On Monday, for the forty fifth time, Leonard Peltier celebrated his birthday in a federal jail.
The Native American rights activist, now 78, has spent most of his life behind bars. He was convicted by the U.S. authorities of aiding and abetting within the homicide of two FBI brokers throughout a 1975 shootout on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
There are so many problems with Peltier’s imprisonment that it’s exhausting to know the place to start. There was no proof that he dedicated a criminal offense. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into mendacity throughout his trial. The prosecutors hid exculpatory proof. His two co-defendants had been acquitted primarily based on self-defense. A juror admitted she was biased in opposition to Native People on the second day of the trial however was allowed to remain on anyway.
Within the a long time since, among the similar U.S. authorities officers who helped put Peltier in jail within the first place ― together with a federal judge and a U.S. attorney ― have admitted how flawed his trial and remedy have been and have pleaded for his clemency. His extended imprisonment has sparked outcry from federal lawmakers, leaders in Indigenous communities, celebrities and worldwide human rights leaders, together with Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King and Amnesty Worldwide USA.
As lately as July, United Nations authorized consultants took the extraordinary step of calling on President Joe Biden to launch him instantly.
So why is Peltier nonetheless in jail? As a result of the FBI continues to oppose releasing him, leaning on arguments which are wildly outdated, misleading or flat-out wrong. To many, Peltier is now merely America’s longest-serving political prisoner.
In anticipation of Peltier’s birthday, HuffPost final week talked to one among his most seen and devoted advocates: Steven Van Zandt. Most individuals know Van Zandt as Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist, a mobster actor on “The Sopranos” or via his numerous inventive accomplishments. However he has additionally been publicly calling for Peltier’s freedom for many years. He wrote a song about Peltier, he frequently talks about him on Twitter and, it seems, Van Zandt thought he had an actual shot at convincing former President Donald Trump to grant him clemency, besides… everybody he was working with on Trump’s workforce saved going to jail.
Right here’s a transcript of our interview, throughout which Van Zandt urged Biden to launch Peltier and mentioned he beforehand requested Springsteen to even be an advocate with former President Barack Obama. Van Zandt additionally known as on Biden to embrace the edgy, lasers-shooting-out-of-his-eyes, super-genius ”Dark Brandon” meme that progressives are clamoring for and even supplied Biden a speech to ship to the nation about why everybody ought to vote for Democrats, as a result of, as he put it, ”we’re in the course of a fucking conflict. A conflict, OK?”
This interview has been edited for brevity.
Hello, Steven. Thanks for making the time.
Yeah, no, for Leonard, we’d do something. You understand? It’s insane. We’re operating out of time. I’m like six, what, seven presidents into this?
You’ve been following his scenario for thus lengthy, and I’m questioning how this all began for you. Had been you following this within the information when the shootout occurred?
No, no, I got here to it pretty late, really. I didn’t study it till 10 years later. I used to be doing analysis for one among my information, and it had a Native American theme. I ended up beginning a basis on the time that handled nothing however Native America. I observed that the South African apartheid system was mainly primarily based on what we did with our Native People, and the entire homeland coverage type of got here from our primary reservation factor.
In order that connection was made, and I began doing plenty of analysis and we ended up, on the time, the Solidarity Basis ended up with extra details about Native America than the [Bureau of Indian Affairs]. [Laughs.] I imply, they used to come back to us for info. So, yeah, I began to struggle the nice struggle for Native America again then. I used to be making an attempt to make that my subsequent huge difficulty. And, truthfully, it was not possible. I didn’t succeed. [Laughs.] And I noticed, that is how we took over the nation within the first place. [Laughs.] The identical issues nonetheless exist, you recognize?
So it was fairly a irritating couple of years, however I realized rather a lot. I used to be spending loads of time on the market, at Pine Ridge, so I realized about Leonard, and, in fact, I used to be outraged again then. I simply couldn’t consider how apparent this was.
The closest I got here [to helping to get Peltier out of prison], to be sincere with you, was Trump.
Effectively, I began, you recognize, getting shut to numerous individuals. They usually saved going to jail.
The Trump individuals you had been speaking to saved going to jail?
Yeah. And each time I used to be simply on the verge of constructing the transfer, they go to jail.
What number of instances did that occur?
That occurred twice. And one other two or three that had been, you recognize, that must be in jail. [Laughs.] So it was identical to, it was simply so irritating.
Have you learnt if, earlier than these individuals went to jail, that the message had gotten via to Trump that this was one thing that he ought to do?
I’ll by no means make certain. After which we tried to get to his youngsters and Jared [Kushner] and, I imply, I truthfully thought in a weird approach that Trump was our greatest shot. I’m positive he would do it at this time, wouldn’t he. [Laughs.] I’m considering, you recognize, it’s acquired to be any person not afraid of insulting the FBI. I feel he most likely wouldn’t have an issue with this at this time. [Laughs.] However even the FBI, I imply, I’ve acquired mates within the FBI, and all people feels the identical approach about it.
