Sixteen people en route from Los Angeles with food, clothing and medical supplies for Indian militants occupying Wounded Knee, S.D., were arrested by the FBI Saturday as their small caravan crossed the California-Nevada border on Interstate 15.
An FBI spokesman in Las Vegas said members of the group, which included three students from University High School in Los Angeles, and a number of Indians, had been charged with violating the federal antiriot statute.
The FBI spokesman said the statute “makes it a violation for anyone to cross the state line with the intent to organize, promote, encourage, participate in or carry on a riot or to aid or abet any participating in a riot.”
The arrests were part of a national crackdown by federal authorities on Indians or their sympathizers trying to reach Wounded Knee with aid for the Indians there, according to a Department of Justice spokesman in Washington.
The spokesman, John H. Hushen, said the Justice Department had notified FBI offices throughout the country on Friday night to apprehend any dissident Indians moving toward Wounded Knee “if there is probably cause” to believe they are going to commit a felony.
Hushen, when asked what constituted probable cause, referred to the antiriot law.
Later Saturday the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California responded to the arrests in a statement issued by Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU’s branch headquartered in Los Angeles.
“We condemn the use of the federal antiriot law as a further step in the escalation of Mr. Nixon’s Indian war,” she said.
“If it is a crime for American Indians to cross state lines and carry medical supplies and food, then all Americans and their freedom to travel are in jeopardy,” the statement concluded.
The FBI would not say how it had learned of the caravan, but a spokesman for the Indian Center here, where the caravan originated, said the trip “certainly was no secret.”
Scottie Calloway, chairman of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Indian Movement, said two television stations had camera crew on hand Friday night when the van, station wagon and rented truck departed.
Calloway said he had not expected that “there would be a legal hassle.”
He said the three arrested University High School students had, with some other students, come to the center with money, sleeping bags, blankets and medicine. “They asked if they could go along and we said sure,” he said. “It was like a camping trip for them. Like I said, we had no idea.”
Calloway could not identify the students.
Sandy Fire, whose husband, Archie, helped coordinate the trip and was one of those seized, called the arrests shocking.
When asked if the arrests would stop AIM efforts to get supplies to Wounded Knee, Calloway said:
“We are definitely going to collect more supplies and get them over there. But next time we won’t announce anything.”
The caravan members are expected to be held in Clark County jail until Monday.
The FBI identified those arrested as two juveniles and 14 adults. The adults, according to the FBI, were:
Gerald Beartacks, 44, address unknown; Mervyn Chico Cojo, 26, of Beverly Hills; Andrew Jackson Cooksey, 26, of Los Angeles; Archie Percy Fire, 37 of Los Angeles; Wallace James King, 29, no address given; John Foster Funmaker, 27, Black River, Wis.; Joseph Lowrey, 30, of Los Angeles.
Also, Larry Joseph Martinez, 23, Lakeside; Stanley Demanic Maxey, 26, El Cajon; Karen Pomer, 18, Los Angeles; Artemis Garcia Rios, 18, no address; John Sterling Thundershield, 34, of Laveen, Ariz.; and Robert Wallace, 28, of Campo.
Leon Letwin, a Los Angeles attorney, identified his son, Michael, 16, a junior at University High, as one of the two juveniles arrested.
“When Michael asked me if he could accompany them on the trip to Wounded Knee, I grudgingly told him yes. I was concerned about the very length of the trip, the fact that they might be hit by a blizzard or be involved in some trouble at Wounded Knee.
“What never crossed my mind was that they would be arrested for merely taking food, medicine and clothing there. I had read in The Times last Thursday that such was being allowed in.” (Food and medicine are being taken into Wounded Knee by representatives of the National Council of Churches.)