History You Never Knew: How I Caused Nixon’s Resignation

Originally posted by leftvet on 01/24/07

I’m not usually one who reads the obituaries, although some at my age can begin to get obsessive about it.  But I noticed one today that got a few dormant neurons in my brain firing again, and kick-started me into old fogey, dirty fuckin hippie story-telling mode.

E. Howard Hunt, Watergate burgler, black-bag man extraorinaire, died at the age of 88.

From The New York Times:

He was a high-spirited 30-year-old novelist who aspired to wealth and power when he joined the C.I.A. in 1949. He set out to live the life he had imagined for himself, a glamorous career as a spy. But Mr. Hunt was never much of a spy. He did not conduct classic espionage operations in order to gather information. His field was political warfare: dirty tricks, sabotage and propaganda.

When he left the C.I.A. in 1970 after a decidedly checkered career, he had become a world-weary cynic. Trading on the thin veneer of a reputation in the clandestine service, he won a job as a $100-a-day “security consultant” at the Nixon White House in 1971.

In that role, he conducted break-ins and burglaries in the name of national security. He drew no distinction between orchestrating a black-bag job at a foreign embassy in Mexico City and wiretapping the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate complex. He recognized no lawful limit on presidential power, convinced that “when the president does it,” as Nixon once said, “that means it is not illegal.” Mr. Hunt and the nation found out otherwise.

Hunt actually never entered the Watergate complex; he was running the operation from a building across the street.  He got caught because his phone number was in one of the burglar’s pockets.

Ok, so this minor historical figure has gone to meet his Maker.  So what with the flashy headline on this diary.  Ooh, ooh, I feel a story comin’ on:

I joined the army in the Spring of 1968, shortly after the Tet offensive (young people, read your history books if you don’t know what I’m talking about).  I joined in a spasm of working-class patriotism, coupled with a need/desire/determination to “prove” myself worthy of my ancestors.  I mean, both my grandfathers served in WWI, my father and uncles served in WWII; hey, Vietnam was my war; it was a no-brainer.

I came home from Vietnam a changed man, disgusted and disillusioned.  My patriotism had been spent like chump change in a penny arcade, wasted on a futile effort in a dirty war where survival was the only measure of success.  I soon joined the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).  VVAW was an extraordinary and, at the time, unique organization.  Originally formed by six Viet vets who met one another at an anti-war demonstration in 1967, by 1971, it had grown significantly in numbers (the membership list was over twenty-five thousand, but the majority of those joined from a free ad posted in Playboy magazine, and never did anything but respond to the ad; the actual active membership was never greater than a few thousand) and in impact.  It started off doing guerilla theatre with Operation RAW (Rapid American Withdrawal), a limited incursion into New Jersey. Vietnam veterans and friends marched through the surburban towns of that state, demonstrating through the theatre what it was like when an American infantry platoon marched through a town in Vietnam.

In 1970, VVAW held the Winter Soldier Investigation.  This was in response to the government’s assertion that the atrocities of My Lai (check your history books, kids) were the result of the deviant actions of a small group of low-level soldiers (sound familiar?).  Many of you might remember that this investigation surfaced during Kerry’s presidential campaign, bandied about by the Swiftie liars as proof that Kerry had branded American soldiers as war criminals and “baby killers”. Of course, as usual, this is the exact opposite of what really happened.  It was the government that had branded individual soldiers as “baby killers”. The central purpose of the WSI was to show that the atrocities that had happened and continued to happen were not the result of the decisions of individual soldiers, but the result of the POLICY decisions made by the government. 

In 1971, the year I returned from Vietnam, VVAW held perhaps its most famous anti-war action — Dewey Canyon III — when about one thousand Vietnam veterans came to Washington DC, camped out on the mall for three days, and climaxed their series of anti-war demonstrations by throwing back the medals they had won in Vietnam to protest the war. 

My absolute favorite newspaper headline of all time happened during this time.  The Nixon administration went into federal court to get an order to remove VVAW from camping on the mall.  It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Nixon’s favor.  The members of VVAW — after debating among themselves through half the night — took a vote, which was extremely close, but the majority voted to stay on the mall.  The Park Rangers refused to go in and remove VVAW.  The Washington Star had this front page headline the next day: “Vets Overule Supreme Court.”

