The Wounded Knee trial of Russell Means and Dennis Banks in St. Paul came to an abrupt halt for one day last week when a paid FBI informer flatly refused to testify against the defendants.
James Northrup, a Chippewa Indian by birth, said he was paid $350 by the FBI to spy on Wounded Knee activities last year. He reported, however, that he had decided to side with Means and Banks against the government.
Northrup's conversion came as a surprise to government prosecutors because of his long history as a policeman and marine. The ex-informer had been a police deputy for four years -and had also served in the Marine Corps for five years, fighting part of that time in Viet Nam.
Northrup said that he had been dispatched by the FBI to Wounded Knee last year to infiltrate the Indian occupation of the hamlet. He said, however, that during his association with members of the American Indian Movement, he underwent the equivalent of a religious conversion.
Northrup told members of the defense team that during ceremonies with Indian Holyman Leonard Crowdog, he underwent a mystical experience. Northrup said that he later became convinced that the Wounded Knee takeover was justified, and that he quit his role as an informer.
Northrup faces contempt of court charges for his refusal to testify and could be jailed for the remainder of the trial proceedings if apprehended. He dropped out of sight immediately after making his statement.