As yet there are no plans to mark the event officially, but it could be handled nicely with a small plaque outside the Gainesville Federal Courthouse reading, “September 1, 1973. The Game Plan Died Here.”
“I felt like I was signing the Constitution or something like that.” —A Gainesville Eight juror
Young Scott Camil first learned about conspiracies from his stepdad, a fingerprinter for the Miami police and an educator for the John Birch Society. The Birchers had a program called Let Freedom Ring, and Scott’s stepdad managed it. Just dial F-R-E-E-D-O-M on your phone, listen to the three-minute recorded message and watch the sweat trickle along your trigger finger. The message warned all about the Reds and how they were creeping in everywhere like underarm stain.
In high school, like every Florida youngster, Scott was required to take a course in Communism vs. Americanism that included a film cartoon of red slime oozing over the earth like Sherwin-Williams paint. Jack Webb, the narrator, explained how it was the duty of all patriots to fight this stain before it reached their sister. Scott’s eyes devoured the map right off the screen. Come graduation, he caught the bus for Parris Island with Jack Webb’s words still oozing over his brain.
The Marines had some words of their own, a chant the recruits repeated with both lungs at attention:
Another day in the Corps, sir,
For every day’s a holiday and every meal’s a feast,
God bless the Marine Corps,
God bless the drill instructors,
Pray for war,
Pray for war.
Private Camil called out to God, and Lyndon Johnson answered with a ticket stamped Da Nang.
At first, Scott was disappointed. Most Americans in Da Nang were driving cars and eating ice cream; it was like Pompano Beach. What kind of war was this? Scott found out just three weeks later.
He was south of the city then, in the Elephant Valley, at a pile of sandbags called Alpha North. When the infantry radioed for howitzer shells, Scott plotted them on a map and listened to the explosives whine off toward whatever slopeheads were fool enough to mess with the United States Marine Corps.
At night he pulled guard duty. The firebase was surrounded with three strings of concertina wire and a guard post at each corner. One evening none of the hardware made any difference. Fifty VC sappers went through the wall like it was so much Saran Wrap. An adjacent post disappeared in an orange ball, and rice-propelled bastards started coming every which way, sticking gun barrels in canvas flaps and firing.
It took 15 minutes for the Marines to form a perimeter and flush the black pajamas out of Alpha North. When PFC Camil walked to the landing zone for his first look at dead grunts, he discovered the remnants of a Jacksonville boy named Maines. Each sundown Maines had stood on his guard bunker and shouted at the jungle: “You chickenshit fuckin’ gooks, you got no balls.” A grenade hit Maines during the first rush and blew his legs off. Then a dink with a machine gun emptied 30 rounds into his chest and face.
Standing over Maines’ dismembered body, Scott Camil figured out right away that you didn’t get to call “fudge” and start over. This was 100% for real. “I’m gonna make it out of here,” he told himself, “if it means killin’ every fuckin’ slant that’s close enough to kill.”
During his 13-month tour there, he had some choice opportunities to keep his promise. On Operation Stone, Scott, now a scout sergeant, helped the officers read maps and search the undergrowth for fresh VC bodies. Pickings were a little scarce, but on the seventh day they found a whole nestful, neatly arranged in one village for easy counting. Just click your Sixteen up to rock & roll and splatter whatever moves—in this case 292 villagers. Then the Marines meandered through the ricestraw clumps, burning every hut—”consumed in the backblast from a zippo,” as the grunts liked to say.
“It was like a hunting trip,” Scott recalled later. “It was like someone said you can live in my country for as long as you want. You can hunt every day, and the more people you kill, the more medals you’ll get.”
One of Scott’s best kills occurred during Operation Canyon. He and his buddies had spent the day finishing off seven VC, and now, as evening approached, had trapped number eight inside a tunnel. Suddenly a woman ran from a nearby hut and threw herself over the tunnel’s entrance. A corporal tried to pry her off but she scratched him across the face. He turned to Camil and said, “Fuck it, Sarge, she loves him. Let him go.”
“Bullshit,” snapped Camil, grabbing the woman and tying her to a tree with her own hair. He stuck his rifle in her face, so close her breath fogged the barrel, and squeezed off 20 rounds.
Back at base camp, Sgt. Camil was awarded a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and was told he had done a damn fine job.
When Scott left the Corps and the war in late 1969, he returned to an America far different from the one he had left, eventually to a city only 300 miles northwest of Miami that appeared to be in another world. The place was once called Hogtown, on account of all the pigs early settlers sooeyed along the trail from Georgia. The pork’s still there, but the town’s called Gainesville now, after General Edmund Pendleton Gaines—scourge of the Seminole Indians and prominent North Florida owner of darkies. If Florida were a sock, Gainesville would be a darn on the side of its ankle, located in Alachua County halfway between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s sink-hole country, full of spring-fed lakes and jungle oaks with long Spanish goobers on every branch.
Gainesville itself appears at first to be pure Ozzie and Harriet. There’s a Main Street, a Ford Dealer, the University of Florida and a secret military research project on the tenth floor of an office building downtown. But, in fact, the place today would no doubt turn old General Gaines’ red neck purple. A sign at the Gainesville airport reads, THE OTHER FLORIDA, and it’s for real. Gainesville was the one city in Florida to vote for George McGovern. And the university was judged by Playboy magazine as the best campus in the country for hunting up stray nooky.
