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Indian leader ordered to stand trial on 12-year-old weapons charges

PORTLAND, Ore. -- American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks was ordered to stand trial early next year on 12-year-old weapons charges, and claimed he is the target of a vindictive government that is trying to kill the AIM.

Banks, 50, pleaded innocent Wednesday and was ordered by U.S. District Judge James Redden to stand trial Jan. 4 on firearms and explosives charges stemming from his arrest near Ontario, Ore., in 1975.

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'The case represents hundreds of years of the U.S. government trying to jail and kill Indian leaders. Jail the leadership, kill the American Indian Movement -- that's what this case means,' Banks told reporters outside the courthouse.

Banks was indicted on possession of a firearm and transporting firearms and explosives charges. Prosecutors claim authorities found 350 pounds of dynamite, blasting caps and 13 firearms in Banks' van when it was stopped in eastern Oregon.

Banks was arrested with his wife, Kamook, and fellow AIM members Kenneth Loud Hawk and Russell Redner. Last year, the Supreme Court rejected the defendants' claim that they were denied a speedy trial and overturned lower-court rulings dismissing the charges.

Banks was convicted in 1975 on charges of riot and assault with a deadly weapon stemming from the 1973 demonstration by AIM at the Custer County courthouse in Wounded Knee, S.D., that ended in a riot between Indians and state troopers.

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Banks fled South Dakota, and lived as a fugitive until surrendering in September 1984 to serve a three-year sentence. He was paroled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to work as an alcohol and drug-abuse counselor.

Banks called his 12-year battle against the Oregon charges a 'strain' and 'depressing.'

'The U.S. government never had a case to begin with. They're being very vindictive,' Banks said. 'Twelve years is the longest running pre-trial in the history of the U.S. justice system. I think that says it all.'

U.S. attorneys were not available for comment.

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