Texas Gulf Coast In The 1970s — Vietnamese Fishermen And The Ku Klux Klan

When Vietnamese refugees first settled in the coastal town of Seadrift, Texas, they encountered prejudice and resentment from some of the locals. It culminated on Nov. 25, 1979, when the Ku Klux Klan came to the fishing village. They menaced the Vietnamese fishermen who were competing with white fishermen and told them to get off the water and get out of town. This was part of the hostile reception given to some of the 130,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon.

Four decades later, the Vietnamese are now a fixture along the U.S. Gulf Coast. The arc of the Vietnamese resettlement experience is instructive history, and it offers a lens through which to view current attitudes toward immigrants.

In 1979, a Vietnamese refugee shoots and kills a white crab fisherman at the public town docks in Seadrift, TX. What began as a dispute over fishing territory erupts into violence and ignites a maelstrom of boat burnings, KKK intimidation, and other hostilities against Vietnamese refugees along the Gulf Coast.

Set during the early days of Vietnamese refugee arrival in the U.S., SEADRIFT is a feature documentary that examines the circumstances that led up to the shooting and its dramatic aftermath, and reveals the unexpected consequences that continue to reverberate today.

1979 Incident (from Wikipedia):

Seadrift is remembered for a killing that took place on August 3, 1979. Prior to this date there had been several negative racial incidents between local white citizens and Vietnamese refugees. As the central area relied heavily on the commercial fishing industry for income, many whites felt threatened by the increasing number of Vietnamese. On the night of August 3, 1979, a fight broke out between Billy Joe Aplin, 35-year-old crabber and Sau Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese crabber which ended with the fatal shooting of Aplin. Within hours of the shooting, several Vietnamese boats were burned and there was an attempted bombing of a crab plant that employed Vietnamese workers. Sau Van Nguyen and his brother Chinh Nguyen were tried for murder and acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. The incident inspired the creation of both the 1981 documentary Fire on the Water and the 1985 film Alamo Bay. In January 2019, Title 8 Productions, LLC premiered an independent documentary called, Seadrift, in Park City Utah. It continues to be screened throughout the United States. The documentary series “Reel South” examined the 1979 incident in the 2020 film “Seadrift”.

Timeline (from the Asian American Bar Association of New York):

1865 In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of men who had fought in the Confederate army form a secret society, which they call the Ku Klux Klan. The name was likely derived from the Greek word kyklos, which means circle.

1868 The Ku Klux Klan spreads to Texas.

4/30/1975 The Fall of Saigon: Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, is captured by North Vietnamese forces. The South Vietnamese government surrenders. Saigon is renamed Ho Chi Minh City, and the Vietnam War effectively comes to an end.

1975-1979 The fall of Saigon prompts a wave of Vietnamese emigration, as South Vietnamese refugees flee communist rule with urgency, often in small fishing vessels. Many of these “boat people” are lost to drowning, pirates and dehydration. The sheer numbers overwhelm Southeast Asian host nations, some of which resort to pushing the boats back out to sea.

late 1970s Thousands of Vietnamese refugees resettle in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast. Many take up fishing and shrimping, creating competition for local fishermen and shrimpers.

1/1979 Nguyen Van Nam, a former Colonel in the South Vietnamese army, moves to Seabrook, Texas. He eventually becomes head of the Vietnamese Fishermen’s Association.

8/3/1979 Following two years of tension between Vietnamese and local fishermen and shrimpers, two Vietnamese brothers kill a local crab fisherman in Seadrift, Texas. In the aftermath, four shrimp boats owned by Vietnamese are set on fire and a Vietnamese home is firebombed. Eventually, the two brothers are acquitted on all charges, on the grounds of self-defense.

1/24/1981 Local fisherman Gene Fisher meets with Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Louis Beam.

2/14/1981 The Ku Klux Klan sponsors a fish fry and rally, which includes a cross-burning ceremony, to support Texas fishermen and to protest increased competition from Vietnamese refugees. Some 750 people attend, including more than two dozen men wearing white robes and carrying rifles and shotguns. A fishing dinghy labeled “U.S.S. Viet Cong” is burned at the rally.

3/15/1981 Local fishermen and Ku Klux Klan stage boat ride to intimidate the Vietnamese. On board are robed, hooded, and armed Klansmen, some of whom are armed. They ride up Clear Creek Channel to Colonel Nam’s house. 

3/29/1981 Two Vietnamese fishing boats are set on fire in Galveston Bay.

4/16/1981 Vietnamese Fishermen file suit against Ku Klux Klan in Houston, seeking a preliminary injunction.

4/30/1981 Depositions start in lawsuit.

5/1/1981 Judge McDonald hears first motion for a protective order.

5/8/1981 Judge McDonald hears second motion for a protective order and motion seeking psychiatric evaluation of Beam.

5/11/1981 Preliminary injunction hearing begins, and continues for four days.

5/12/1981 On the second day of the hearing, the Texas legislature passes a law limiting the number of shrimping licenses that can be issued in 1981 and 1982.