What do your pals say over there?
That they’re not going to struggle on his behalf, however they comprehend it’s mistaken.
Have you ever had any contact with Biden’s White Home about Leonard?
You understand, I performed it good with Trump as a result of I had Leonard on my thoughts your entire time, and proper up till close to the tip I didn’t say one single vital factor about him, OK? And that was not straightforward. I actually was like, I’m going to try to be cool as a result of I acquired greater issues on my thoughts.
With Biden, you recognize, I like the person, however I’ve been simply sick ever since he acquired in. It’s simply been so irritating. Each transfer he’s made has been the mistaken transfer. This week he’s lastly waking up, and I hope he wakes up. However, you recognize, I’ve been calling Merrick Garland “Barney Fife” for 2 years. I’ve been very vital of them as a result of, you recognize, I’m not mad on the Republicans. They’re all criminals, you recognize what I imply? Criminals do what criminals do. However the place are the robust good guys? The place are the nice guys which are purported to be defending us? And arresting these creeps? It’s simply not taking place. I’m like, sufficient with this bipartisanship nonsense.
So lastly this week, I’m thrilled, he lastly is preventing again slightly bit.
Have you learnt in regards to the Darkish Brandon memes?
Yeah. Let’s hope he stays. However, I imply, I’ll be happier when the “semi” part of the “semi-fascist” goes away.
So that you haven’t reached out to Biden people about Leonard.
No, I’ve been very vital of them. So I’ve been reluctant to do this. I’ve been doing it via third events, in fact, continuously. However I don’t actually know them. I imply, I talked to [White House chief of staff] Ron Klain as soon as. I talked to a number of others.
Did you discuss to him about Leonard?
No, it was a normal factor, simply making an attempt to get them to get up, you recognize? Combat this conflict, you recognize? What they don’t appear to grasp is his approval score isn’t just in regards to the financial system. That’s a part of it. Sadly, he made the error of taking credit score for these inflations, which he had nothing to do with…. America likes energy, OK? If he got here throughout as robust as he’s now sounding this week, consider me, his approval score goes to leap up as a result of it’s not nearly inflation. If he explains, to start with, if the unique [“Build Back Better”] deal had gone via, the $4 trillion one, there wouldn’t have been inflation. OK?
It’s slightly extra sophisticated than that. And the reality is, if it had handed, due to the creep traitors [Sens. Kyrsten] Sinema and [Joe] Manchin, if that they had really been actual Democrats and didn’t wish to kill the Democratic Celebration and kill this administration, and had gone together with it, that might’ve fully worn out the inflation drawback, I’m telling you proper now. However as a substitute, he takes this, “Effectively, can’t all of us get all alongside” angle after we’re in the course of a fucking conflict. A conflict, OK?
It’s fairly appalling that among the dangerous issues taking place round right here in plain view don’t appear to have penalties.
You understand, this begins with [special counsel Robert] Mueller. I hate to say it, however that was our final greatest hope. Right here’s a man who spent his complete life, a professional hero, doing nothing however service for the nation and ends his profession a sniveling coward ― outsmarted by Rudy Giuliani standing by a fictitious protocol that doesn’t exist. You possibly can’t indict a sitting president. The place is it written? Present me. It doesn’t exist. And if the man was going to observe that fictitious protocol, he shouldn’t have took the gig within the first place.
And, in fact, the Congress doesn’t do one factor about it. After which DOJ does nothing about it. And now the seven-year factor has handed, the chance to indict on that.
What are we ready for right here? You understand, Trump is responsible of treason in like 10 other ways. However perhaps they’re getting good lastly.
What’s it with Leonard’s scenario that has saved you so centered on it for actually a long time? What’s behind the endurance there?
I hate injustice. I hate injustice, and I hate bullies. I simply can’t tolerate it. Injustice that’s this outrageous, he’s now develop into an emblem of the final injustice in opposition to Native People because the starting. He’s actually our home political prisoner, you recognize? I admire us getting prisoners out of different locations.
You imply like Brittney Griner.
Yeah, you recognize, and I’m all for that clearly. I assumed that ought to’ve occurred rather a lot sooner, to be sincere. However that is like, we have now one among these. Now we have an absolute home political prisoner, and we must be embarrassed about that. I don’t know what it’s going to take. I imply seven fucking presidents, man. Come on.
So in the event you had 5 minutes alone with Biden, what would you say?
I might say, hear, Joe. You wish to run once more? You wish to win? You wish to maintain the Home and Senate? I’ll offer you a speech proper now that can leap your approval score up 10 factors instantly.
