Press "Enter" to skip to content

Vargo Still Prosecuting Tilsen for 2020 Rushmore Protest

Nick Tilsen thought he had a deal: participate in a diversion program, and the state would drop the charges against him and nineteen others arrested for peacefully protesting Kristi Noem’s fascist hate rally at Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2020. But the NDN Collective‘s president and CEO may have misheard something:

“As far as Nick Tilsen is concerned, none of his charges have been dropped,” said Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo to Native News Online. “We have agreed to a diversion program, which includes an admission of guilt and, according to the statement that was made on Monday, it appears Tilsen isn’t taking responsibility for his criminal behavior.”

The diversion program at the Pennington County State’s Attorney Office is open to people with no or little criminal history. Participants usually must stay out of trouble for a year and complete court-mandated tasks to improve their behavior and life and the charge and arrest will be expunged from a person’s record.

“As far as the agreement with Tilsen is concerned, there is no such contract, yet,” said Vargo. “Usually, it will include a person to be system free for a year, but before that contract is signed, there must be an acknowledgement of felony criminal behavior” [Darren Thompson, “All Charges Dropped Against Mr. Rushmore Protestors Except NDN Collective’s Nick Tilsen Who Must Fulfille Diversion Program,” Native News Online, 2021.03.24].

Evidently there is still no such contract, and Tilsen is headed to court:

Since that decision in March, Tilsen says he hadn’t heard anything from Pennington County State’s Attorney’s office until a few days ago when they informed him that the case is moving forward, setting a status hearing date.

In rebuttal, Tilsen filed his own motion, asking for the dismissal of all charges [Miranda O’Bryan, “Nick Tilsen Requests July 3, 2020 Arrest Charges Dropped During Courthouse Gathering,” KOTA-TV, 2021.07.02].

Tilsen claims Vargo has reinstated charges in violation of the agreement he thought he had as punishment for Tilsen’s March announcement:

In his motions for dismissal, Tilsen claims his remarks to the media were protected by the First Amendment. The documents claim the state’s decision to reinstate Tilsen’s charges were directly connected to his protected speech and were reinstated as punishment for it, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Tilsen’s attorneys also claim the delay in executing the agreement and then reinstating the charges violated Tilsen’s right to a speedy trial and that the new demands effectively force Tilsen into silence on issues he believes in.

“The prosecutor has abused their position of power and privilege to try to silence myself. These are all grounds for dismissal,” Tilsen said Friday outside the Pennington County Courthouse. “Here we are, another lie made to our people by another white man in power. And we’re tired of that” [staff, “Oglala Lakota Leader Seeks Dismissal of Protest Charges,” AP, 2021.07.03].

Meanwhile, NDN Collective protested this “Fourth of You Lie” in Rapid City, with four protestors arrested for scaling the Dakota Mills Grain elevator to hang a large American flag upside down with the slogan “LANDBACK”.


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-07-05

    It’s so obvious, he should have run over someone while looking at his phone, he wouldn’t be facing any felonious charges.

  2. Nick Nemec 2021-07-05

    In South Dakota charges for criminal behavior depend on who you are. You can runover and kill people if you have the right connections.

    Confess to a felony? For the things that happened at that protest in Keystone last July 3? I’d go to trial, hire a good lawyer Mr. Tilsen.

  3. mike from iowa 2021-07-05

    Peaceful protests are constitutionally protected in places where the constitution is recognized and followed. Northern Mississippi embarrassingly red magatland is not one of those places.

  4. Loren 2021-07-05

    It would be hard for me to add to the previous comments without using non-family friendly vocabulary! The “who you are” in this justice system needs some work.

  5. jerry 2021-07-05

    Vargo speaks with a forked tongue, which is typical of Pennington County law (sic). Never trust them, ever. Wonder what he an Thom have in store for their next act. Is there a go fund me to show support for Tilsen?

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-07-05

    Talking to a “Noem-er”?

    Get it in writing.

    Most lie like a Trump.