The men at the cotton gin say it’s because of all the hippies. The hippies blame the mushrooms. Nurtured on daily thundershowers, Gainesville’s chicken scratch dirt has spawned one of the few natural psilocybin forests in America. Also some of America’s best weed. The locals call their reefer Gainesville Green, and it has quite a reputation. “Stronger than bearshit” is how they describe it on University Avenue. To most longhairs, the giant plants in the countryside are a source of local pride, not to mention revenue. Except for the university and the VA, reefer supports more veterans than any other business in the county. When the Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy played in Hogtown, the biggest single contribution was a paper sack containing $10,000 in bills, delivered to the door with a note signed Gainesville Marijuana Dealers Association. Add all the puffing to Hogtown’s easy meadows and a balmy heat that wraps around your head like a warm washrag, and you have about as laid-back a town as Florida has yet produced.
Except that like every campus town, Gainesville began hearing more and more about the War in Vietnam and the invasion of Cambodia. It was a real bring-down, and the hippies didn’t take the news lightly. They started passing around picket signs along with their joints.
At the time, Scott Camil was a student at the university, with hair on his face, shrapnel in his legs and ghosts grazing all over the back of his brain. He was picking up some disturbing new words that didn’t quite jibe with the slogans of Jack Webb or Scott’s DI. One of them was “ethnocentrism.” A professor explained that most groups of people made sense of the world for themselves and lived accordingly. “That meant,” Scott remembers, “that nobody had a right to judge people because they were different. And I’d been killing all these Vietnamese because they weren’t Americans.”
Scott’s once clean-shaven head had already gone through some changes. After his discharge in ’69, he reported to the Miami Police Department with every intention of following in his stepdad’s dark-blue footsteps. But before they could hire him, you understand, they just had a few preliminary questions to ask.
“You don’t need to worry,” the duty sergeant reassured him. “Just tell the truth. None of this will be held against you.”
Scott had been to Vietnam, was that right? Yes, he answered. Had he smoked marijuana there? Sure. Had he continued to do so since his return? Yes, Scott admitted.
Fifteen minutes later he was told that it was OK if applicants got high 5,000 miles away, but maintaining the habit back home was not what the Miami Police Department had in mind.
“I thought none of this would be held against me,” Scott protested. The sergeant smiled and opened the door marked EXIT.
Now Scott smelled some new lies in the air. He searched his memory for the patriotic ideals he’d sworn to and bled for and found them in black pajamas running straight at his weapon.
He decided to head for Washington and tell the President how he felt. He had a lot of company. They called themselves Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and there were thousands of them. Their demonstration, on April 28th, 1971, became known as Dewey Canyon III, after two infamous US military operations the year before. Dewey Canyons I and II sent American infantry into Cambodia and Laos. Dewey Canyon III sent them to the steps of the Capitol.
A steel-link fence had been hastily erected to keep them out of the building; but it didn’t stop the show. Man by man, state by state, the vets advanced on their own government and threw the War back. With a rage that chilled America on the Six O’Clock News that night, they ripped ribbons and medals from their faded greens and lobbed them on the nation’s front porch. Keep your trinkets, they said, it’s time to get our souls out of hock.
The faint tinkle of thin brass drifted over to the White House and was recognized immediately by Richard Nixon. He had made a career of identifying strange noises in the night; and with the election only 18 months away, and with his own standing in the Harris Poll eight points behind Ed Muskie, the piercing brass dings were music to the President’s ears. It was the unmistakable sound of conspiracy.
Conspiracy. Assistant US Attorney Jack Carrouth let the word echo through the Gainesville federal courtroom as he hitched up his pants, adjusted his horned rims and pointed to the eight young veterans seated behind the defense table. These men, he explained, had assembled on the weekend of May 27th and 28th, 1972, in Scott Camil’s two-story wooden house at Eighth and East University, and conspired. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Scott Camil, John Briggs, Alton Foss, John Kniffen, Peter Mahoney, William Patterson, Donald P. Perdue and Stanley K. Michelson conspired to attack the Republican convention and the City of Miami Beach with automatic weapons, incendiary devices, sling shots, marbles, ball bearings, lead weights and cherry bombs.
Recruited from the violence-prone ranks of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, said Carrouth, these conspirators and their dupes were led by Camil and organized into so-called “fireteams” …
Scott Camil had heard this bit before. He closed his eyes, felt his stomach tighten, and momentarily envisioned the hairy, erratic form of that crazy speedfreak from Arkansas, Wild Bill Lemmer.
William Lemmer joined the VVAW soon after he left the Green Berets in 1971. About the same time, he joined the employ of the FBI. Why not hold down two jobs when you never sleep anyway? Wild Bill never slept because he tended to gobble benzedrine like M&Ms. It’s one reason he was called Wild Bill.
The rookie agent entered all VVAW conversations like a runaway dump truck; sparks flew from Lemmer’s ears, and he launched off on what has since come to be known as the Lemmer Line. Wild Bill led everyone to believe he was a hard guy, a green beanie who did his killing with piano wire in the dark. No sense taking a lot of shit, he argued. When you’ve been to the jungles, you’ve learned how to deal with your opposition.
Wild Bill’s job was to make sure the VVAW lived up to Richard Nixon’s fears and hopes. His first proposal was for burning trucks in the Ft. Benning motor pool. He said he knew a guy on the inside. No one bought the strategy, but soon the chunky vet in jungle rags was rising in the ranks of the VVAW. Mostly because he was always there. The Arkansas VVAW was one of the smallest chapters in the organization, and Lemmer had time, snap and crackle to offer the movement. “Sure, I’ll do it,” Wild Bill would invariably respond. For some strange reason he also had enough bread to travel places, which made him one of a kind. In short order, Lemmer became the leadership, representing Arkansas as a regional coordinator.
It was only now and then that Wild Bill recruited an actual follower, but when he did, he made full use of him. Mark Vanseal became one of the first. Vanseal was 17 at the time, and the regional coordinator had little trouble convincing the youngster, in the fall of ’71, to incinerate a landmark University of Arkansas building called Old Main. Lemmer gave him a few tips on firebomb manufacturing, and the two crept onto the campus one dark night. Every light in Old Main was on. Very suspicious. “Just pour the gasoline under the door, toss a Molotov on it, and split,” were Wild Bill’s instructions. Lemmer would wait for Vanseal by an old stone wall out of view.
