All together, five Vietnamese-American journalists were killed between 1981 and 1990. All worked for small publications serving the refugee population that sought shelter in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975. At least two other people were murdered as well.
FBI agents came to believe that the journalists’ killings, along with an array of fire-bombings and beatings, were terrorist acts ordered by an organization called the National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, a prominent group led by former military commanders from South Vietnam. Agents theorized that the Front was intimidating or executing those who defied it, FBI documents show, and even sometimes those simply sympathetic to the victorious Communists in Vietnam. But the FBI never made a single arrest for the killings or terror crimes, and the case was formally closed two decades ago.
We are all aware that in too many countries journalists are killed for doing journalism. Over and over the phrase “violence against journalists is the ultimate act of censorship.” And yet, so few Americans think this can happen in the States.
ProPublica notes how after the murder of Arizona reporter Don Bolles 1976, a group of 40 or so reporters from around the country continued his reporting on organized crime. The idea was to make a clear statement that freedom of press/expression must be defended. The reporting lead to the conviction of Bolles murder.
The ProPublica report notes the killings of Vietnamese-American journalists in Texas, California and Virginia, arsons stretching from Montreal to Orange County, Calif. and death threats to individuals, families and businesses across the country have yet to be solved. After 30 years the FBI still has not arrested anyone for the violence or terrorism, much less charged and convicted them.
The FBI quietly closed its inquiry in the late 1990s, making it one of the most significant unsolved domestic terror cases in the country.
Forces operate to intimidate journalists around the world. There is no reason to believe the United States is immune from such actions.
Journalists who are part of immigrant communities and who cover those communities especially face dangers US-born journalists may not comprehend. Reporters cannot only be threatened while in the States, but their families in their home country can be threatened. These types of threats are typical of gang operations. Organized crime operations such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang have been known to use these tactics against Salvadorans and Hondurans in the United States.
These are stories that are not often told in the United States. Part of the lack of reporting comes from reduced news staffs. But also, part comes from not paying attention to the local immigrant communities.
If local news organizations were more aggressive in reporting about the dynamics within the local immigrant communities, they might see more than quaint festivals from other countries. And along the way, the readers/viewers/listeners to those news organizations would learn more about conditions in other countries and the daily connections to local issues.
Terror in Little Saigon aired on Frontline on PBS Nov. 3
This blog was first posted at the SPJ International Journalism Community site.