Swift boat group weighs next step

The controversial veterans group that trashed the war record of Democratic Sen. John Kerry during the presidential campaign and helped hand President Bush a second term will remain a potent force, according to an associate of the group.

Chris LaCivita, who was a paid political consultant to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the campaign but said he is no longer on the payroll, asserted that the organization, with 280 members nationwide, is pondering its next step.
The controversial veterans group that trashed the war record of Democratic Sen. John Kerry during the presidential campaign and helped hand President Bush a second term will remain a potent force, according to an associate of the group.

Chris LaCivita, who was a paid political consultant to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the campaign but said he is no longer on the payroll, asserted that the organization, with 280 members nationwide, is pondering its next step.
patrick g. ryan
An associate of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth says the group, known for attacking Sen. John Kerry’s war record, will remain a powerful force.

One possibility is that the Swiftvets will become a full-time public-relations outfit for veterans, LaCivita said.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign filed a complaint against the Swiftvets with the Federal Election Commission, but LaCivita said many conservatives are disgusted with what they see as a left-wing caricature of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam as “crazed hippies that went around mowing people down.”

The Swiftvets would seek to counter negative impressions of veterans. Referring to U.S. soldiers in battle, LaCivita, a former Marine who fought in the first Gulf War, said: “They endure a lot more, and they do a lot of good things people back home never hear about.”

Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, who oversaw the Swift boat operation in Vietnam and founded the anti-Kerry group, said members would probably be interested in fighting a future Kerry bid for the White House, which some Democrats say is possible.

“We have definitely an interest in continuing our work on the discharge and activities in regard to the POWs,” said Hoffmann, who retired from the Navy in 1978. He added, “At this point, we really haven’t made any firm decisions. We feel that our primary mission has been accomplished.”

John E. O’Neill, a co-founder of the group, sees the Swiftvets moving from political
activity to veteran services. O’Neill, who served as a lieutenant in Vietnam, said he is heading back to his law practice full time.

Hoffmann said his group was not tied to any political party and will stay independent. Democrats allege that the 527 group, a category of political groups that is named after a clause in the tax code, worked illegally in concert with the Bush campaign.

David Wade, national press secretary in the Kerry campaign, characterized the Swiftvets as “a discredited and despicable Republican smear group caught doing George Bush’s dirty work.”

They were “scorned by real heroes like Max Cleland and John McCain,” Wade added.

Former Sen. Cleland (D-Ga.) lost three limbs in Vietnam, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent years there as a prisoner of war.

Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and a contender for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, disparaged the group for “scandalous lies” and “underhanded campaign tactics” and said the media was “unbelievably irresponsible” for not being, in his view, a better watchdog.

Mike Russell, a Swift Boat Veterans spokesman who works at Creative Response Concepts, a media-relations firm in Alexandria, Va., says none of the group’s contentions about Kerry has been refuted.

Donations to the group had come from every state and sales of the book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry by O’Neill and Jerome Corsi, which helped propel the group to national attention and sold more than 800,000 copies, Russell added.

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, said Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had “neutralized” the image of Kerry as war hero. “In viewing Kerry through that lens, the public saw a very different Kerry than they had just seen at the Democratic National Convention. It was not Lieutenant John Kerry reporting for duty. It was a scruffy, antiwar activist in fatigues dumping on his colleagues,” Sabato said, referring to images, repeatedly shown on television during the campaign, of Kerry testifying before Congress.

Sabato said he plans to question LaCivita about suspected ties between the veterans group and the Bush campaign when LaCivita takes part in the seventh annual American Democracy Conference, Dec. 3 at the Hotel Washington. The conference is co-sponsored by The Hotline and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

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