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- Terror in Little Saigon
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He was effectively destitute. Navy officer who served as a senior director on the National Security Council during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. He did yard work for suburban homeowners and later began hiring himself out as a house painter. Moving to a foreign land is rarely easy. They were refugees of a brutal war that had killed an estimated 3 million people.
They had been forced to choose between exile or life under the harsh rule of the Communists. The ensuing exodus was Biblical in scale, set on overloaded boats and in an archipelago of miserable refugee camps, all stuffed with scared people. Many who stayed in Vietnam wound up dead or in Communist re-education camps where food was scarce and physical abuse abundant. Each wave of refugees brought with it disturbing tales of conditions in Southern Vietnam as the Hanoi government remade the country.
By the s, there were some , Vietnamese living in the U. Traumatized, these new communities, often called Little Saigons, proved remarkably resilient, and in time, even wonderfully vibrant.
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But in the earliest years, they could be insular: handicapped by language barriers, heartsick for their homeland, hungry for vengeance. After abandoning his house painting business in Virginia, Minh by had moved to Fresno, California. Whether he ever did join such an effort, Minh had certainly spent years mixing in circles of fellow former South Vietnamese military officers and others nursing the desire to take up the fight again back in Vietnam. And in those circles, Minh appears to have regained a degree of his former stature.
And so when a loose collection of men eager to return to their homeland banded together to form the Front, Minh became their leader. He cultivated a small, devoted following, and within two years he was ready to take his message more broadly to the Vietnamese-American community. To do that, interviews and FBI files show, the Front developed a ruthless ethical calculus, believing its men were justified in taking nearly any action to advance their struggle.
Minh had a grand vision for the army he wanted to build. The Front would not only recruit in the U. In time, Minh secured a tract of land in the forests of Northeast Thailand to establish a secret base of operations. When the moment was right, they would slip into Vietnam and mount a classic guerrilla campaign, linking up with anti-Communist partisans within the country, spreading revolt from village to village.
Eventually, the Hanoi government would collapse just as Saigon had. Like any army, the rebels needed a reliable supply chain that could deliver all the necessities of combat to the base. Communications gear. To keep the warriors equipped, Minh and his colleagues created a sophisticated fundraising apparatus in the U. It started with Front chapters across the country. Chapter members pledged money to the group, often on a monthly basis.
The Front began publishing a magazine called Khang Chien, or Resistance, to spread news of their insurgency and bring in more contributions. They even opened a chain of pho noodle houses to generate revenue. Combat-hardened veterans flocked to the Front. For South Vietnamese soldiers and sailors, the war had certainly been harrowing, but it also had provided a profound sense of purpose and camaraderie.
Now many of these veterans found themselves adrift in America, toiling at menial jobs in an alien land. For them, the idea of reviving the fight held deep emotional appeal. In the U. Led by an ex-colonel from the South Vietnamese army, the committee established Front chapters in Europe and Canada, as well as Australia and Asia. One pamphlet included a picture of troops who had just finished basic training. They were kneeling, their rifles held aloft. They held regular chapter meetings and staged protests against the Hanoi regime. The brown shirts also supported the troops by raising money. They prodded owners of Vietnamese-American retail businesses to make cash contributions to the Front and to place donation cans for the group in their stores and restaurants.
Some shop owners felt that the Front was shaking them down and complained to the FBI. Some Vietnamese Americans began to wonder where all that money was going. Was it really being used to the supply the soldiers? It was about p. Triet, one of the best-known writers in the Vietnamese diaspora, was returning home from a dinner party with his wife.
A spray of. Investigators later theorized that two killers armed with automatic pistols followed the couple to their modest one-story home. To FBI agents, it looked like a professional hit. Triet, a columnist for Van Nghe Tien Phong, a popular monthly magazine, had mixed erudition with an acerbic tone.
His columns discussed poetry and literature, controversies within the Vietnamese-American community, and, often, his disdain for the Front. While Triet was staunchly anti-Communist, he was skeptical of the Front and its leadership. Convinced that the organization was more concerned with fundraising than actually overthrowing the Hanoi government, Triet frequently criticized the Front in print. In one issue he bluntly accused Front leaders of endangering their own soldiers.
FBI documents make clear that the Front had been offended, and had threatened Triet. The writer, records show, began carrying a. The Front leaders tried to persuade him to quit criticizing the organization in print. He refused. Newspapers, magazines and newsletters had become vital outlets for the emerging Vietnamese refugee community. For publishers and readers alike, the publications amounted to an initial, thrilling taste of life in a democracy.
Some entrepreneurs hoped to become media moguls. Others saw their mission in altruistic terms.
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A large chunk of the immigrant populace was still learning English, desperate for Vietnamese-language news sources. These emerging publications came to serve as a crucial guide for those learning to navigate a new culture. For the Front, the Vietnamese-American media could be quite useful.
Terror in Little Saigon
If the organization wanted to draw people to its events and persuade them to bankroll its guerrilla war, it needed the Vietnamese-language press to spread its message and publish its appeals. But journalists could also be a threat, and several of them, Triet included, slammed the group for its heavy-handed fundraising tactics and questioned whether the money was really going to the soldiers.
They demanded a thorough accounting of the donations. A hit list mailed out to the Vietnamese-language media identified five journalists who had criticized the Front. Two of the people on the list ended up dead. Front members mounted a harassment campaign against the staff of Viet Press, another Orange County newspaper, pressuring businesses to pull their advertisements until the paper shut down.