BY DAVID RHEA
Camil lay bleeding on a Gainesville Street. He was telling someone
his blood-type while a man who'd just shot him in the back identified himself
as an officer of the law.
A bullet from Dennis Fitzgerald's .380 Llama pistol collapsed Camil's left lung and damaged his liver and kidneys. Camil, who had been twice wounded in the Vietnam War, once again felt the bite of metal in his flesh.
Fitzgerald and another agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency had been introduced to Camil through a girlfriend, Barbara Davis. It was later revealed she was working as an informant for the DEA. Camil says they were driving to get some cocaine. It was March 31, 1975.
"One of them was driving," Camil says. "I was sitting in the shotgun seat, and one of them was behind me. The one behind me grabbed me around the neck, pulled my head to the headrest and shoved a gun to my head behind my right ear."
Camil says he didn't know they were agents. He thought they were trying to rob him.
"I grabbed his wrist and pinned it to the headrest of the car," Camil says. "I unlocked the door, and I was going to jump out into traffic. I figured if they tried to shoot me in front of people, they would get into trouble, so they wouldn't do it."
He figured wrong. Fitzgerald shot him in the back as he opened the door.
"The impact left my shoes in the car but put me out in the street," Camil says. "I was wearing five-lace Converse tennis shoes. You are talking about a lot of force to just pick you up so fast that your shoes stay in the car."
Camil was hospitalized for a month before going to trial in a federal court. Forensic evidence supported his version of the events, and he was acquitted of the charges brought against him. On the morning following the trial, Camil says the jury foreman "went to the state attorney's office and told the state attorney that the jury felt the shooting was deliberate and the federal agents should be indicted for attempted murder." But the government agents were never tried for the shooting.
Camil still wears his long hair tied back, much the way he did back then. He sports a thick mustache, all that remains of his trademark bushy beard of the '70s. Both his hair and mustache have turned gray. Penetrating brown eyes peer from behind glasses a recent addition for the thin 51-year-old father of three. Camil lives in a two-story house on 10 acres on the outskirts of Gainesville. He is active in community politics and elections and is writing an autobiography. He speaks to UF history classes and local schools. He says it's his way of warning young people about the realities of war a warning he never received.
"What would have happened to me," he asks, "if veterans from the Korean War would have come to my history class and said, 'Hey man, war sucks. It's not any fun. It hurts when you get wounded. It hurts when you see your buddies get killed'?"
Camil saw too many friends killed in the war. As a forward observer with Charlie Company, 1/1, 1st Marine Division, he lived in the field with the infantry and called in artillery for them when they made contact with the enemy.
"When you talk to someone who was in the war," he says, "you should find out what that person did in the war. Nine out of every 10 who were in 'Nam were support troops who stayed in the rear with the gear. A lot of bull has been spread around about the war by people who don't know what they're talking about."
Camil was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1946, and later moved to Miami with his mother, stepfather, sister and two stepbrothers. He joined the Marines while still in high school and shipped out to Parris Island, S.C., after he graduated in 1965. He served two tours in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and several other awards. He was honorably discharged as an E-5 sergeant.
When he returned from Vietnam in 1967, Camil began pursuing a philosophy degree at UF, where he heard Jane Fonda speak out against the war. He became heavily involved in anti-war protests as the Southeast coordinator of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At the 1971 UF homecoming parade, VVAW members performed "guerrilla theater." They carried a flag-draped coffin with a sign that read, "The Impossible Dream No More War" and dressed in jungle fatigues with toy M-16 rifles. Camil threw smoke bombs and VVAW members began "stabbing" people planted in the crowd. As fake blood flowed, people panicked. Camil had made his point.
The Gainesville 8
Camil gained national attention when he and seven others became defendants in the 1973 Gainesville 8 Trial, which received extensive media coverage. The U.S. Justice Department indicted Camil, John Kniffen, Alton Foss, Donald Perdue, William Patterson, Stan Michelsen, Peter Mahoney and John Briggs on charges of conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.
"Scott was basically the focal point of the whole thing," says the Gainesville
8's only non-veteran, John Briggs.
According to FBI documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI was keeping tabs on Camil and referred to him as an "extremist and key activist" as well as a "dangerous and most volatile person." A teletype to the Jacksonville office instructed them "to completely neutralize subject without delay," and to "consider any counterintelligence techniques or pretext operation."
While the FBI declined to officially define these terms, Camil says they
were orders to kill him.
