A 40-year reunion is being planned for the end of this month in Gainesville, Fla., of the Gainesville 8. Sadly, Richard Nixon won’t be able to join them, although his presidential library has just released more audio recordings of his descent into madness — or what we like to call today: standard government practice.
The Gainesville 8 were eight men, seven of them members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), who planned to nonviolently demonstrate at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. They were wrongfully prosecuted for planning violence, and they were all acquitted by a jury on August 31, 1973, in a highly publicized trial.
Under the shadow of the chaos that surrounded the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, VVAW took extra steps to avoid violence at the ’72 RNC, meeting with the Miami police and with right-wing groups in an effort to prevent conflicts. And yet, prior to the convention, President Nixon’s FBI began preemptively arresting VVAW leaders, accusing them of plotting murder and mayhem, and attempting to prevent them from taking part in what they were really plotting: a nonviolent march to the convention, where they would request to meet with the president.
Many VVAW members managed to pull off the march, during the course of which they came upon an activist carrying weapons; they turned him in to the police. Three vets, including Ron Kovic, made it into the convention to pose some uncomfortable questions to some long-distance, stay-at-home war supporters.
Just prior to the arrests of the VVAW members in Florida, burglars working for Nixon had been arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate. When the Watergate burglars were captured, one of them, James McCord, explained that they were investigating a link between the Democrats and the VVAW which they believed was planning trouble at the upcoming Republican National Convention. McCord submitted an affidavit to the Gainesville 8 defense team restating this. The Gainesville 8 defense argued that their prosecution was aimed at strengthening Nixon’s thugs’ phony case for the Watergate break-in.
One of several infiltrators and would-be provocateurs who made up the fabricated case against the Gainesville 8 was Vincent Hanard. He said that Nixonian henchmen Howard Hunt, Bernard Barker, and Frank Sturgis had asked him to infiltrate VVAW and cause trouble. Another hired trouble-maker, Alfred Baldwin, was employed both monitoring a bug at the Watergate and infiltrating VVAW with a goal of embarrassing Democrats if VVAW demonstrated at the RNC.
Another professional provocateur named Pablo Fernandez was summoned to a grand jury investigating Nixonian henchman Donald Segretti. Fernandez said he’d tried to sell the VVAW guns and been turned down (something the Miami police confirmed), and that he’d spied on the veterans using electronic devices. In fact, he’d tried to record a conversation with VVAW leader Scott Camil, but Fernandez’ hidden microphone had failed.
Other of the government’s many infiltrators in the VVAW included William Koehler, Karl Becker, Emerson Poe, and William Lemmer. Poe had become best friends with Camil (or so Camil thought). Poe sat in meetings with the defendants right up until he was called as a prosecution witness, thus blowing his cover — about which the government had previously lied under oath. Lemmer was the star witness, however, alleging wild tales of violent plans. He was himself violent and unstable. Lemmer had already set up a 17 year old to vandalize a building in Arkansas and arranged to have the FBI waiting for him. Lemmer had helped bust six people for marijuana. His specialty was talking people into considering the use of violence. He just wasn’t very convincing as a witness.
Scott Camil was the southeast regional coordinator of VVAW. His lawyer’s office was broken into during these proceedings, and his file taken. Also, FBI agents with electronic gear were found hiding in a closet of the room that the defendants and lawyers were meeting in during the trial.