All this happened before I joined.  I was in DC at the time of DCIII (April, 1971), but did not participate. I had been back from Vietnam only a month by then, and I was still decompressing.  I joined in the fall of that year, at the college I started to attend.  Our VVAW chapter (about thirty-two members) decided that our first action together would be to march in the Veterans Day parade as VVAW.  We applied to the parade’s organizers and they rejected our application.  We threatned to take them to court, and they seemed to agree to allow us to march.  We showed up the night of the parade, and, after additional haggling, they informed us that we could not march in their parade, and if we marched anywhere that night as a group, we would be arrested.  Fuck it. We marched; we got arrested. So, the first time in my life that I was ever arrested was for trying to march in  my first Veterans day parade back from Vietnam.  It was not to be my last.

After that incident, I threw myself into VVAW work.  I was soon elected/selected (no one else really wanted the job) as the state coordinator for VVAW, then in the Spring of 1972, I was elected as one of six national coordinators.  I dropped out of school, and headed to NYC where the national office for VVAW was located.

1972 was a presidential election year, and, by a quirk of fate I don’t really remember all the details of, both parties’ national political conventions were to be held in Miami Beach.  The local VVAW chapters in Florida were doing the bulk of the on-the-ground organizing for the inevitable demonstrations to take place at the conventions, and I was chosen by my fellow national coordinators to head down to Florida to be the national office liason to the local chapters. I went to Gainesville Florida, where the Florida state coordinator, Scott Camil lived and went to school.  There were a series of meetings concerning the planning of the demonstrations.  Ninety-five percent of the meetings dealt with all the mundane things associated with having large numbers of people in the same place at the same time: what about port-o-sans; do we have parade permits; will the city allow us to sleep in the park; how are we coordinating with other groups planning demonstrations? Etc.  After the meetings were over, and we were all starting to relax (let’s not talk about the “means” we used to relax; suffice to say, it was illegal). One of the vets in the room started talking about some of our worst fears, namely, that there would be some kind of a police riot, similar to or worse than what had happened in Chicago in 1968, and started spinning “what if” scenarios.

Now, one of the problems with VVAW was that many other organizations in the anti-war movement tended to see VVAW as the movement’s cops, security, or enforcers, and I’m afraid that we tended to see ourselves that way as well. So, when this roomful of altered-state, mellowed-out Vietnam veterans — most of us having returned from Vietnam within the past two years — are presented with the scenario “What if the cops block off all the causeways to Miami Beach, and then start shooting the demonstrators, what’re we gonna do?”, needless to say, as Vietnam veterans, we came up with an appropriate response to that scenario. 

Turns out, the vet posing these questions was an FBI informer (apparently, he had been busted on a drug charge, and they offered him informing as a way to avoid jail).  Turns out, there were a number of other informers in the room at that time, the massive infiltration of VVAW by agents and informers having been Nixon’s present to us in return for Dewey Canyon III.

After the meeting in Gainesville, I accompanied Scott and a few others down to Miami.  We had heard that some local Cuban militants were planning on attacking the demonstrators, so we arranged a meeting with them through an intermediary to try to head off any problems.

Here’s a little background from an article published by Susane Jonas in November 1973 called   Cuban Exiles & Watergate: Opening a Can of Worms (subscription only)

After the Bay of Pigs invasion, a number of the participants
(including some of the Watergate team) received training at
Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 1963, and became members
of the organization Ex-Combatientes Cubanos de Ft. Jackson.
This organization and its members engaged in direct actions to
combat leftist causes in the U.S. and eventually collaborated in
the Watergate break-in (see below). The liaison between this
organization and the CIA was James McCord, who had also
been involved in the Bay of Pigs. 
The gusano team was also held together by certain key
individuals, such as Manuel Artime. Artime had been the
CIA-designated chief civilian commander for the Bay of Pigs
and “golden boy of the CIA.”
Even more significant was Artime’s friendship with operative
E. Howard Hunt. (Hunt had been the CIA’s representative
to and coordinator of the Cuban Revolutionary Council in
Miami for the Bay of Pigs operation, and served with the CIA
in many Latin American countries both before and after the
invasion until 1970.) Artime shared an apartment with Hunt at
one time, and became godfather to one of Hunt’s children.
Another target of the gusano “team” was Vietnam Veterans
Against the War (VVAW). Pablo Fernandez, a member of
the Cuban exile community with close ties to the Watergate
burglars, and a former CIA operative became an informer and
agent provocateur for the Miami Police Department, attempting
to trap VVAW into buying machine guns; the idea
was to “produce a charge of conspiracy” against VVAW,
according to one Miami police officials 2 Barker and Sturgis
were also attempting to recruit provocateurs for the two 1972
Conventions in Miami, with the goal of discrediting VVAW.

