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Man the barricades 

32 years apart, GOP conventions have two things in common: Protesters and a lousy president

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We spent the night in Tigert, drank a lot of wine, and I jokingly told a TV reporter that Gainesville was the "Berkeley of the South." The nickname, first coined by a psychology professor named Marshall Jones, stuck.

In the next year, the UF administration waged a war against ideas coming onto campus. Repeatedly, students were arrested or charged under the student conduct code for distributing literature, posting leaflets and selling magazines and books.

I still have a Jan. 14, 1969, Florida Alligator with a front-page photo of me shoving a petition into President O'Connell's hands. Even at a sleepy Southern college, the hundreds of names on the petitions -- students and faculty angered that ideas were being banned in the one place ideas should be sacred, a university -- augured the coming mass demonstrations of the next year.

I was quoted by the Alligator: "We feel that this selective law enforcement is the type of behavior that precipitated democratic student rebellions at campuses such as Berkeley (and) Columbia."

"All individuals involved in New Left extremist activities should be considered dangerous. ... Could result in prejudice to national defense interests ... this most dangerous and volatile individual.

... Completely neutralize subject without delay, consider any possible counterintelligence techniques or pretext operations."

-- FBI documents on decorated Vietnam veteran Scott Camil, 1972, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Gainesville 8 was Florida's contribution to the annals of national political persecution. Decorated ex-Marine Scott Camil and seven other members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War were indicted on federal charges of plotting violent disruptions of the 1972 Republican Convention on Miami Beach.

The defendants were acquitted in 1973. A middle-class, largely conservative and educated jury took less than four hours to free the seven Vietnam veterans and one friend.

"We never should have been indicted," Camil told me recently. Camil's house west of Gainesville has a decor that's decidedly different -- dozens of fish tanks with exotic finned critters, and federal firearms permits for exotic weapons that prove he has never been convicted of a felony.

Two years after the acquittal, Camil was set up on a drug bust, and shot in the back by one federal agent while another held the veteran on the floor. Camil was acquitted of those charges, too. "The attacks of the government against me became positive reinforcement," he says. "Like the government was saying, 'You're doing a good job, Scott.'"

Camil now takes his daughter to soccer games and raises his fish. He's wired nowadays, engaged via computers in an endless series of humanitarian and human rights projects. He's traveled to Latin America and the Middle East. "I've cried a lot in those places at what I've seen."

He's also been back to Vietnam, to Dai Loc, a village he helped destroy and where his outfit killed 200 people, mostly women and children. "That really kicked my ass. It amazed me how the people treated us. They didn't hate us."

Camil's testimony at the Winter Soldiers Hearing in 1971 -- an event recently made re-famous because John Kerry also testified -- became the subject of legend and song, Graham Nash's "O! Camil."

A Marine sergeant who earned two Purple Hearts, Camil says he believed he was doing the right thing when he went to war. He was even picked by the military to speak to college students about the war. "The government didn't like it when I would tell the truth, that it was our job to kill women and children. All that mattered was the number of people we killed."

Camil says he became a radical because "it was the duty of Vietnam vets to tell the truth about Vietnam, and the government wasn't going to allow that."

The Gainesville 8 trial was a charade. The defense exposed a conspiracy by government undercover agents to inject talk of violence into the veterans' meetings, and that became the basis for allegations of a conspiracy.

A few years later, Camil got his FBI files. Much was deleted -- for "national security" reasons. But enough was there to show that the government was committed to "neutralizing" him with dirty tricks and framing him with bogus arrests. Perhaps "neutralizing" meant something much darker, such as the bullet in the back that was Camil's gift from a grateful nation.

In 1992, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore came stumping to Gainesville, campaign officials sought out a veterans group to augment Secret Service security. They called Camil. "We put 50 guys out there protecting Clinton," he says. "Just a few years ago, I was a national security threat. How things have changed."

Maybe. Maybe not.

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