And right here’s the speech: “I’ve tried with all my coronary heart to embrace bipartisanship. However sadly, the Republicans, they don’t wish to hear it. They wish to take away your Social Safety. They wish to take away your Medicare. They don’t wish to care about your youngsters in class. They’re making an attempt to inform you, you recognize, what books to learn, what you’ll be able to learn, what historical past you’ll be able to know, what girls can do with their our bodies. They’re purported to be representing freedom? How is that freedom? So it’s time to declare conflict on those that have clearly determined they’re not focused on being American anymore. They’re anti-American. They’re un-American, all proper? As a result of we consider in variety. We don’t consider in suppressing the vote, and we don’t consider in gerrymandering and dishonest on voting, OK? So it’s time to truly face the details. It’s time for everyone on the market to develop into Democrats and vote Democrat and let’s get this factor finished.”
After which my final 30 seconds could be, “By the way in which, Joe, let’s get Leonard Peltier out of jail, OK?” As a result of sufficient is sufficient.
And, by the way in which, Joe has been, you recognize, fairly terrific with getting Native People into his Cupboard. I feel most likely greater than perhaps anyone in historical past, I don’t know. So I’d say, OK, now let’s full the job. And, by the way in which, on the facet, I might say, politically it doesn’t damage. It’s not going to harm you in North Dakota and South Dakota and Arizona and locations the place they’ve an enormous Native American inhabitants, which you possibly can use in your facet. OK? Let’s do one thing that’s a minimum of symbolic for them and perhaps with actual substance, I might hope additionally.
So that might be like my normal dialog. I’d be like, it’s time to declare conflict, man. Present them you’re a fighter. You understand? You’re not going to take this mendacity down. You’ve been making an attempt and making an attempt and making an attempt, and consider me, all people’s going to consider that since you’ve been like Mr. Rodney King right here, ‘Can’t all of us get alongside,’ whereas they beat the shit of you. You understand? All due respect, you’re following the footsteps of Obama, who I like, I’m sorry, however who introduced a knife to a gunfight. It’s time to struggle again.
Talking of Obama, did you attain out to his people in any respect about Leonard?
Sure. And I even advised Bruce [Springsteen] to say it to him.
Did Bruce point out it to Obama?
I don’t know. I feel so.
Does Bruce share your emotions on this?
I’ve advised him about it. I haven’t made an enormous deal out of it with him, however he is aware of what I do. He has his personal issues, I don’t wish to impose on his personal, you recognize, he has many, many issues he’s preventing for as nicely.
The rest you wish to say about Leonard Peltier or politics typically?
I feel if the midterms go the way in which they need to, you recognize, if the goddamn DNC and DCCC and DLCC and all these marketing campaign organizations wake the fuck up, OK, and clarify to individuals, you’ve acquired to be insane to vote for Republicans, OK? What’s the matter with you, you recognize? I imply, they’re taking away Social Safety and Medicare. Isn’t that sufficient?
We haven’t even talked about Jan. 6.
Oh fuh-get it. Fuh-get it. That is precisely the issue, OK? What are they doing with these individuals? They’re giving them fucking parking tickets. I imply, they need to have been actually shot, OK? As they might’ve been had they been Black or had they been Muslim. Had they been something besides white supremacists, they might’ve been killed on the spot. Appropriately so. And what occurs? You give them parking tickets. And guess what? That’s not scaring anyone into regulation and order. And this whole lawlessness, it begins on the high. It begins with a man occurring TV saying, “Overthrow the federal government,” and he’s enjoying golf daily.
[Fox News’ Sean] Hannity and [Tucker] Carlson, they need to be arrested for homicide after what they did with COVID. Trump must be arrested for homicide, the most important mass assassin in historical past, murdered one million individuals. Folks forgot about that? He didn’t consider in science. He didn’t consider his every day briefing. He didn’t learn it 30 days in a row saying an emergency is coming, which he admitted to [Bob] Woodward in his e book. He admitted it to him. 1,000,000 individuals he murdered, not one particular person on Fifth Avenue. I imply, what does it take? He admits to obstruction of justice on NBC, saying “I fired [FBI Director James] Comey as a result of he was investigating me.” Is there any higher definition of obstruction of justice than that? I fired him as a result of he was investigating me for a criminal offense?
That is what’s been occurring, and other people see this. It filters down, and there’s this complete discuss of violence, violence, violence. I imply, fucking Lindsey Graham. Yeah, Mr. Robust Man, you recognize. He’s an actual [laughs], he’s an actual robust one, huh? There’s going to be violence in the streets? I’m positive you’re going to be proper on the market, Lindsey, you recognize, main the rioters. [Laughs.] However that fixed discuss of violence, you recognize, that is what fascism is all about. That’s why I hope the “semi” a part of Biden’s description begins to go away.
Anyway, I’m simply venting. Do your factor.