This Day in History

Aug. 31, 1973: Gainesville 8 Acquitted

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: Criminal Justice & Incarceration, Imperialism, Media, Organizing, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

The Gainesville chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) planned a nonviolent march to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami where they were going to request a meeting with the president.

In order to avoid the optics of wounded soldiers and decorated officers opposing the imperialist violence of the Vietnam War being seen on televisions across the country, the state portrayed VVAW activists as planning violence and mayhem at the convention. Miami police began arresting organizers and activists prior to the convention. Eight of those arrested — John Briggs, Scott Camil, Alton Foss, John Kniffin, Peter Mahoney, Stanley Michelson, William Patterson, and Don Perdue — became known as the Gainesville 8. All but Briggs were Vietnam veterans.

After a lengthy and highly publicized trial, which coincided with the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, the Gainesville 8 were all acquitted of planning violence at the convention by a jury on August 31, 1973.

A sepia photograph of seven members of the Gainesville 8 and their attorneys.

Seven members of the Gainesville 8 outside the courthouse in Pensacola. On the left are their attorneys: Cameron Cunningham, Morton Stavis, James Reif, and Doris Peterson. The Gainesville 8 are Peter Mahoney, William Patterson, John Kniffin, Alton Foss, Scott Camil, Stan Michelson, and John Briggs. The eighth defendant was in the hospital when the photo was taken. Source: Carl and Anne Braden papers, Wisconsin Historical Society

According to an article by David Swanson, The Gainesville 8 and a Nixonized World, following the trial the VVAW stated:

The government needed, first of all, to defuse the anti-war issue in the 1972 presidential campaign. What better way to do this was there than by portraying a leading anti-war group as a bunch of vicious killers? With the public outcry caused by the Watergate scandal, a secondary purpose for the trial can be found: an attempt to partially divert attention away from the Watergate affair by fabricating a phony ‘threat to national security.’ James McCord specifically named VVAW/WSO as the chief villain in this ‘threat to national security’ and as a justification for their actions. Continue reading.

Additional Resources

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program Podcast’s The Gainesville Eight: A Three-Part Series

The Gainesville Eight, 40 Years Later by Jessica Newman (The Gainesville Iguana)

Recollections of Gainesville by Bill Shunas (VVAW’s The Veteran)

The Gainesville 8 and a Nixonized World by David Swanson (Vets for Peace Chapter 14, Gainesville)