Vanseal walked into the arms of FBI agents before he got to the porch. The judge ordered him to serve up to his 21st birthday in prison. Lemmer took off his camouflage jacket and told the local VVAW he read about poor Vanseal in the morning paper.
That was Wild Bill’s kind of dedication; he jumped into his dual roles with all four feet. Before his performance as Hogtown’s star witness, Lemmer helped bust six people for dope, led a demonstration onto an Air Force base where 32 were arrested, talked his best friend into writing a bomb threat and authored a plan for seizing the Alamo.
The FBI in Kansas City heard of Lemmer’s energy and key status and asked Arkansas Special Agent Richard O’Connell to assign him to the VVAW national steering committee meeting there in November, ’71. O’Connell handed Wild Bill a wad of cash and sent him out the door with “off the pig” on his lips and flames shooting out of his ass.
When Wild Bill stomped back to the office and dumped his load, the money seemed well spent. “Activities similar to those in Washington, D.C. [Dewey Canyon III], will be held at Valley Forge, Atlanta, San Francisco, Kileen [Texas] and Chicago,” he reported to O’Connell. “The activity will include a fast, a vigil and guerrilla theater.”
O’Connell asked him if Scott Camil had attended the meeting. For goddamn sure, said Lemmer. Camil has a training camp in Florida where he’s training assassination squads like the ones the CIA uses in Vietnam. He has rifles, pistols, rifle grenades, but no mortars.
What about a man from Louisiana named Karl Becker? asked O’Connell. Lemmer said Becker had spent most of the conference visiting pornography shops in Kansas City. O’Connell responded curiously to this, staring blankly into Lemmer’s wild-eyed face.
The special agent thanked his rookie for the info, and Wild Bill assured him that he would keep his eyes glued to Camil’s ass at the next national meeting in Denver, scheduled for February, 1972.
Lemmer advanced on Denver fully equipped with a new car and a special FBI phone number he was to call at least once a day. When he called the first day, he was asked if Scott Camil had arrived yet. Yes, he had, said Lemmer, and the two had even met for lunch. Scott doesn’t remember Lemmer’s presence, but the lunch table was pretty crowded. He does remember sitting next to his best friend, Emerson Poe, and talking over general organizational matters. Yet on the stand a year and a half later, Wild Bill testified that at one point Camil stopped eating and announced that his “assassination squads” had now become five-man “fireteams.”
The “fireteams” idea was one of Wild Bill’s favorite and hottest pieces of information. After the conference he brought the subject up himself while riding with several vets to their homes in Texas and Arkansas. As usual, Lemmer was letting his mouth run all over the front seat.
“When it comes time for the conventions, I think we’ll need medics to take care of the demonstration,” Wild Bill told Mike Damron, a vet from Arkansas.
“Sounds like a good idea,” said Damron.
“If we have medics,” continued Lemmer, “we’ll need people to protect them, maybe station small groups up on rooftops with weapons in case the pigs jump us.”
Shadows on the roof sounded like an old melody to Mike Damron. He’d been a tanker for the Corps, and grunts were organized along the same lines. It’s called a fireteam, the lowest common denominator in a military formation.
“You mean like fireteams?” Damron asked.
Damron stared at the road and watched the white blips roll up under the hood.
“Well,” pushed Lemmer, “tell me what ya think.”
“I think it sounds tacky,” said Damron. “Very tacky.”
When the car stopped in Austin and John Kniffen, Texas coordinator, stepped out, Wild Bill hit him with his Weathervet plan.
“Weathervet.” Lemmer’s teeth were doing a benzedrine grind. “You remember what happened at Kent State? Well, nobody who’s been to the Nam’s gonna have much trouble with a buncha National Guard. Think it over. It might save your life.” Kniffen shook his head and was glad to see Wild Bill and his smoking asshole move on. He plain didn’t trust this crazy son of a bitch in jungle fatigues.
Like William Lemmer, Charles Henry Becker III was two people. One of them was an officer in the Louisiana VVAW. The other was an officer for the New Orleans Police Department on loan to the FBI. Karl, as he called himself, was strange; everybody knew that. But then, who wasn’t? He was just a distant kind of guy. And he had some weird sex fetishes. Becker got off looking at picture books and having his beer served by a bald set of tits. He would never meet you at his home, only at bars and only if they were topless. As he sucked his suds and hungrily eyed the sweet public flesh, he would tell you stories about his Jefferson Parish harem of dripping fur and soft humps.
The campus Left in New Orleans included upwards of 20 people who were always glad to have company. When four or five began calling themselves VVAW, no one was concerned that a non-veteran, Charles Becker, offered to help them get organized. The red-haired tit-watcher was a hard worker and Pete Mahoney’s best friend. Mahoney, regional coordinator for Louisiana, didn’t see informers as something to worry about. “We were about as dangerous as a group of drunk football fans,” he recalled. “Who’d want to spy on us?”
Karl and Pete went bar-hopping regularly, and in May of ’72, when Pete was asked to serve at the national VVAW headquarters in New York City, Karl volunteered his assistance and came along for the ride. After all, the big city must have a lot of topless joints. One evening, while guzzling beer at one of them, Karl told Pete he had some organizational news. “Remember that meeting in my motel room in Houston?” asked Karl.
Pete sure did. It took place in February, during another national conference there. Several of the boys, including Scott Camil, came over to Becker’s room one night to hash out some minor details, smoke dope and, you know, just sort of lay back. But it was pretty hard to lay back with Wild Bill Lemmer in the room. And that night Wild Bill was in rare form. He just heard, he said, that Nixon had asked the Rand Corporation for a plan to round up radicals and throw them in detention camps—in the event of a national emergency.