Camil says he decided to represent himself during the trial because he wanted to directly address the jury and cross-examine witnesses. In his opening statement he told the jury, "I want you to know me as a human being, not as a silent object of controversy. My buddies died in the rice paddies while the president watched the all-star game. Asians were murdered for defending their homes and families while their only crime was their geographic place of birth. It all made me sick."
Larry Turner, who is now an Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge, was Camil's attorney before the trial and helped with the defense. He was surprised by the tactics of the federal prosecution.
"When the government came after Scott, it was with such vehemence and with every dirty trick you could imagine," Turner says. "It made it easy to stay angry and fired up to fight. The government did such a bad job that it was just like a comedy, particularly in hindsight. It was like, 'what is the dirty trick de jour that we caught the government in?'"
Undercover federal agents and informants had infiltrated the VVAW. Turner
says when it was shown in court that they were
the ones initiating VVAW's drastic, illegal activities, the prosecution's credibility plummeted.
"My experience with Scott and with that case convinced me that the government was cheating like crazy, and it changed my view toward government forever," Turner says. "At that point in America's history, we trusted government. Our government wouldn't cheat, we thought. It certainly wouldn't cheat against us. Well, they did. After a while, there was only one explanation: They were cheating every way they could to win."
Turner says Camil is one of his dearest friends. "He has a really good heart and such a strong sense of justice and a strong sense of ethics. What he believes is right, he believes is right. And he adheres to that. I don't always agree with his beliefs in what is right or wrong, but I really like the fact that he doesn't deviate from his beliefs."
And Camil still stands by his beliefs. Unlike many activists of the '60s and '70s, Camil has continued to speak out against government policies he feels are wrong and is active in humanitarian efforts worldwide. In 1990, he went to Central America as an official observer to the Nicaraguan elections. Also in 1990, he traveled to the Middle East on a fact-finding trip in which he represented the Veterans for Peace organization. In 1994, he returned to Vietnam as the U.S. representative for the Vietnam Friendship Village Project, an international effort to build a village with a school, an orphanage, a hospital and housing.
Gun Control, Waco and Oklahoma
Camil sees additional gun control legislation as an attempt to erode personal freedom. He worries about government abuse of power, citing the incidents at Waco and Ruby Ridge where government agents killed Americans. He says he wonders if we are being told the truth about the Oklahoma bombing and fears there are parallels between it and the experiences he had protesting the war.
"We see these things happen at Waco and at Ruby Ridge just like we saw at Kent State and with the Black Panthers and the Native American movement," Camil says. "We saw the American government murdering citizens. McVeigh sees the American government murdering citizens, and I see it too."
Camil wants people to remember the children who were killed at Waco, as well as those who were killed in the federal building in Oklahoma City. "All of those kids equally had the right to live their lives, and that right was taken away from them. All of those kids deserve justice, not only those in Oklahoma, but at Waco and Ruby Ridge too. The government needs to be held accountable."
Camil also disagrees with the government's war on drugs, which he says causes more problems than it solves. According to him, the government has ruined its credibility by jailing people for marijuana while alcohol and tobacco remain legal.
"The government has reformed the welfare system because it wasn't working. Why not do the same with this so-called war on drugs?" Camil asks. "We're spending more money on keeping people locked up in prisons than we spend on our kids. As a taxpayer, I would much rather see my tax dollars going on education than to jail a bunch of pot-smokers. Many Americans have smoked marijuana and know that it doesn't make them violent or aggressive. For the government to be having a war against this, to be putting away our children and fathers and mothers and sisters and friends, is totally unacceptable. Not one person belongs in prison for marijuana."
Not Your Usual Route to a Degree
Camil completed his degree requirements and graduated from UF during the Gainesville 8 Trial. He attributes his successful completion to teachers who worked with him and understood his outside pressures.
"When I was going to the University of Florida and doing all my anti-war activity and getting arrested, my professors brought homework to the jail so that I wouldn't be penalized," Camil says. "Talk about pressures. Getting arrested, getting thrown in jail, having major trials and trying to finish college at the same time is quite a job," he says. "I never could have done it if the teachers had done it by the book, like, 'Sorry, you had three unexcused absences, you're getting an F.'"
Camil says he has tremendous respect for teachers. He says teachers help develop America's future, our children. He feels that one of the country's biggest problems is that teachers are underpaid.
"If we scrimp [on education], then we undermine everything that comes after that," he says. "It helps us to grow and think about things when we see them from a different perspective."
Camil says he wants students today to step back and take a look at the government. "I always say to them, 'you don't have to believe me. Go and do some research, do some reading, find out for yourself who's telling the truth and who's not.' Because it's really important that they're able to tell the difference between lies and truths, and double-speak and propaganda."