Jewish World Review March 15, 2004 / 22 Adar, 5764
Thomas H. Lipscomb
Was John Kerry silent about plot to murder 7 U.S. Senators?
An assassination plot to kill key figures, including seven Senators, who supported the Vietnam War was proposed during a November 12-15 1971 meeting of The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in Kansas City.
John Kerry had been the VVAW's principal spokesman on "Meet the Press," "The Dick Cavitt Show" and a Senate Committee as well as a member of the Executive Committee for much of the previous year and a half. Kerry has consistently denied being present at the Kansas City meeting at which the proposal was rejected in a vote by about 50 Chapter Coordinators of the (VVAW).
But according to the current head of Missouri Veterans for Kerry, Randy Barnes, Mr. Kerry, who was then 27, voted against the plot and then orally resigned from the organization. Barnes was present as part of the Kansas City host chapter for the 1971 meeting and recounted the incident in a phone interview this week. There were over 200 VVAW members in attendance in Kansas City but only Chapter Coordinators and members of the Executive Committee were eligible to vote. There is no record that Mr. Kerry informed law enforcement authorities at the time of the incident or at any time subsequent about the assassination plot's consideration by his "peace" group.
There are at least two other independent corroborations that the anti-war group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, for whom Mr. Kerry had testified before the United States Senate, considered assassinating American Senators and political leaders who favored the war.
"Home To War" (Crown, 2001) 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 anti-war movement." The book reports on the Kansas City meeting at which Mr. Camil's plan was debated and then voted down.
Mr. Nicosia's "definitive" book was widely praised by reviewers as varied as GEN Harold Moore (author of WE WERE SOLDIERS), Gloria Emerson who had been a New York Times reporter during the Vietnam War, and Marxist historian Howard Zinn. Senator Kerry himself stated in a blurb on the cover that the book "ties together the many threads of a difficult period." Senator 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 their medals over the fence onto the steps of the Capitol at the Dewey Canyon III VVAW 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 hard-core hawks for last-and we would shoot them all," Mr. Camil told the Oral History interviewer. "I was serious."
In a phone interview 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 ten days ago, but they did not meet directly.
Mr. Camil was known to colleagues in the anti-war movement as "Scott the Assassin." Mr. Camil stated he got the name in Vietnam for "sneaking down to the Vietnamese villages at night and killing people."
According to the Nicosia book and an interview with VVAW member Terry DuBose who was at the Vietnam Veterans Against the War Kansas City leadership conference, Mr. Camil tried to put his plan into effect in Kansas City. He called together eight to ten 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.
An attempt was made to parcel out the hit jobs required to kill the senators according to DuBose, who stated he was asked to kill Senator Tower since he was from Tower's home state of Texas. He was shocked and refused. And then Mr. Camil's plan was presented to all the chapter coordinators present and the VVAW leadership. "We believed in true democracy in the VVAW. It was important to have a vote on my proposal" Mr. Camil said.
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 in 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 said in an interview.
The plan was voted down. There's a difference of opinion as to how narrow the margin was.
The most recent book that focuses on Mr. Kerry's breaking of his relations with his VVAW members, 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 no-show. "
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 who told him Kerry was "no-show" at Kansas City, Mr. Brinkley replied "Senator Kerry." Mr. Brinkley also stated that Mr. Kerry did not have a copy of the resignation letter either, and did not know where one was.
But when interviewed, the "essential" historian Brinkely relied on as his source, Andrew E. Hunt, stated ""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 Kerry didn't have a copy of the resignation letter either, Mr. Hunt stated, "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."
Mr. Brinkley has subsequently stated that he made an honest mistake in transferring the British notation of Hunt's reference to a Colorado VVAW newsletter and is making a revision for the next edition of TOUR OF DUTY.
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.
In addition to Mr. Barnesąs recollection placing Mr. Kerry at the Kansas City meeting, Terry DuBose said that Mr. Kerry was there as well. "I talked to him in St. Louis but I didn't talk to him in Kansas City. He was across the table from me." 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 Kerry.
But Mr. Barnes, the head of the Missouri Veterans for Kerry, said, "I donąt 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 Kerry's resignation. According to 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. "Kerry made a long speech punctuated at frequent intervals by the demand: 'Who is Al Hubbard?'" and "challenged him to prove he was a Vietnam Veteran." … Hubbard 'freaked out' screaming insults at Kerry from the opposite end of the hall."
But on behalf of the John Kerry campaign, spokesperson David Wade stated that Kerry resigned "sometime in the summer of 1971 after the August meeting in St. Louis which Kerry did not attend. Kerry was not at the Kansas City meeting."
In summary, Kerry is denying attendance at the St Louis meeting so memorably described in the "definitive" book he had praised and given a publication party for. Several VVAW members have recalled Kerry's presence at the Kansas City meeting where the assassination plot was debated which Kerry has always denied attending. And no one claims to have seen the November 10th 1971 letter of resignation Douglas Brinkley refers to in TOUR OF DUTY.
Certainly the evidence is well worth examining. And there are numerous members of the VVAW, many of them in Kerry's Veterans for Kerry campaign organization, who might have valuable information that might clarify the current confusion.
Two thirds of the American troops in Vietnam at the height of American commitment in 1969 had been already been withdrawn in the "Vietnamization" policy in effect at the time of the VVAW Kansas City conference in November 1971. When asked why the assassinations still seemed necessary Scott Camil replied: "The war was still going on. We had to stop it."
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JWR contributor Thomas H. Lipscomb, the founder of Times Books, is a contributing columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The New York Sun, where a shorter version of this story first appeared. To comment, click here.
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© 2004, Thomas H. Lipscomb