"I'm not an assassin"
In 1970, the FBI tried to kill him. They failed. Scott Camil still believes in government and wants to make it better.
By Dan Rachal
Scott Camil used to kill people for a living. He earned his pay by killing for the U.S. government. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, who served in the Vietnam War from March 1966 to November 1967. He was also a member of the Gainesville Eight, members of the Vietnam Veterans against the War, who were found not guilty by a grand jury of attempting to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.
Thirty-three years later, he fights using constitutional rights instead of guns. War is not the answer. The veteran who was wounded twice in Vietnam doesn't exist anymore. Scott Camil, former UF graduate, no longer believes in war.
"I consider war to be organized murder," he says. "That's all war is. It's made up of components that are illegal in civilian society."
The fish & the family
The board sticks out of a pile of lumber, different shapes and sizes of wood that serve no direct purpose stacked against the side of his house, under the carport. The words "Vietnam Veterans Against the War" written in blue paint. The paint has faded, once dark and now a lighter shade, from being in the elements over time. A sign of his past, some three decades ago, is rotting away in the front yard.
Inside his house, his new passion is visible from the moment a stranger steps inside, swimming about in tanks that encompass much of the small living room. The 16 tanks occupy a majority of this room, the dining room and a portion of Camil's master bedroom. The inhabitants come from various lakes in Africa. In one room, a mini Lake Tanganyika. In another, breeds from Lake Malawi.
Ask him about the fish and it is quite possible he will talk for hours. Camil points to the smallest tank in the house, which is specifically for sick fish. There are two goldfish in the tank right now, not because they are ill, but because they are kind of fat, move too slow and Camil believes they will be "picked on" if moved to one of the larger community tanks.
Knowing how important being fed is, he often overfeeds them so that the smaller fish won't have to fight through the frenzy in order to get a meal. Any babies born receive extra attention to ensure that they have an adequate chance of survival, whether it be protecting them from others or shielding them from sickness.
"I'm the kind of person to spend two dollars on a fish and spend 30 on medication for it," he says.
It is part of what he does now. He spends his days doing his best to ensure life. His children are all grown. One is at Northeastern, another at Stetson. A daughter was just married and is living in Orlando.
Today he and his wife are supposed to babysit their grandchild. It is one of the duties Camil enjoys most. At the cost of personal relationships with his own children, he spent most of their youth backing local political campaigns, United States policy in Central America and other causes he thought needed support. Now, as part of the executive committee of the local Sierra Club, he fights so that his grandchild will grow up surrounded by the basic necessities of life: clean air, water and land.
"It's in the interest of all of us that life continues," he says. "It's a no-brainer. It bewilders me that you have to fight so hard to protect the environment."
The former marine, who has been awarded the Purple Heart and the Presidential Unit Citation, is no stranger to taking on challenges that others don't want. He enlisted during the Vietnam War voluntarily. He was not drafted. A former fitness report, given while he was on active duty, stated,
"He [Camil] can be trusted to complete any task assigned to him and often takes the initiative to do the odd, unglamorous, but necessary jobs that arise."
He is still active in dealing with the military. As a member of the G.I. Rights Hotline he counsels active duty, reserve, National Guard and military family members. Initially, he was only interested in helping individuals who were attempting to be released from the armed services.
That didn't quite work out. To this day, every person who has received held from Camil has not left the military. Instead, he was worked with soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen to try and get them what they were promised at enlistment.
He does what he can to take care of the soldiers. After all, he enlisted in the same manner they did. The problem Scott Camil has with the military is the way it is run. He fights for peace because he believes war should be a last resort. It is not an extension of diplomacy.
Ask him and he will tell you that too many chicken hawks are telling our servicemen what to do and where to fight. If you don't know what a chicken hawk is, he'll gladly explain with a smile.
"A chicken hawk is a neo-conservative, with no military experience, such as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney," Camil says.
Politics and government have given Camil a very double-edged reputation. He was a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War with Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry. Camil, back in 1971, proposed an idea of assassinating senators who supported the Vietnam War. It was never taken seriously. During the spring of 2004, when his relationship with Kerry began to surface, CNN, MSNBC, the Jewish Task Force and World Net Daily web sites have all used the moniker "assassin" when talking about Camil.
"I never knew about that name until this stuff [with John Kerry] started," he says. "The first time I saw that name was the piece in the New York Sun. It really irked me. I see it just as Republican crap, trying to give a name to make someone look bad."
What is not mentioned, however, is that Camil's own assassination was ordered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As the VVAW grew stronger, with Camil a vocal activist in Florida, the FBI eventually ordered his "neutralization."
"They wanted me dead," he said. He was shot at close range by FBI agents, but survived.
Answering the call
He claimed in Bud Schultz's book "It Did Happen Here," that "they've [the government] effectively silenced me."
He tried to stay quiet, but there were too many things in the world that he felt needed attention. Central America, the Iraq War, the environment -- he felt compelled, as a citizen, to be involved. Scott believes people overlook the fact that the Constitution gives citizens an opportunity to make change through a legitimate means.
As a marine sergeant who has killed in combat, he has seen the effects of trying to make change with a gun. Now his voice wages the war. Petitions and signs have replaced bullets and grenades.
His activism, however, is not well received by everyone. Scott, who is Jewish, found an excerpt of himself on the Jewish Task Force web site. The site, attempting to discredit John Kerry, called Camil a "professional Vietnam veteran" who is an unemployed rabble-rouser totally dependent for subsistence on his veterans' benefits. It also states that he runs a "cop-bashing" group called Citizens for Police Review.
"Citizens for Police Review is defunct," he says. "Most people would not pick on a veteran who's disabled from his service fighting for his country. Most people would consider a person who gets money from VA disability to be a patriot. Because I exercise my rights as a citizen in a democracy that makes me a rabble-rouser. I wonder what they would call Thomas Jefferson and our founding fathers."
Looking around his den, it is easy to see that his book collection is a reflection of how much he is involved in the workings of the American government. The books range from the presidency of Nixon to World War One and politics and relations with foreign nations. By sheer volume, it would appear to be a great feat for any one man to have read all of this information. Camil, though, is just that intrigued by government.
His quest for good governing often leads him to the support of local candidates. In 1996 and 1999 he assisted on the campaign of Pegeen Hanrahan, who is now the Mayor of Gainesville.
In the mayoral election of 2004, he began by supporting incumbent Tom Bussing. After Hanrahan defeated him, leading to a runoff with C.B. Daniel, Camil again came to her aid. She said he isn?t the type of person to sit through meetings. Instead, he would trade a boardroom for a day of planting yard signs any day.
"He has people in every voting precinct who pretty much know that whoever Scott is supporting is the same kind of person they would want to support," she says. "So he kind of organizes these allies of his throughout the community to help with campaigns."
He doesn't feel the need to defend himself against those who distort his name or link him with words like assassin. Instead of saying things he feels would be twisted, Camil has chosen not to open dialogue at all. He works on his "Gators for John Kerry" buttons, continuing to practice the belief that the government is truly run by the people.
After answering a few more questions, his wife enters the room with their only grandchild. A friend of Scott's, who served with him in Vietnam, is outside making hamburgers on the grill. It's almost time for dinner. His wife hands over the baby, who appears excited to be in grandpa's lap.
"Now, you wouldn't hand a baby to an assassin, would you," he asks, laughing. "I don't want you to get any pictures, it might ruin my reputation."
It may be a small item, one that will probably end up in the trash after November, but the buttons are important. It is his way of supporting someone he believes will make America a better place. The same can be said of the yard signs. He believed in Hanrahan, so he did what he could, behind the scenes.
"She listens to you," he says. "She looks at all sides of an issue. She will research an answer and get back to you."
Scott will fight against the construction of cement plants, or those who pollute the ozone layer. His candidates, the environmental, civil rights and peace and justice candidates, do not always have the budget of their counterparts. Instead of giving them money, he gives them energy. Money and billboards do not vote, he says.
So he makes buttons, plants signs and works for free. That way, the people he supports do not have to turn to interest groups for donations, who then in return will expect to be remembered later.
"My experience with Scott is that he's a very humane person, a very gentle person," Hanrahan says. "I think he is someone who will defend what he loves. One of the things he loves is the United States and the freedoms that we have here. He's an active, contributing member of society."
He isn't altruistic, however. Camil wants something in return. If he supports a candidate who is elected, that person should protect the environment, veterans' benefits and find peaceful ways of conflict resolution. He wants his grandchildren to live in a better world.
Once again, Scott Camil has become a volunteer. But this time, he has traded in a marine uniform with patches and ribbons for a t-shirt with buttons. A combat vehicle for a station wagon with bumper stickers.
The services he provides for free, other campaigns hire to get. He won't take money. In order to work for you, he has to believe in you.
"I don't get paid, I work for free," he says. "You can't hire me. I'm not an assassin."