  7. Donald Pay 2021-07-05

    Regarding the last sentence of this posting, Cory,

    One of the things I learned from my daughter a year or so after-the-fact was that Rapid City youth back at the turn of the millennium climbed various buildings in Rapid City for fun. It, apparently, was kind of a fad back in the innocent days before 9-11 to engage in “urban climbing,” I think she called it. They would find ways into or on the outside of buildings to get up to the rooftop. Her group included debaters from Central and Stevens high schools. It was nothing that sniffed of anything, except high school hijinx.

    The kids did these stunts late at night, probably when my daughter had gotten an OK from her mother or me to go to a friend’s house for a sleepover. Their goal, of course, was to evade capture by the authorities, so they weren’t going to do anything as audacious as mount a flag. Well, they never got caught, so we don’t know what penalty they might have gotten for scaling buildings in Rapid City. Since these were mostly white kids doing jackassery, they probably wouldn’t get the book thrown at them. They would probably have to do community service.

    At any rate, I’m sure the climbers will get some sort of charges filed against them. To me it seems a bit strange that you would throw the book at jackassery that has a First Amendment point, just because it had a First Amendment point. Same, of course, goes for Tilson’s speech. Give them a public service job to do for a couple days, and call it good.

  8. grudznick 2021-07-05

    Criminals must be held accountable. These trespassers are criminals. They are lucky the business owner didn’t have a goon squad on-site to thump them all in the head.

  9. 96Tears 2021-07-05

    As Mr. Nemec said, justice gets twisted throughout South Dakota, depending on who you are or who you know. There are so many examples of glaring abuses. Noem pigheadedly abused her role as Governor to:

    – Use S.D. Highway Patrol troopers as her personal bodyguards while she preened and pandered state to state last year while our state was burning up from COVID (for which she did as little as possible except to turn South Dakota into America’s worst superspreader). This is an abuse of power and an unethical use of state troopers.
    – Refuse to make public her use of public money to bankroll her silly campaign for President.
    – Lying to taxpayers about the real costs of putting on that silly campaign event for Trump at Mt. Rushmore.
    – Pimping out the S.D. National Guard to perform a political stunt in Texas and selling their services to a fat cat donor.
    – Misuse the state airplane service despite voters criminalizing that behavior by voting a ban into law several years ago.
    – Obstructing the very clear will of the voters on decriminalizing marijuana and allowing medical marijuana.
    – Obstructing the expansion of Medicaid to deserving families, which forces a heavier burden on working families than other states.

    And there’s much more:
    – Mankiller AG Ravnsborg keeps getting break after break, dodging felonies for killing a pedestrian while diddling on his cellphone while driving at night. Still waiting for justice on minor misdemeanor charges, nearly a year after he killed an innocent man. Ravnsborg has no sense of decency as most recently exemplified by running for vice chairman of the Conference of Western Attorneys General. Worse, the Conference exhibited the bad taste and piss poor judgment by rewarding the crook by electing him.
    – EB 5. Millions missing. The secret pocketing of a state agency into a private business. No transparency. Cover ups. No charges filed, except for the dead guy whose suicide was ridiculously suspicious. The AG at the time pocketed the investigation report despite promising to let two reporters review it. Dead men tell no tales. Still millions missing. Still no accountability. Still no attempt to have a RICO investigation. And the rewards include the election of the ringleader to the U.S. Senate where he now helps coverup Donald Trump’s criminal offenses and treason.
    – Gear Up. Six people killed in a suicide-mass murder. Millions kept off the books and swindled. Bizarre contractual payoffs of hundreds of thousands to Rounds insiders. Small bit players are the only ones brought to justice.

    The day will come when we can peel back the onion on the Noem administration and one-party uninterrupted rule in Pierre. Rounds ran a corrupt administration to let pals keep their pockets filled. The AG’s office oversaw two major scams with millions involved in programs that operate in plain view, but whose financial activities stayed off the books. It should have led to publicly investigating any state program operating on federal or private pass-through moneys, but no. The protected class wouldn’t like being held to the same standards as Mr. Tilson seems to be held.

