Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Terror in Little Saigon": An Interview with AC Thompson

Irvine - For daring to dig up old unsolved murders of Vietnamese American journalists in America, ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson has been under the glare of public scrutiny.

Skype interview image capture
 Yesterday, he delved in depth into his reasons for reporting about a shadowy group that many believe may be behind the murders and explained why he wrote the story the way he did, both in a Frontline documentary and in print.  For links to the ensuing controversy, see the previous Subversities blog entry.

The key revelation from our lengthy interview with us via Skype is that Yen Do (now deceased), the respected long-time publisher of the premiere Vietnamese American news daily, Nguoi Viet, published for decades from the heart of Little Saigon in Westminster, California,  was one of those journalists the shadowy group wanted to assassinate.

Thompson said the microphones were off when the person interviewed disclosed to him and his colleagues on the reporting project that this person, whom he named on the interview, had tried to dissuade members of this shadowy group not to kill Yen, saying he was a good guy. Yen was never murdered and died of natural causes in 2006. That person has since denied he made the statement.

In response to a question whether the attacks on Vietnamese American journalists at the time constituted "terrorism", given our having just experienced past Friday's terror attacks in Paris, Thompson explained that when people are targeted for political reasons and injured or killed, that is terrorism.

In fact, he noted, some journalists were targeted even for revealing that the head of the shadowy group was dead.  The group denied the leader's death for years.  Thompson said he was thought to have committed suicide in Laos. 

For an audio of the interview, go to his link: Interview.

---  Daniel C. Tsang, host of Subversity Online

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Domestic Terrorism in America

Irvine = As expected, the wagons are circling among some in Vietnamese American enclaves after PBS Frontline and ProPublica came out with its documentary and article on "Terror in Little Saigon." The article also appeared in OC Weekly.

I was happy to be quoted in the Vietnamese edition of the BBC defending the broadcast and its accompanying article. Here's what I told the BBC Vietnamese edition (the online text is in Vietnamese):

 " 'Terror in Little Saigon' is an important documentary plus reportage (in print as well). For too long a consipiracy of silence has enveloped the Vietnamese diaspora about these crimes and the report not only indicts the local authorities for not investigating the murders and threats but also reaches up to the level of the US Government in its embrace of the leader of the National Front, and looking away while the Front mounted its guerrilla operations from Thailand and Laos. I hope this sparks renewed interest in renewing the investigation into the multiple violations of federal law, not to speak criminal law with the K9 involvement in assassinating people that would have welcomed reconciliation with Vietnam."

 Having written briefly about the National United Front myself for the OC Weekly and knowing that the deaths of journalists were largely ignored by the mainstream media, I welcomed this move by a PBS and ProPublica, as well as OC Weekly, in publicizing "dead cases" from the not so distant past.

My earlier pieces included a profile of an activist who ironically served on the then-existing advisory board of the UCI Libraries' Southeast Asian Archive.  I also wrote another piece about the same individual (an adult) who was leading a so-called Youth Movement for Vietnam during the Little Saigon HiTek protests.

Writers and journalists were among the targets of the protesters.  The protesters, I wrote, "say they want to forge an "information front" against critical media accounts of the mob outside Tran's video store in demonstrations that lasted for 53 days earlier this year. They target several reporters in the battle, including Los Angeles Times op-ed writer Le Ly Hayslip (whose biographies became Oliver Stone's Heaven and Earth), Times columnist Patt Morrison, the OC Weekly's Nick Schou and me. We four are named in a front-page manifesto in the March 12 [1999] edition of the Westminster-based Viet Bao Kinh Te (Vietnam Economic Daily News)."

Let's not forget that decades earlier, in 1986, the Asia Resource Center in Washington D.C.  issued an 8-page "casebook" by journalist Steve Grossman detailing those attacked and/or killed by what it described as "Vietnamese death squads in America".  It was the first of a few brave attempts to draw attention to the phenomenon.

But back to the reaction to Frontline.  It is unfortunate that some in the communities affected don't want light to shine on the acts of intimidation and violence inflicted several decades ago; in fact, those defenders of keeping the past hidden have resorted not to petitioning law authorities to renew their investigations but rather to start investigating the journalist who dared to dig up court and FBI files to expose the past. While much of the backlash to the media coverage has been written of course in Vietnamese, there are some sources that offer information in English.

The OC Weekly last week published two stories on the reaction (mostly outrage) in Little Saigon (story  one and two), and this week published the ProPublica's response point by point to criticism of its documentary and article. As the same article by OC Weekly's Charles Lam notes, another documentary film director, Tony Nguyen, has again been red-baited for daring to help as consulting producer on the Frontline piece.  The director has pleaded for a "chance for truth in Little Saigon" in a piece published yesterday on DiaCRITICS.   For more on Tony's "Enforcing the Silence," see my interview with him linked here.

And online the reaction is also covered in English, although Our Little Saigon is apparently a site linked to the successor group of the Front, so read it for what it's worth. There is even an online petition calling for PBS to investigate the Frontline broadcast, that has garnered under 2,000 signatures as of this writing. And even a local politician has jumped into the fray: California state senator Janet Nguyen, invoking the model minority stereotype of successful immigrants to attack ProPublica in her letter.

The Voice of OC has also covered the reaction in Little Saigon more dispassionately. And a French scholar. Fran├žois Guillemot has written two pieces (this and later another) in French on his Vietnam history web site, giving a historical perspective with links to more resources and feedback.

I just hope the authorities will resurrect their investigation and not be scared off by the right-wing and other defensive reactions. For two decades or more, the domestic terrorism victims deserve better.
[Revised 18 November 2015: Added: A petition asking the FBI to resurrect its investigation is now online.]
-- Daniel C. Tsang.