5/14/1981 Judge McDonald grants motion for a preliminary injunction in part, barring defendants from unlawful acts of violence and intimidation against the Vietnamese.

5/15/1981 The fishing season opens.

7/15/1981 Judge McDonald files opinion granting the preliminary injunction in part, finding a likelihood of success on plaintiffs’ civil rights and antitrust claims and holding that “it is in the public interest to enjoin [the Klan’s] self help tactics of threats of violence and intimidation and permit individuals to pursue their chosen occupation free from racial animus.” Vietnamese Fishermen’s Ass’n v. Knights of Ku Klux Klan, 518 F. Supp. 993, 1016-17 (S.D. Tex. 1981).

8/13/1981 Judge McDonald issues order dismissing certain defendants and making injunction permanent against remaining defendants (including Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Louis Beam, and Eugene Fisher). The order notes that the only remaining issue is the request by the intervenor State of Texas and other plaintiffs for the Court to enjoin military operations of the Ku Klux Klan, otherwise known as the Texas Emergency Reserve.

6-3-1982 Judge McDonald files opinion enjoining the Klan from, inter alia, maintaining a private military or paramilitary organization, carrying on military or paramilitary training, and parading in public on land or water with firearms. Vietnamese Fishermen’s Ass’n v. Knights of Ku Klux Klan, 543 F. Supp. 198 (S.D. Tex. 1982).

6/9/1982 Final judgment is entered.

KKK Flyers Found Prior To ‘White Lives Matter’ Rally In Huntington Beach California

Huntington Beach police are preparing for a rally Sunday, April 11, that’s among others promoted on social media across the nation to “unify White people against white hate.”

Things could get heated, however. The local Black Lives Matter chapter has announced on social media that it will hold a counterprotest at 11 a.m. Sunday at the pier. The “white lives matter” rally is advertised for 1 p.m. Sunday at the pier.

In a statement, the BLM chapter’s leader, Tory Johnson, said the counterprotest will be a demonstration against racism and hate.

“White supremacy is not welcome here and we will do everything possible to prevent this rally and defend our community from racist terrorism,” he said.

Troubling history

Huntington Beach has a history of attracting those who promote white supremacy. The city also has a history of rallies turning violent. In March 2017, a rally in support of then-President Trump turned into a brawl between supporters of the president and counterprotestors.

More recently, neighborhoods in Southern California cities including Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Villa Park and Long Beach have been hit with flyers mentioning the Ku Klux Klan, promoting white supremacist ideology as well as Sunday’s rally, and extensively using the phrase “white lives matter.”

Meanwhile, the Huntington Beach City Council voted this week to condemn violence and hate crimes against Asian Americans and to condemn white supremacy. Another action called for city-sponsored events to counter the planned “white lives matter” rally on Sunday. Those events are scheduled to be held April 18 at Central Park.

OC Human Relations will hold a virtual event at the same time as the “white lives matter” rally to give community members a space and opportunity to discuss issues around race, hate and bigotry, said Alison Edwards, the organization’s CEO.

“The idea that working toward equality means that someone else needs to be disadvantaged is just a way of spreading fear,” she added. “This is not a time to be divisive. We all need to work in solidarity.”

Is ‘white lives matter’ a group?

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the phrase “white lives matter” originated in early 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which emerged in response to police brutality against Black people.

“White lives matter” appears to be a phrase rather than the name of a specific group, said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

“That’s not to say there is no cell of individuals or a small group that decided to form a little group by that name,” he said. “We just don’t know. These types of catch phrases and bumper sticker slogans are typically used by a broader sub-culture rather than an organized group.”

Harbinger of things to come?

Levin said his center is closely monitoring the rallies promoted for Sunday in six or seven major cities in the United States, including Huntington Beach.

“If there is a city this Sunday for law enforcement to be ready in Southern California, Huntington Beach would be the place,” he said. He noted Sunday’s rallies appear to be the first time far-right groups or individuals have attempted to organize in this manner since the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

Around the country, there have been reports of other cities gearing up for rallies on Sunday as well. According to the Statehouse News Bureau, an Ohio news outlet, law enforcement agencies in Columbus, Ohio, are preparing for a planned and publicized “white lives matter” rally at the Ohio Statehouse. Other rallies are being promoted in cities in the Carolinas as well, according to posts on Telegram.

Levin said he expects to see more activity among far-right groups as COVID-19 protocols ease. But, he said, they’ll likely stay local or regional and tend to operate as loners or small cells.

“They are moving into more encrypted platforms,” he said of far-right groups. “We see more regional activity as we see groups of people who feel politically disenfranchised. Organized groups are continuing to exist and exert influence even though the leadership is tumbling. In the far-right, white-supremacist world, leaderless resistance and regional action is the fallback.”

So, could Sunday’s event be a forerunner of things to come or might it fizzle out at a national level?

“I think there is going to be some fizzle, drizzle and thunder,” Levin said, “but mostly fizzle and drizzle.”

Source: OC Register