For once the vets started listening to Wild Bill. Five thousand miles away, the North Vietnamese army was pushing south, rolling up General Thieu’s troops like a rug. No doubt about it, the war was “stepping up.” So, therefore, was Nixon’s power at home. And so was the paranoia of the VVAW.
“The only way to deal with it,” Wild Bill had suggested, “is to break up into cells. Small units, you know …”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
By now, in early May, an armada of B-52s had already cut loose over Dink City, littering the ground with broiled farmers and footprints 60 feet deep. Nixon was out to splatter Ho Chi Minh’s head all over his shoes. Demonstrations were underway in Washington and campus towns around the country.
Karl Becker gulped his suds and eyed a plump nipple through the bottom of his stein. In a few days there would be another private meeting like the one in Houston, he told Mahoney. He’d picked out the place himself: Scott Camil’s house in Gainesville. That was fine with Pete. On the way south they could catch the demonstrations at the Pentagon.
The demonstrations were already going strong when they arrived. Wild Bill Lemmer was there, of course, dressed to his grinding teeth. His gear included a 40-pound medic bag, a gas mask and a bright blue tank of oxygen. He was revved up more than ever. In the past few weeks he had suggested three different plans of action to three different sets of vets—one to take over the Washington Monument, one to blow it into bricks, and a third to raid the arms room at the University of Maryland ROTC. As usual, these plots were scoffed at, but that didn’t faze Wild Bill. He had mobilized all his paranoid reserves and put his brain on red alert.
Not that it did much good. No sooner had he strapped the oxygen to his back than the police fired tear gas into the crowd, then rode through on horseback, clattering on the pavement, swinging sticks and parting skulls. Now Lemmer was really pissed. Back at the Washington VVAW headquarters, he came up with yet another scheme. He’d just been out mapping the Pentagon, he said, had all the exits, parking lots, fences and trees marked down. A little explosive placed here and there, and the fucking pigs wouldn’t know what hit ’em.
Once again he was told to forget it. Which, of course, didn’t stop Wild Bill from cruising through D.C. half the night looking for black powder. With him on the search was Barbara Stocking, a veteran demonstrator who was herself searching for a ride to Florida. She wanted to get there in plenty of time for the Democratic convention. Wild Bill said he could take her as far as Gainesville.
They took off two evenings later, and it was a very weird ride. Lemmer was speeding even before he got into the car, and the late-night road seemed to jack him up all the more. He looked over at Barbara Stocking, felt the back of his head twitch in anticipation and thought to himself: This woman will listen. Events of the past month, the darkness of his double life, had become too much for Wild Bill. Nightmare beasts had come to dwell in his stomach, and now as his mouth flapped uncontrollably, screaming bats, crows, vultures and ravens flew out and headed south to Florida.
Lemmer spoke in two voices, the first stumbling out with shit on its shoes, recounting his childhood, a long story, full of abandonment and betrayal. Then he switched gears, the second voice honed flat and metallic as a cookie sheet. He had once been recruited, he said, by the CIA. Lemmer couldn’t recall much of it because subliminal sounds had been used throughout the interview which prevented him from remembering. But it’s true, he cautioned.
And there was more. Barbara had best stay away from the conventions, as far away as she could. He couldn’t tell her how he knew, but VVAW leaders were going to be taken out of circulation. He claimed he had been working on the project for more than a year.
Wild Bill took his eyes from the road for a second and turned to Barbara. It was, he said, the Weathervet Project.
“Weathervets,” he explained. He was going south to recruit. Training farms were being built all over the Southeast.
The unit’s job was at the conventions. He and others would shoot all the New Left leaders when the riots broke out. Right now he was on his way to Gainesville to plan these very skirmishes.
In response, the veterans would be put in internment camps, continued Lemmer, and all the other lefties busted. He himself planned to go into hiding if he survived. He had, he claimed, “an unlimited source of funds.”
Wild Bill paused, ground a pair of green tablets between his teeth and asked Barbara Stocking if she’d like to travel around with him when he was done.
Barbara Stocking took a rain check, she later told defense attorneys. She figured Wild Bill was crazy as six or seven motherfuckers.
The conspirators reached Gainesville as the smoke was clearing. Two weeks earlier, after the Vietnamese took to the air-raid shelters, Hogtown took to the streets. Two thousand students cut Highway 441 where it ran past the university and held it for three days. At some point a fire truck was ignited by a sizzling tear-gas canister, and every ruby-necked deputy sheriff for a hundred miles was given a license to hunt hippies in downtown Gainesville.
Dozens of Hogtown residents were clubbed by deputies and ended up in the hospital.
On the weekend of May 27th and 28th the smell of blood and police wrath still hung heavily in the air like traces of CS gas. It drifted from the university nine blocks to the two-story house rented by Scott Camil, and it made those assembled inside heady with fear.
Actually, two meetings had been scheduled for this weekend. The first, on Saturday, would be a gathering of Florida VVAW coordinators to plan demonstrations for the upcoming Democratic convention. On Sunday, the small group of national leaders that had met in Karl Becker’s Houston motel room would reassemble to discuss the Republican convention, particularly the protective tactics to be used there. That was the schedule, although in the cozy, informal atmosphere of Scott’s wood-frame home, the meetings, their participants and the agendas tended to overlap.