    Mr. Tilson could hire a good lawyer. It will cost quite a lot. For sure, the state and the courts will keep him running back and forth with appeals and delays, much as they are with Joe Boever’s family, until he gives up. This is how the unwashed masses are treated in our state. But if you’re in the protected class, no worries. Do what you want.

    South Dakota is a lawless state. Elections no longer matter. The will of the people means nothing. The rule of law means nothing except to keep those little people in their place.

  10. grudznick 2021-07-05

    Mr. 96tears, you left out how grudznick got shorted a dollop of gravy at breakfast the other day, rightfully paid for. But none of that has any bearing on the fact that these criminals were trespassing. Stop conflagrating the heinous crimes of General Crook, General Ravnsborg, and the criminals from yesterday. They are unrelated incidents.

  11. Donald Pay 2021-07-05

    You know, Grudz, it’s pretty much nonsense to put people in jail for stuff that’s quite a bit less extreme in nature than the what the people we just celebrated on July 4th did at the Boston Tea Party. I think what they did was jackassery of a creative nature, as opposed to the dippy do dahs who trespassed in the US Capitol on January 6 as they tried to engage in insurrection. Those reprobates are strutting around, buying guns and threatening more mayhem by trying to install the mentally ill ex-President by extra-legal methods in August. I don’t know why Vargo isn’t rounding those yahoos up and tossing them in the can. He must be soft on insurrection.

  12. Mark Anderson 2021-07-05

    Oh grudz, nobody holds you accountable.

  13. Mark Anderson 2021-07-05

    Oh grudz, nobody holds you accountable.

  14. grudznick 2021-07-05

    Why do we have laws, Mr. Pay? We all, libbies too, need to be accountable to the laws. If you don’t like the laws, change them through the Democratic process. Without laws, we would just be mob rule. Society exists on order and lawfulness. Even the Burning Man. But I guess not the Chip, so that’s the exception that proves the rule.

  15. Neal 2021-07-05

    Don’t forget that Vargo was on that team of cowards who were afraid to charge the AG with anything more than misdemeanors.

  16. Porter Lansing 2021-07-05

    grudz-nice – Don Pay and 96 tears are squeezing the same pimple

    The procedures are the problem.

    White kids break a law and it’s laughed off.

    Indians can break the same law and they’re facing the penitentiary.

    Our laws are fair but the procedures used to enforce our laws are a system wide blemish.

    Too much leeway and discretion is allowed to people with bias in their hearts and minds.

    Written by white males for the benefit of white males and their white male children, these procedures are.

  17. grudznick 2021-07-05

    That is an interesting take, Mr. Lansing.
    I think the white female children, rich daddy’s girls, benefit some, too.

  18. Porter Lansing 2021-07-05

    In short, grudz

    “Reform the Police!”

  19. Arlo Blundt 2021-07-05

    Well…we do a lot of prosecuting in South Dakota and per capita we lock up as many people as any state in the union. We are a little slow on the draw with the current AG especially when you consider what Janklow served in a similar circumstance. Given the Janklow prosecution, I am surprised there is not more outrage about Ravensborg. The situations were nearly identical. But, we’re very loose with “white collar crime” of all sorts. Lots of fraud goes unprosecuted. Perhaps Fraud is a key concept with Republicans. If you’re “good at it” you walk.This Tilson case is another example of prosecuting protest. We tend to do that with great vigor and unlimited resource, whether pipeline, indian rights, landowner rights, whatever. For protest, we drop the hammer.

  20. DaveFN 2021-07-06

    Trying to understand this.

    There’s the Pennington County Juvenile Diversion Program for ages 10 to 17.

    And the Pennington County Young Adult Diversion Program (YADP) for ages 18 to 25.

    Nick Tilsen is currently 39.

