[Marxism] John Kerry, the VVAW and agent provocateurs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 22 10:45:53 MDT 2004

LA Times, May 23, 2004
Veteran in Conflict

Sen. John Kerry's struggle for leadership of a Vietnam veterans antiwar 
group in 1971 ended with his resignation at a stormy meeting in Kansas 
City, where militants advocated violence against the U.S.

By Gerald Nicosia


As 1971 wore on, something called "the sergeants rebellion" began to 
grow in VVAW. Based largely in the southern chapters, it comprised 
mostly enlisted men, many of them Marines who had seen the heaviest 
combat in Vietnam. Partly it arose out of frustration over the 
continuing war, and partly it came from that "bottom-up" impulse that 
had arisen at Winter Soldier. The rebellion came from grass-roots 
organizers in Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon and 
other places far from New York. These regional, state and city 
coordinators did not want to be constrained by the national officers, 
most of whom had also been military officers. The rebels felt that the 
national officers failed to understand the politics in America's 
conservative rural byways and focused their activities too much inside 
the Beltway.

Instead, the rebels wanted to infiltrate and leaflet military bases and 
take other confrontational steps deemed too radical by the national 
office. At the same time, a slew of true leftist organizations, 
including the Socialist Workers Party, the Maoists of the Progressive 
Labor Party and Maoists of the Revolutionary Union, were quietly 
infiltrating the VVAW—often pushing the group toward law breaking and 
violence. Through the later months of 1971, the FBI documents record 
John Kerry struggling to contain these various impulses, and to insist 
on legal, nonviolent protest—or, as he emphasizes at George Washington 
University in September, "to utilize the political process to bring an 
end to the war in Vietnam." He was so effective that many rebels 
concluded they could never move the organization in their direction 
until Kerry was replaced.

Some rebels confronted Kerry at the second national steering-committee 
meeting of VVAW in St. Louis in June, a meeting heavily bugged by the 
FBI. They condemned him for his "class background" and "public behavior" 
and accused him of having "a stake in the profit-motivated system now in 
existence." Despite their opposition, Kerry won reelection to the 
executive committee. The FBI files include an astonishing internal memo 
from the militant Ft. Hood-Killeen chapter of VVAW. It articulates both 
contempt for Kerry as a would-be national leader and respect for his 
prowess at organizing and controlling those who disagree with him. The 
writer alerts fellow members to watch for tricks by which Kerry has 
"manipulated the veterans movement from becoming a real working militant 
organization." If there is a theme to the Kerry references throughout 
the FBI pages, it is the respect he is paid even by his enemies.

The climactic moment in Kerry's relationship with the VVAW occurred at 
the organization's third national steering committee meeting in Kansas 
City, Nov. 12 through 15, 1971. It is that meeting that presents the 
most questions for Kerry today.

Until two months ago, Kerry insisted that he had never attended any of 
the sessions in Kansas City, saying that he had resigned from the VVAW 
in June at the St. Louis meeting. After a Los Angeles Times review of a 
portion of the FBI files found that Kerry had been at Kansas City, the 
candidate said his memory must have been faulty. A full review of the 
FBI files shows that Kerry not only was in Kansas City, but he also 
attended the most controversial and explosive session the group ever held.

As the meeting approached in 1971, the FBI clearly knew big changes were 
coming. The agency not only bugged the meeting halls but arranged for 
numerous agents and undercover "sources" to be on hand, including one 
paid informer from Arkansas, a crazy, violence-prone, washed-out Green 
Beret vet named Bill Lemmer.

By then, Kerry was well aware of opposition to him within the VVAW. Just 
the week before, he had faced an incipient coup in Norman, Okla. Lemmer 
had gone there to hear Kerry speak, and to speak at a Winter Soldier 
hearing. Lemmer was among a group of veterans who, according to the 
files, harassed Kerry. Although Kerry's audience was "quite large," a 
"source" whose name is blacked out (but whose aggressive language was 
typical of Lemmer) reported to the FBI that "many persons were upset 
because of the attitude of John Kerry and it appeared Kerry was the only 
reason for the convention." Another blacked-out source (possibly the 
same one) reported that "the entire conference lacked coordination and 
appeared to be a platform for John Kerry, National Leader of VVAW, 
rather than for VVAW and Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI)."

Curiously, those two undercover reports don't jibe with several other 
"source" reports, or with newspaper accounts also saved by the FBI. They 
indicate the conference was well organized, and that Kerry was 
well-received. Lemmer, who was exposed two years later as the principal 
agent provocateur at the trial of the Gainesville Eight (eight VVAW 
members indicted for conspiracy), was often known to invent reports of 
VVAW's violent intentions, and his reports were later found quite 


Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list