So, yes, Pablo Martinez was the man we ended up meeting to try to head off trouble at the demonstrations.  Actually, Pablo didn’t try to sell us machine guns, he tried to sell us hand grenades.  A small historical revision, there.

Wait, wait, wait, it’s all gonna come together, trust me.

Let’s get a little chronology going here.

The meetings I just described happened in April of 1972.  On June 17, 1972, the Watergate burglary happened.  On July 10, 1972, the first day of the Democratic Convention in Miami Beach, a grand jury was convened in Tallahassee, Fla., and 23 members of VVAW, myself included, were subpoened to appear.  On July 14, 1972, six members of VVAW, myself included, were indicted for conspiracy to incite a riot at the Republican convention, which was scheduled in Miami Beach in August. A short time later, two other members of VVAW were indicted, making us the Gainesville 8.

Flash forward to Spring of 1973, the Watergate Hearings.  From the webpage of  James McCord, one of the Watergate burglars:

In 1971-72 James McCord was Director of Security for President Richard Nixon’s Re-election Committee. He was hired with the specific orders to prevent a reoccurrence at the 1973 GOP National Convention of the 1968 violence and bloodshed which had occurred at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in which the anti-war Chicago 7 were indicted and convicted in Federal Court for violence after that Convention.

An Armed Forces Journal issue of the summer of 1974 described James McCord as “The Man Who Broke Watergate…Into It and Wide Open.”

McCord became involved in Watergate because of anti-war demonstrators, a faction of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW),  who had threatened violence with guns against the Re-election Committee members at their forthcoming national convention of August 1973.

On July 14, 1972 “six antiwar vets, members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) were indicted.on charges of conspiring to disrupt the Republican National Convention in Miami in August (1973) with bombings and shootings.”

Two others were indicted “for the manufacture and possession of a firebomb and with instructing others in the use of explosives,” reported the press.

“The conspiracy charges were based on provisions in the Civil Rights Acts of 1968 against crossing state lines to stir disorder, used to convict the Chicago 7 after the 1968 Democratic National Convention (in Chicago).

“According to the indictment four meetings were held April 1-June 24 to plan the disorders, and a variety of weapons were assembled.The government had subpoenaed 27 other VVAW members July 7 (1972),” reported the media.

The VVAW men reportedly were being encouraged by a VVAW staffer with an office at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), according to reports McCord had received. McCord entered the DNC seeking evidence of such encouragement, and in the process gave assistance to the others who were in charge of the Watergate entry, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt.who were at the Watergate Hotel that night giving the orders.

Just to tie up the loose ends, I and my fellow “co-conspirators” went to trial in August 1973.  During the trial, a man I had considered one of my best friends surfaced as an FBI informer who proceeded to testify (and lie) against me.  The government’s case consisted almost exclusively of the testimony of informers, including the man who was posing the “what if” questions, and Pablo Martinez.  Martinez testified that he was wearing a “wire” when he met us that night in Miami. Great, we said, where’s the tape, since we knew that we had clearly rejected his offer for hand grenades.  Martinez testified there was no tape; the “wire” didn’t work.  Tsk, tsk.

After a month-long trial, it took the jury four hours to find us not guilty (we understood from talking to the jurors later that it actually took about an hour, but one of the jurors — a black Vietnam vet — convinced everyone to stick around a little longer and have one more meal on the government).

So, ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages, there it is.  You are currently in the presence of one of THE men who caused the Watergate break-in, and thus the resignation and disgrace of Richard Nixon.

You could look it up.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: