One of the earliest members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) after it was founded in 1969, Russell Means died of natural causes at his ranch in Porcupine, South Dakota, on October 22. Born on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation in 1939, he spent most of his adult life claiming to fight for justice for the American Indians. In reality, he was more a revolutionary who was determined to destroy freedom for all Americans.
AIM was founded in 1969 by Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt, and George Mitchell (not the recently deceased U.S. senator). These three had already earned 42 convictions for assault, armed robbery, and criminal violence. Means soon joined with them and added his own small list of criminal offenses to their total. He gained media attention for himself and AIM by leading a group of Indian protesters who seized control of a replica of the Mayflower in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Thanksgiving Day 1970. He later attempted to gain control of the Mount Rushmore monument where the heads of four ex-presidents of the United States are carved into the mountainside.
In 1972, Means and his AIM cohorts occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington. They ransacked its headquarters causing $3 million in damages but were given $66,000 by federal officials when they were forced out. The federal Office of Economic Opportunity awarded AIM $400,000, and funds were given to the group by the World Council of Churches and other “religious” groups. In 1973, Means and his AIM cronies led hundreds of other recruits in a takeover of the village of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. They occupied the area for more than two months and were eventually forced out after a small war was waged in which several Indians were killed and a federal official was severely wounded.
On September 25, 1973, Means spelled out his and AIM's revolutionary plan during an AIM rally at the University of Minnesota. Appearing with professed communist Angela Davis at his side, he announced that his goal included separating from the United States and building a new nation within our country's borders. He stated:
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Photo: In a Jan. 31, 1989 file photo, Russell Means, who headed the American Indian Movement, (AIM) testified before a special investigative committee of the Senate Select Committee in Washington: AP Images