William Lemmer and Barbara Stocking arrived late Friday night, and Wild Bill immediately began rattling his gums about the Pentagon gassing. That set Scott off on a tirade against the Alachua posse called down on Hogtown. John Kniffen responded with a few unkind words about Texas pigs, and somebody mentioned the University of New Mexico, where 12 demonstrators had just been shot. This impromptu round of Brutality Show and Tell pretty much set the tone for the entire weekend. It might have gone on all night except that Lemmer discovered a book of poetry and, moved by the muse and the speed in his veins, began suddenly to read from it aloud in his most dramatic, rapid-fire voice. In short order the party disintegrated, left the room and went to bed. Pete Mahoney, the last to hurry off, remembers looking back through the door and seeing Wild Bill, oblivious and totally wired, reading loudly to himself in the middle of the floor.
The next morning, Lemmer left early to take Barbara Stocking to the bus station. He returned at 10:30, in time for the meeting of Florida locals. Regional representatives were welcome to join the attic discussion, and Wild Bill walked right in. Everyone seemed to notice his presence. Maybe it was the checkered riding breeches and high-laced boots he wore. Don Perdue, Broward County coordinator, began the meeting but carefully watched Lemmer from the corner of his eye. Perdue didn’t trust anybody who talked so much in such big bites.
The plans formulated in that attic room of 25 people were summarized in the Convention Newsletter mailed out two weeks later by the Florida VVAW. The newsletter predicted “peaceful, nonviolent” actions in Miami, but also dealt with the possibility of being caught out in the open by a police assault. In a “things you will need” section, this item appeared: “We also recognize the right of collective self-defense if we are placed in a position of receiving extreme or unlawful physical danger to ourselves or our brothers. Hunting slingshots have proven their worth in deterring police brutality.” The newsletter went on to recommend marbles as “defensive” projectiles. A year later, the 8 1/2″ by 14″ mimeod sheet was introduced as government exhibit Number Seven.
On the other hand, Don Perdue’s opening report was never mentioned by any government witness. It was a gloomy report. Perdue, who made all initial preparations for demonstrations at the convention, said the police had not been friendly and their meetings were fruitless. The City of Miami Beach was not in the mood to give demonstrators campsites, and Perdue was worried.
Strange stories were filtering out from the Cubans in southern Florida. One VVAW member in Ft. Lauderdale had told Perdue the exiles were stockpiling arms and intending a mass execution of hippies on the streets of Miami. A year later, this member turned out to be an informant employed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but at the time his story seemed credible. The Cubans in Miami were known to conduct their gang wars with submachine guns. It made Perdue jumpy. Don had once planned to be a grunt for life and had first-hand experience with the wrong end of a weapon. Scott Camil volunteered to make contact with the Cubans and try to sort it out short of bloodshed.
Perdue then proceeded to his second worry: the National Guard. Several of his Broward County friends in Guard units had shown Don the rounds they were training with. Each Guardsman was to carry a shotgun, armed with flechette shells—small canisters full of tiny steel darts. Fired into a crowd, they would produce bubbling red heaps every three or four feet.
At that point discussion broke out, and the “conspiracy” was born. The meeting ran head-on into the What Ifs. What if, someone asked, the police launch some version of the Hogtown Stomp? Scott Camil volunteered that he had a box of slingshots which worked real fine. He sold three on the spot.
Wild Bill leaned forward. What if, he suggested ominously, it gets really heavy? You know … bad. What if they cut traffic in and out of Miami Beach and start butchering all the demonstrators?
Around the room, switches clicked. Every man in that attic had been trained as a jungle killer; each possessed a set of instant circuits that had allowed him to survive. They all knew the answer: You launch a counter-offensive to relieve the pressure and create covering actions in order to evacuate. Simple as shit. The force, of course, consists of five-man squads. Fireteams.
Wild Bill grinned through his beard. “Yeah … fireteams.”
Now the discussion hit fourth gear. The fireteams would create diversions by whatever method they chose, anything from sitting in the street to firebombing recruiting offices—whatever it took to draw police presence. Then the covering units would hold ground and pin the cops down while demonstrators evacuated and saved their lives.
Automatic weapons would be no good for the job—they would be confiscated immediately. Besides, argued the once-decorated veterans, machine guns were sloppy. The M-1 carbine was both legal and available.
Lots of other stuff would work too. Everyone had suggestions. John Kniffen produced a crossbow which was passed around the room, petted fondly like a cat and fired a couple of times through a closed door. Then Scott showed them one they hadn’t seen before: potassium permanganate and glycerin. The group moved to the fireplace downstairs for a demonstration. Scott wrapped in potassium permanganate in a piece of cheesecloth and lowered it down a vial one-third full of glycerin. As the two chemicals made contact, flames and a black smoke erupted from the vial. “Far out,” everyone agreed.
Four months later, this chemistry experiment became counts two and three of the indictment, charging Scott Camil with manufacturing an explosive without paying a tax on it. The meeting itself was count one, taking place on Saturday afternoon, according to William Lemmer, and on Sunday morning, according to Karl Becker, who, in fact, hadn’t yet arrived. At the time, the whole discussion was filed under E for Emergency and forgotten as the meeting broke for lunch.
That afternoon the group of 25 met again but not much came of it except Karl Becker. The Louisiana coordinator walked in late and found little to interest the FBI. Becker’s 302 form, filed months later, described the scene: “The persons in Camil’s apartment at the time were all smoking hashish from a bowl … It was obvious that no serious or organized discussions were taking place and this gathering was purely social at this point.”
Sensing a lack of hot information, Becker took Lemmer out to have donuts and to get filled in on what he’d missed. There is no evidence, incidentally, that either man knew at the time that the other was an informant. For two hours they chewed donuts and the fat. Lemmer, according to Becker’s report, told him, “Fireteams, as conceived by Scott Camil, will be used to take action if the police ‘come down’…” A year later, Karl Becker, his red hair suddenly turned blond, would spend a day on the stand describing Camil’s plan to launch an “unprovoked assault” on Miami Beach.
