John Kerry's Political Friends
By: Thomas H. Lipscomb
The New York Sun | Monday, March 15, 2004
The anti-war group that John Kerry was the principal spokesman for debated and voted on a plot to assassinate politicians who supported the Vietnam War.
Mr. Kerry denies being present at the November 12-15, 1971, meeting in Kansas City of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and says he quit the group before the meeting. But according to the current head of Missouri Veterans for Kerry, Randy Barnes, Mr. Kerry,who was then 27,was at the meeting, voted against the plot, and then orally resigned from the organization.
Mr. Barnes was present as part of the Kansas City host chapter for the 1971 meeting and recounted the incident in a phone interview with The New York Sun this week.
In addition to Mr. Barnes’s recollection placing Mr. Kerry at the Kansas City meeting, another Vietnam veteran who attended the meeting, Terry Du-Bose, said that Mr. Kerry was there.
There are at least two other independent corroborations that the antiwar group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, of which Mr. Kerry was the most prominent national spokesman, considered assassinating American political leaders who favored the war.
Gerald Nicosia’s 2001 book Home To War reports that one of the key leaders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Scott Camil,“proposed the assassination of the most hard-core conservative members of Congress,as well as any other powerful, intractable opponents of the antiwar movement.” The book reports on the Kansas City meeting at which Mr.Camil’s plan was debated and then voted down.
Mr. Nicosia’s book was widely praised by reviewers as varied as General Harold Moore, author of We Were Soldiers; Gloria Emerson, who had been a New York Times reporter during the Vietnam War, and leftist Howard Zinn. Mr. Kerry himself stated in a blurb on the cover that the book “ties together the many threads of a difficult period.” Mr. Kerry hosted a party for the book in the Hart Senate Office Building that was televised on C-SPAN.
Another source is an October 20,1992, oral history interview of Scott Camil on file at the University of Florida Oral History Archive. In it,Mr.Camil speaks of his plan for an alternative to Mr. Kerry’s idea of symbolically throwing veterans’ medals over the fence onto the steps of the Capitol during the Dewey Canyon III demonstration in Washington in April of 1971.
“My plan was that, on the last day we would go into the [congressional] offices we would schedule the most hardcore hawks for last and we would shoot them all,” Mr. Camil told the Oral History interviewer. “I was serious.”
In a phone interview with the Sun this week, Mr. Camil did not dispute either the account in the Nicosia book or in the oral history. He said he plans to accept an offer by the Florida Kerry organization to become active in Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign. Campaign aides to Mr. Kerry invited Mr.Camil to a meeting for the senator in Orlando last week, but they did not meet directly.
Mr. Camil was known to colleagues in the anti-war movement as “Scott the Assassin.” Mr. Camil told The New York Sun he got the name in Vietnam for “sneaking down to the Vietnamese villages at night and killing people.”
According to the Nicosia book and interviews with VVAW members who were involved, at theVietnam Veterans Against the War Kansas City leadership conference, Mr. Camil tried to put his plan into effect. He called together eight to 10 Marines to organize something he called “The Phoenix Project.” The original Phoenix Project during the Vietnam War was an attempt to destroy the Viet Cong leadership by assassination. Mr. Camil’s Phoenix Project planned to execute the Southern senatorial leadership that was financing the Vietnam War. Senators like John Stennis, Strom Thurmond, and John Tower were his targets, according to Mr. Camil. They were to be killed during the Senate Christmas recess the following month.
After an attempt to parcel out the hit jobs required to kill the senators, Mr. Camil’s plan was presented to all the chapter coordinators present and the VVAW leadership. Mr. Nicosia’s book recounts, “What Camil sketched was so explosive that the coordinators feared lest government agents even hear of it. So they decamped to a church on the outskirts of town with the intention of debating the plan in complete privacy.When they got to the church, however, they found that the government was already on to them; their ‘debugging expert’ uncovered microphones hidden all over the place. An instantaneous decision was made to move again to Common Ground, a Mennonite hall used by homeless vets as a ‘crash pad.’”
“Camil was deadly serious, brilliant, and highly logical,” Mr. Nicosia told the Sun.
The plan was voted down. There’s a difference of opinion as to how narrow the margin was.
The claims of Mr. Kerry’s involvement in the assassination discussions in Kansas City have apparently not been previously reported.
The most recent book that focuses on Mr. Kerry’s relations with his fellow Vietnam veterans, Douglas Brinkley’s Tour of Duty, reports the events as follows: “In a November 10 letter housed at the VVAW papers in Madison,Wisconsin, Kerry quit, politely noting he had been proud to serve in the national organization. His reason was straightforward: ‘personality conflicts and differences in political philosophy.’ In two days,VVAW was meeting in Kansas City and he would be a noshow.”
But in a footnote, Mr. Brinkley acknowledges,“I could not locate Kerry’s November 10 VVAW resignation letter supposedly housed at the Wisconsin archives. The quote I used comes directly from Andrew E. Hunt’s essential The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (1999).”
When asked by the Sun who told him Mr. Kerry was “no-show” at Kansas City, Mr. Brinkley replied, “Senator Kerry.” Mr. Brinkley also stated that Mr. Kerry did not have a personal copy of the resignation letter either.
But in an interview with the Sun, the “essential” historian Mr. Brinkley relied on as his source, Andrew E. Hunt, said “I never stated that there was a letter of resignation, or even implied in my book that I saw one. I never could find one in the archives in Wisconsin. I don’t know how Brinkley got the idea that I had. I never could figure out when Kerry resigned.” When asked about Mr. Brinkley’s statement that Mr. Kerry didn’t have a copy of the resignation letter either, Mr. Hunt said, “I don’t know about that. I never could get an interview with Senator Kerry. But I never saw anyone who saves things the way Kerry does.”
Whether or not there was a letter of resignation dated November 10 is obviously important, since it predates the Kansas City assassination discussions by two days.
Mr. Camil said he did not recall whether Mr. Kerry was at the Kansas City meeting nor did he recall whether he had discussed his assassination plan with Mr. Kerry.
But Mr. Barnes, the head of the Missouri Veterans for Kerry, said, “I don’t think there was a letter of resignation. He just said he was resigning after the vote.”
Clearly there is considerable confusion about the time of Mr. Kerry’s resignation.According to Mr. Nicosia,“He resigned from the executive committee” after a spectacular argument with VVAW leader Al Hubbard at the July national leadership meeting in St Louis.
But on behalf of the John Kerry campaign, spokesman David Wade told the Sun yesterday that Mr. Kerry resigned from Vietnam Veterans Against the War “sometime in the summer of 1971 after the August meeting in St. Louis, which Kerry did not attend.”
Mr.Wade also said,“Kerry was not at the Kansas City meeting.”
Two-thirds of the American troops in Vietnam at the height of American commitment in 1969 had already been withdrawn in the “Vietnamization” policy in effect at the time of the VVAW Kansas City conference in November 1971. When asked recently by the Sun why the assassinations still seemed necessary, Mr. Camil replied: “The war was still going on. We had to stop it.”
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