Government officials promised Arlo Looking Cloud a deal if he'd help them solve one of the most notorious murders in Native American history. So what's he doing in prison?
In the aftermath of Wounded Knee, AIM came under a wholly different sort of attack: a psychological blitzkrieg of criminal indictments and covert operatives. Indians turned on Indians, and ultimately AIM turned on Aquash.
U.S. prosecutors filed reams of criminal charges against many of the Wounded Knee activists. Part of the motivation behind filing the charges was a government strategy to burden the leadership with legal matters, in order to distract them from the business of activism. And to a certain extent, it worked. With support from Hollywood heavies like Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando, AIM established the Wounded Knee Legal Defense-Offense Committee (WKLDOC). Renowned attorney William Kuntsler represented AIM founding father Dennis Banks and Russell Means, who indeed became preoccupied with keeping themselves out of prison.
Now separated from second-husband Nogeesik, Aquash left Boston and returned to Pine Ridge to volunteer with WKLDOC. While assisting Banks with his defense, she and the AIM leader, who was married with four children, began an affair. In order to keep her close, Banks ushered Aquash into the organization's core, effectively anointing her a senior member of the organization. Aquash wasn't the only new addition Banks brought into the inner sanctum. During the Wounded Knee siege, Douglas Durham arrived with press credentials, got inside the AIM bunker, and forged a bond with Banks, telling the leader that he was part Chippewa. The AIM honcho was impressed by Durham's Jeep, access to a personal plane, and almost bottomless pockets. Whenever others within AIM questioned the journalist's assets, he explained it away as inherited wealth.
Almost from the moment Durham arrived, rumors spread through AIM that FBI informants were lurking. Means, Banks, and Bank's co-founding partner, Clyde Bellecourt, didn't know who to trust, or if they could trust one another. The rumors not only spread paranoia, they also fostered AIM-on-AIM violence. In the summer of 1973, AIM held a convention in White Oak, Okla.; word was that one of AIM's national directors, Carter Camp, was an informant. Attempting to clear his name, Camp confronted Clyde Bellecourt. An argument ensued, and Camp shot Bellecourt in the stomach. Many AIM members became convinced that Durham was the source of the rumors and that actually he was the informant.
In the spring of 1975, Durham confirmed the suspicions. Appearing before a Senate subcommittee hearing on internal security, he revealed that he had been an FBI informant and testified about AIM's "revolutionary activities within the United States." His announcement fueled the paranoia already surging through AIM and raised questions about Aquash, the other recent addition to the leadership core.
In the following months, AIM activists had ample reason to doubt her loyalty. On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents drove into an AIM tent community, the Jumping Bull Compound, where Aquash was living. A shootout occurred, and both feds were killed. Two hundred FBI agents descended on Pine Ridge and conducted an investigation that would center on AIM activist Leonard Peltier. The feds raided a home belonging to a Peltier relative, finding guns and arresting six people on weapons charges. Aquash was one of those arrested, but within hours the charges against her were dropped, while the other five suspects were held for trial. Three months later, in September, FBI agents raided the home belonging to relatives of AIM medicine man Leonard Crow Dog. Again they found explosives and arrested six people, including Aquash. And again, she was out on bond in less than three days.
In October 1975, AIM held a convention in Farmington, N.M. All of the organization's top people were there: Banks, the Bellecourt brothers, Means, Peltier, and Aquash, who had just returned from what would be her last visit with her girls. Buzzing through the crowd were questions about how Aquash always seemed to be at the scenes of raids and always seemed to walk away from charges. Aquash was well-aware of the talk. A month before the New Mexico convention, while she was with her daughters in Nova Scotia, she told one of her relatives that some AIM members believed she was an informant. In response to the relative's obvious question of why Aquash would then go back to the group, she said, "I have to go back and let them know they're wrong."
According to Kamook Banks, Dennis Banks' ex-wife, who testified during Looking Cloud's trial, Peltier took Aquash away from the crowd at the Farmington gathering, and on a deserted mesa he interrogated her at gunpoint. Aquash told Peltier if he believed she was an informant he should go ahead and shoot her. The two returned to the convention. If Peltier was satisfied Aquash had told the truth, he didn't believe her for long. Later that same October, Banks and Kamook, Peltier, Aquash, and four others left South Dakota in a motor home owned by actor Marlon Brando. Banks was a fugitive wanted for alleged crimes committed at Wounded Knee; Peltier was a federal fugitive wanted for allegedly shooting the two federal officers. Aquash was brought along, according to Kamook's testimony, because Peltier and Dennis Banks didn't trust her. During the drive, Peltier addressed Aquash in front of everyone in the motor home. As Kamook testified, "He said that he believed she was a fed, and that he was going to get some truth serum and give it to her so that she would tell the truth."
A few weeks into the drive, the motor home reached Oregon. On Nov. 14, a state trooper stopped the vehicle. A firefight erupted. No one was killed. Peltier and Banks escaped. The rest of the five passengers were arrested. At her arraignment hearing in South Dakota 10 days later, Aquash once again was released on bond. Three days after that, on Nov. 28, Aquash went to stay at an AIM safe house in Denver: Troy Lynn Yellow Wood's place on the 4400 block of Pecos Street. Theda Clark arrived, there was a meeting in the living room. Afterward, Aquash was walked to Clark's red Pinto.