Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Advances in the History of Rhetoric 10:1 (2007), pp. 223–258.

doi: 10.1080/15362426.2007.10557283


Copyright © 2007 by the American Society for the History of Rhetoric; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


In 2007, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents Joseph H. and John M. Trimbach published a tell-all book to expose the crimes of American Indian Movement (AIM) and dispel contemporary myths about Bureau conspiracies against Indian activists. The book provides an insiders’ account of the agents’ participation in the investigation of AIM and attempts to correct what they characterize as popular revisionist history accusing the FBI of gross injustices against Indian Country. The agents argue that as far as AIM is concerned, in the halls of academia, “There is a market for blurring the historical lines between fact and fiction” (2007, 6). While the book is cavalier, polemical, and one-sided, I take seriously their argument for scholars to revisit this controversy and place the FBI’s investigation of AIM within its proper historical context. In their effort to exonerate the FBI, however, they accuse AIM and its apologists of distorting the true historical record. In doing so, the agents dismiss any suggestion that the FBI participated in the social construction of that history. Allen Megell and Deirdre M. McCloskey suggest, however, that history does not exist outside of discourse but rather “is concerned with tropes, arguments, and other devices of language used to write history and to persuade audiences” (1987, 221). Obsessed with the objective fact of AIM’s alleged terrorist activities, the agents seem to dismiss that the Bureau’s rhetorical activity was, at times, nothing more than poor word choices. In this essay, however, I argue that the FBI’s language was central to its approach, both in terms of the communicative techniques used to defuse AIM as well as the topoi leveraged to rationalize extreme measures in defense of national interests. In revisiting the justifications for emergency measures against AIM, I situate the FBI’s rhetoric within a cultural context of limited intellectual resources to comprehend radical Indian activism. The FBI utilized communicative techniques that marshaled this limited cultural knowledge as a method of movement suppression. I argue that the rhetoric of the FBI’s investigation of AIM from 1971 to 1976 illuminates the contours of what I term rhetorical counterinsurgency.