During the next day’s meeting, Wild Bill Lemmer presented two more plans for dealing with the cops. The first called for 300 veterans to march on the convention carrying shields and eight-foot staffs with nooses on the end. The nooses would be used to pull mounted police from their horses. The idea earned Lemmer a round of laughter. The second plan had the vets strap automatic weapons to their bodies and bag some Republicans inside the hall. That one earned him a round of dead silence. At the trial, Assistant US Attorney Jack Carrouth cited the vets’ refusal to carry shields and nooses as a clear indication they were bent on open violence.
By now the group was growing increasingly uptight about the possibility of informants in their midst. Someone suggested they take direct action on the matter. The group agreed. They voted to officially consider such people the lowest form of living asshole. The vote was unanimous, Lemmer and Becker joining in.
Later, Becker mentioned he was interested in slingshots; did Camil have any more to sell? No, said Scott, not right then, but you could buy them down at the Hogtown Woolco. At Karl’s request, Scott accompanied him to the store, and the New Orleans cop bought a Saunders Wristrocket Slingshot for $2.69. One year later, the dime-store weapon was introduced as government exhibit Number Four.
On the way back, Becker, the weird non-vet who usually kept to himself, tried to strike up a friendly conversation. “Doesn’t it piss you off,” he said to Scott, “that Jews and niggers are the real problem in this country?”
It had to be one of the most ridiculous lines Scott had ever heard. “Karl,” he replied, “I’m a Jew.” The rest of the ride was pretty quiet.
Wild Bill was waiting for them when they returned to the house. He looked troubled. He had to talk to Camil—Camil and Kniffen. Together. Scott dragged his feet, said he had to travel to Miami soon to make peace with the Cubans. He needed to get ready. No, Lemmer insisted, it was important. The dark beasts were acting up again, making a rush on his tongue. When he finally got the two aside, Wild Bill Lemmer confessed.
“I’m a pig,” he announced dramatically.
Scott didn’t believe him. He considered Lemmer too ding-y for the FBI to hire.
Camil wasn’t sure exactly who this dude Lemmer was, but he figured it wouldn’t hurt to let him watch a little peace conference with the Cubans. So after hearing his confession, he accepted Wild Bill’s offer of a free lift south to Miami. “Even if this dingbat is a cop,” he told himself, “so what?” Scott couldn’t see where he’d broken any laws.
But then, Scott had no real idea of the men Wild Bill worked for or the game plan they were using to trap the VVAW. To Scott, Lemmer was a familiar kind of basket case—singed in Nam and hollowed out with 100% domestic speed. To the FBI, he was a key link in a vital network of “political monitors” insuring domestic tranquility. To the Committee to Re-Elect the President, he was one receptor on a many tentacled beast spawned to protect Richard Nixon by strangling the electoral process.
When Wild Bill filed his 302 forms, they were read first by the FBI, later by CREEP security chief James McCord and finally by McCord’s CREEP bosses—John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, Hugh Sloan and Gordon Liddy. The same went for memos filed by Karl Becker and hundreds of other two-faced weirdos around the country. There were so many planned disruptions being reported, the President had time to be threatened only by the big ones. When a particularly promising memo came across the desk of H.R. Haldeman, the presidential assistant scribbled “good” in the margin, meaning it could really get violent and win a lot of votes. Haldeman understood well that conflagration often cast a favorable light on the shadowy President. The problem, Haldeman pointed out, was how to start the right fires and play Smokey the Bear at the same time.
To carry out this enterprising game plan, McCord put together an unprecedented espionage ring of secret agents, many of them fanatic anti-Castro Cubans waiting on the shores of Miami Beach for the CIA to part the sea. Had Scott Camil known this as he rode south with Wild Bill Lemmer, he might have envisioned the trap about to be set.
In Hialeah, Scott stopped at the home of VVAW member Alton Foss, phoned the Cuban Student Organization and left word he wanted to contact the exile group Abdalla. Pablo Manuel Fernandez was instructed to return the call by Ralph Aguire. Aguire worked for Miami’s Strategic Intelligence Unit. Fernandez worked for the Miami Police Department and the FBI. He may or may not have worked for Eugenio Martinez. Martinez had offered him $700 a week to “infiltrate protest groups and help embarrass George McGovern,” but Fernandez said he turned it down because he was too busy spying on the VVAW for the FBI and Miami PD. However, a fellow Miami cop, Angie Rohan, said he did work for Martinez.
Martinez worked for Bernard Barker and Frank Sturgis. Bernard Barker worked for Alfred Baldwin. And Alfred Baldwin worked for James McCord. Baldwin’s job was to monitor a bug in the Watergate Office Building and infiltrate “the group known as Vietnam Veterans Against the War,” for the purpose of “embarrassing the Democrats” when the VVAW demonstrated at the Republican convention.
After several guarded phone calls, Scott Camil agreed to meet Pablo Fernandez that evening in front of a Hialeah drugstore. When Scott arrived Fernandez was standing in front of the store, wearing a microphone hidden in his lapel and connected to a tape recorder down the block. “We were hoping for the overt act necessary to produce a charge of conspiracy,” Major Adam Klimkowski of the Miami PD later admitted. However, the mike failed and no tape was made, said the police.
Camil began the discussion on a diplomatic note. He suggested that the Cubans and the VVAW had no real differences: “You believe Cuba is a satellite of Russia, and we feel South Vietnam is the same way with the United States.” The drugstore’s fluorescent light gave Pablo’s face a ghostly appearance like the evening jelly fish on the bay. “We both,” said Scott, “want self-determination.”
Pablo conceded he had never thought of it quite that way. As long as the vets didn’t fuck around and wave any Che flags, his group would stay clear of the conventions—he had Fernandez’ word on it. Camil’s pucker string eased a little and stopped jerking.