  21. Donald Pay 2021-07-06

    My point, Grudz, is there is real law-breaking and then there is minor law-breaking incidental to a protest. You probably remember when Mike Roselle and other Earth Firsters scaled Mt. Rushmore to hang a mask over George Washington as a protest of acid rain and other pollution. Most folks who do this type of protest know going into it that it’s illegal. They expect to be prosecuted. I don’t know who prosecuted Roselle, the state or the feds, but he spent a few weeks in Pennington County jail, where he organized a protest over rotten food. That got him shipped to Pierre. My wife visited him in the jail there, and we organized a little “freedom day” pot luck for him when he got out. The reason he was in jail was not because he committed a crime. No. It was because he rejected a part of his “get out of jail” deal that would require him to give up his First Amendment rights for a few years.

  22. 96Tears 2021-07-06

    señor grudz –

    Sorry to miss your response to my opus on the protected class in Pierre. It’s one that I have opined upon many times in DFP. I’ve never met you (that I know of) and don’t really know your party affiliations. I assume that you are an intelligent, well-read person, so it may be safe to assume from the lines you shoot that you are no libbie. Yet if we do meet, I would be honored to correct the wrongs of your past by pouring that shorted dollop of gravy on your breakfast. BTW,, Mr. Pay is correct 90 percent of the time.

    To Mr. Porter’s point, the procedure is wrong because the lopsided attitude never gets corrected. People of color, especially the indigenous ones, routinely get treated worse than the unwashed whites in South Dakota. It’s disgusting. From the viewpoints of the elite ones in Pierre, though, there are two kinds of justice. One, the elite ones do no wrong. Two, everybody else is in their way.

    Reform the police. Kick the bums out in Pierre.

  23. Mark Anderson 2021-07-06

    Grudz, how can you be trespassing when technically your tribe owns it. Why did the US try to pay them for it in 1980 when they won their court case? 106 million, that’s well over a billion today. Oh and didn’t the NDA Collective push Land Back at that event that were talking about?

  24. grudznick 2021-07-06

    Mr. Anderson, you’re saying the tribe owns the grain elevator? I don’t think the land records show that. I don’t think they show the tribe owns the highway either. Even the court decision about paying the tribes doesn’t say the tribe owns those things, it said something about paying them. Now, I’m way past my days debating legal land ownership issues, but I bet the grain elevator lawyer isn’t, so take it up with him. And perhaps we’re all wrong, and the grain elevator gave permission for the people to climb up there and hang a sign. If so, I’d like to climb up there next, if some of you fellows will help me, of course.

  25. DaveFN 2021-07-06

    I’m not versed in criminal law but doesn’t one have to ask the rather glaring disparity between a 17 year felony sentence on one hand and securing consent to guilt by “contract” on the other hand (as well as the curious conflation between “accepting responsibility” and “admission of guilt” by Vargo; see United States v. Bennett, 161 F.3d 171 (3rd Cir.1998) as cited in Gazal, et al ).

    “After decades of new laws to toughen sentencing for criminals, prosecutors have gained greater leverage to extract guilty pleas from defendants and reduce the number of cases that go to trial, often by using the threat of more serious charges with mandatory sentences or other harsher penalties.

    Some experts say the process has become coercive in many state and federal jurisdictions, forcing defendants to weigh their options based on the relative risks of facing a judge and jury rather than simple matters of guilt or innocence. In effect, prosecutors are giving defendants more reasons to avoid having their day in court.

    “We now have an incredible concentration of power in the hands of prosecutors,” said Richard E. Myers II, a former assistant United States attorney who is now an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina. He said that so much influence now resides with prosecutors that “in the wrong hands, the criminal justice system can be held hostage.”

  26. grudznick 2021-07-06

    Mr. Anderson, my apology. I fear my comment yesterday about business owners protecting their private property was on the wrong blogging item. I thought this was about the grain elevator, and it appears to be exclusively about Mr. Tilsen interfering with public freedom and squatting hunkered on the highway. I didn’t know his charges from that were about tresspassing, I thought they were about assaulting a police officer and defying law enforcement. I have not read the actual charges against the young man, only that he had an agreement with Mr. Vargo and apparently is not following it and is subject to some time behind bars.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.