipe, but I decided that I wouldn't do that, because I learned a long time ago that you don't use the medicine as a crutch. You don't use the medicine as a vehicle to rationalize and justify your actions. There are so many times that you have to go forward empty handed and you can't make a tobacco tie or you can't gather some of this or that. You have to go with just your heart and go in to battle and face it. And so I decided to leave my feather, because I wanted to be able to present myself and the things that I wanted to say. I thought about bringing my medicine and then I realized that this was one of those times when I had to go without it. So I just came. And then when I got there last night and Paul gave me, Ma-to We-a, I said well, yeah, there it is. So, we're going to sundance, Mato We-a and I. And I'm going to paint it and decorate it and put horse hair on it, and then I'm going forward with that, and then that's what it's about, see, to return that where it belongs and I guess, in that way, she don't like what happened. Ma-to We-a don't like that, and you know how she is. She's not very forgiving. You piss her off, she can be really hard case to deal with. Here she is. And for me I think where we are, I trust and I know that all of you will discover what the next part is, just like me, cause I don't always know. I know I'm moving down this path, and I'm running down this path and I might see a rock and I might have to jump and leap to the side and the path might disappear, I don't know. But I'm going, and sometimes I only see only so far, this time I say sundance, so I'm going to sundance. I don't know what's going to happen after sundance. What I do know is another story and my brother Arron Two Elk in 1976 or '77, took his 14 year old daughter on the Longest Walk to Washington D.C., joined in Kansas City. From her testimony, he beat her and raped her every night during the longest walk from Kansas City to Washington, (voice breaks) and to think, that a young girl had to experience that, in the midst of what we were trying to do, for the good of our people, is probably the sickest, most outrageous thing that I could ever be privy to. In 1980, and I brought the papers with me to show you, he was charged, because she finally couldn't tolerate it any more. At sixteen years old, she finally went to the student counselor at school and divulged what had been happening to her for the past two years. He was then charged with aggravated incest, sexual assault and another misdemeanor charge, I can't remember now, but I have the paperwork. He went to prison. His daughter and his two boys were taken by his wife in 1981 and they disappeared. I haven't seen them since. They fled and they hid and they've remained hidden. Our family lost a significant part of our next generation because of what he did. I always held that against him.
[End of Tape 3]