But how, wondered Fernandez, did the vets plan to deal with the cops? Abdalla had some first-hand experience with the Miami legions and had come out the worse for it.
“We’ll handle it the best way we can,” Scott assured him.
Then Fernandez laid on him the offer he had been coached to make. “If you need help,” he began, “I can get machine guns.” They were UZIs and Fernandez claimed access to better than 50. He also had claymore mines, grenades and a few anti-tank weapons.
“Old Bay of Pigs shit?” Scott asked.
Fernandez rolled his cheeks into a tamale and shrugged his shoulders.
Thanks but no thanks, said Scott.
His mission accomplished, Scott made tracks for Gainesville the next day. William Lemmer dropped him off and disappeared into Dick O’Connell’s Arkansas. The same evening, Pablo Manuel Fernandez’ report was processed through the Convention Security Center in the Lejeune Road Howard Johnson’s and airmailed north.
Before James McCord had a chance to read it, however, an explosion hit Washington, and the net around Miami began to unravel. McCord, Bernard Barker, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez and friends were arrested in the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic party. McCord hastily explained that the team had been investigating a link between the Democrats and “the group known as Vietnam Veterans Against the War.” He had “reliable information,” he said, that the VVAW could be expected to cause violence at the Republican National Convention.
It was at this point, according to Miami cop Rohan, that Fernandez’ $700-a-week offer was withdrawn. Cubans and the White House should not be seen doing business for a while. The top called the bottom: All game plans in Florida were canceled.
Except one. A circus known as the Federal Grand Jury of North Florida, in Tallahassee. The affair was produced by the Internal Security Division of the Justice Department—Robert Mardian’s old outfit—and included a cast of 30 subpoenaed VVAW members and one bonafide superstar … yes, folks, the man with a thousand—or at least two—faces … Wild … Bill … Lemmer!
“Describe,” Wild Bill was asked, “every occasion during the year 1971 and 1972 when you have been in contact with, attended meetings which were conducted by, or attended by, or been any place where any individual spoke whom you knew to be associated or affiliated with Vietnam Veterans Against the War.”
When Lemmer was finished, Dick O’Connell squirreled him away in an Arkansas motel and waited for the trial. The other 30 weren’t allowed to leave Tallahassee until after the Democratic convention.
Well, at least there was still the Nixon Follies of 1972, and it promised to be the biggest and best-staged show of the year. VVAW members from around the country, calling themselves The Last Patrol, drove in caravans to Miami Beach for the Republicans’ opening day—except for Scott Camil, Alton Foss, William Patterson, John Kniffen, Donald Perdue and Pete Mahoney, who were called back to Tallahassee and arrested on charges of violating Title 18, United States Code, Sections 2101 and 844, and Title 26, Section 586. In October, Briggs and Michelson were added to the list along with Title 18, Sections 3 and 4. The possible sentences flowing from this alleged interstate commerce to promote riot and property damage totalled 60 years. Bail was set at $25,000 cash each and nobody made it south in time to stumble over the chants of “Four More Years” littering the Miami streets.
They missed a strange one. The Republican National Convention.
And the VVAW didn’t waste any time. One hundred sixty cars were strung out in a 40-mile-an-hour line on the freeway. The Highway Patrol pulled the whole parade over. Bumpers tangled and one car in the middle had its steering disabled. The vets pushed it to the side and were puzzled. No one knew the Cubans in the front seat. The car hadn’t started with the group. The floorboards of the broken auto were covered with pistols, carbines and ammunition. VVAW left the car behind and headed for Miami.
Once there, the script was the same. A group of “Blacks for President” pushed their way into the veterans’ campsite and tried to start a fight. The day the convention opened, Cubans for Nixon demonstrated outside the hall and beat up a few hippies on the way home.
Back at the camp, the vets’ security patrol caught one Stephen McHugh wandering around with his hands full; the Hogtown resident was not a VVAW member and wouldn’t explain where he got his Molotov cocktail and Saunders Wristrocket Slingshot, just like government exhibit No. 4. The police released McHugh with a $100 fine.
When the veterans marched to the National Guard Bivouac, only seven people broke discipline and were arrested climbing on a high school roof. Six of those taken into custody were never members of the organization and couldn’t be found at the addresses listed on their booking sheets. To take care of injuries, VVAW manned an aid station. One of the medics, William Koehler, got a paycheck from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. His companions remember Koehler chasing a police bus out in the street. Falling behind, he threw a rock and screamed. “Come back here you motherfuckers,” Koehler said, “I want to kick your ass!”
VVAW, it seems, had a lot of unexpected company.
When the Republicans left town, it seemed to take a lot of folks with it; five Gainesville Vietnam Veterans Against the War and 25 other member chapters around the state disintegrated. Friends and acquaintances began to shift out of view; what’s-his-name’s friend moved to Wyoming and the dude with the tick at the back of the parade left no forwarding address.
Scott Camil went back to Gainesville, to his two-story, wood-frame house, where he spent the next good part of a year cooling out and waiting for a jury to decide his future. “Don’t worry,” Emerson Poe would tell him, “it’ll all work out.”
During the past year’s traveling and organizing, Poe had become his most trusted friend. Scott met him at a VVAW regional camp-out, and was attracted to him immediately. Emerson was older, balding, a family man who lived in a trailer outside of town. He had a way of listening whenever Scott needed to talk.
The two shared the same hobby—guns. Poe, in fact, ran his own gun club, the Hogtown Hunting Club, Inc., which didn’t consist of much really except ten acres of knee grass behind his trailer and a range with 100-, 50- and 25-meter targets. Month after month, while waiting for the trial, Scott and Emerson would go out and squeeze a few, just to keep their fingers loose. But they didn’t see any of their VVAW brothers. Like Scott and Emerson, most vets spent their time cooling out, but Alton Foss didn’t have it so easy.
From the start, Foss found it difficult.
After Alton Foss joined the Navy, he discovered that Navy Corpsmen are Marine medics and went with the 3rd Marines, ten miles south of Da Nang, near Marble Mountain. The place was called Dogpatch and considered light duty. Marines built roads and Alton’s squad went along to make sure Charlie didn’t jump out of the bushes. Then, on a May morning in 1966, Alton Foss and his buddies met Charlie. 30 VC let them walk unmolested into an L-shaped ambush. An AK 47 round burned through his calf and Alton fell. As he began to move, he heard a whistle followed by a loud smack. The second bullet hit four inches from the first and shattered Alton’s shin. The company rumbled out to the rescue and found Alton in a ditch. The company medic popped the corporal with a little morphine sulphate.
During the next few weeks while he recovered, the shots came easy. Just whistle for the nurse and pull your nightshirt up. Morphine cured the pain. When Alton reached Maxwell Field, his plaster had black crusts, flies and green smells swarming out of each end. Watching the intern peel the front half off, Alton interrupted.
“My leg’s broken,” he said. “If you pull the back off, my leg’s gonna bow. There’s nothing to support it.”
The intern ripped the rest of the cast away. Sure enough, the bone bent in the middle and spurted blood. Alton screamed. Then he passed out. When he woke up, his bone was back together with four nails in the shin. For the next 14 months Alton endured three more operations with the help of Demerol injections every three hours. When the operations were over, Alton Foss limped back to Hialeah with a brace on his leg and a prescription in his pocket.
By the time the medicine ran dry, Alton had figured out how to get off without the doctor’s help. He developed a taste for amphetamines and wound up back in the hospital. Alton was committed to the VA as “mentally unbalanced due to drug usage.” The Veterans Administration confined him to a locked ward and gave him 1500 mg. of Thorazine a day. Alton switched to the orthopedic wing and let his leg get cut again. This time the doctors knitted his Achilles tendon and sent him home on crutches and probation.
While he was the Dade County coordinator for the VVAW, Alton made “friends” with two people who called themselves Jerry Rubin and Harry Collins; that’s police talk for Gerald Rudolph and Harrison Crenshaw. In the casual chatter of VVAW meetings, they were Salt and Pepper, black and white partners. The two sergeants from Miami came to every meeting and did half the chapter’s work. “Some of my best members,” Alton remembers. Their cover failed only when an anonymous phone call, received shortly before the trial began, identified them as informers at the trial of a black militant the year before. It was too late. By this time, Alton Foss was preparing to answer his August subpoena.
The phone rang.
“Alton?” Rudolph said.
“We want to meet with you.”
“What for?” Alton asked.
“We think you know who we are.”
“You’re right,” Foss answered. “I do.”
“We want to talk with you.”
“Just come over to my house….”
“No,” Rudolph broke in, “not there. How about the Orange Bowl parking lot? Don’t bring anybody with you.”
At nine, Foss was waiting. Rudolph and Crenshaw brought their boss, Sergeant Fred Ohler, and a woman cop. Ohler spread him against a van and slapped his body for weapons; when he turned around, Ohler questioned Alton.
“What do you know about buying guns and hand grenades from the Cubans?”
“I don’t know nothin’,” Foss answered.
“Come on, Alton,” Rudolph insisted, “we know you’re a good dude. We don’t want you to get in a lot of trouble. Just cop to it and we can help. A telegram from us will stop all this shit in Tallahassee.”
Alton didn’t talk, so he was given a warning to think about himself instead of Scott Camil. “We can bust your ass on dope anytime we want and you know it,” Rudolph said. After that line Alton agreed to meet with the FBI. But Alton Foss never showed up at the appointed hour. He changed his mind and went to Tallahassee instead.
Shortly before the trial began, Salt’s promise was made good. Alton found himself raising $3,000 bond to cover a sales and possession of LSD charge. He called Rudolph.
“Let’s make a deal,” Alton suggested.
When they met Rudolph produced a joint and the two smoked it out on the sidewalk to calm Alton down. “The FBI’s gonna be inside,” Rudolph warned. “If they ask you if you’re using drugs, tell ’em it’s a prescription from the VA.”
Upstairs, two FBI agents and five local cops were waiting in an empty room with a tape recorder. The official deal was probation in exchange for a statement. Alton snapped it.
The police wanted to know about fireteams. Alton said he would oblige, explaining that the fireteam plan was only in case of a police attack. One of the FBI interrupted. “Scott Camil wanted to disrupt the convention. Never mind this defense shit. Whether he got an excuse from the police or not. He wanted to disrupt the convention and make it like Chicago in 1968.” Foss went through the plans for the convention all again. And again. And again. Still not good enough. For the rest of the interview, Foss said anything they wanted him to.
Foss left the station and was put up in a Holiday Inn for seven days while the FBI watched over him. At the end of the week, two agents produced a written statement for him to sign. A confession that the VVAW planned an unprovoked assault on the Republican convention.
“But I never said this stuff,” Alton objected. But he had.
“Cut the crap and sign it or the deal’s off” was the answer.
He refused to sign and the deal died on the motel steps. (At his drug trial, several months later, he was put on probation.) Foss limped away and got lost for three weeks with powder and pills. When he ran out, Alton stuck his wrists into a window fan. The slashes on his arms put him in the VA once again.
When Alton Foss stepped back out, he found himself in the company of the seven other defendants on the far side of the courtroom in Gainesville.
It took the jury only four hours to review the conflicting and tainted testimony of William Lemmer, Karl Becker and a number of other informants before judging the Gainesville Eight not guilty of any charge. They